Presidents Cup offers a glimpse of golf at 2016 Olympics

Tiger Woods said he will play in the 2016 Olympics.
Robert Beck/SI

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The news from Copenhagen early Friday morning that golf will return as an official Olympic sport at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro (and will also be part of the 2020 games) traveled faster than Usain Bolt.

Tour pros Stewart Cink and Ian Poulter tweeted about it, as did LPGA pros Christina Kim and Morgan Pressel. (Summary: They're pumped.)

There will be 60 players each in the men's and women's fields in Rio, for four rounds of stroke play. Golf was approved by a 63-27 vote, with two abstentions.

Friday's news came as little surprise, since the IOC executive board had put golf forward for a vote in August. But that hardly dampened enthusiasm.

"I think it's great for golf," said Tiger Woods, who will be 40 in 2016 and has indicated that he would play. "Having talked to other athletes who have gotten a chance to experience the Olympics, they have absolutely loved it and had the greatest time."

The news broke before most people in California were awake. But it wasn't long before a Tour official at Harding Park, where 24 pros would soon begin play on day two of the Presidents Cup, was handing out pins that read, "GOLF 2016."

Golf and rugby, which also made the cut Friday, will be the first sports added to the Olympics since triathlon and taekwondo in 2000.

"As a golfer, I am honored," Ryo Ishikawa, 18, said from the International Team bus as it traveled en route to the course for Friday's matches.

As one of the youngest, hottest players in the game, Ishikawa may have had the most to gain from Friday's decision. He is one of the most readily identifiable future Olympians. Other 2016 stars may only be 11 or 12.

Golf was last an Olympic sport at the 1904 games in St. Louis, when the only countries that competed were the U.S. and Canada.

"It just means the game is going to grow, and it can never hurt to have younger kids playing in the Olympics, and having golf be a part of it," Anthony Kim, 24, said. "It's going to be a big deal, and hopefully it will inspire a bunch of kids from a lot of different countries to take up the game and make the game better."

"I might be over the hill by then," Cink said, "but it's exciting. I think that when a sport gains Olympic status, it gets a lot more attention, and national sports institutes tend to pay a lot more attention, so it will only do good for the game."

Ty Votaw, executive director of the International Golf Federation Olympic Golf Committee, delivered golf's selling points to the IOC voters in Copenhagen.

Padraig Harrington and Michelle Wie headlined a small group of players on hand, while Woods and Ernie Els taped a video message from Harding Park that was shown to IOC voters.

"I can dream about something that neither Tiger nor Ernie have ever done, and that is to make the final putt to win an Olympic gold medal," Wie said. "If this dream comes true, somewhere in the world there will be [a] 4-year-old who sees me on that podium and perhaps starts her own Olympic dream."

The news couldn't have come at a more fitting time, as the U.S. squares off against an International team of players from Australia, South Africa, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Japan, Fiji and South Korea.

August's PGA Championship marked by the first major victory by a player from Asia (South Korea's Y.E. Yang). The win came four months after Argentine Angel Cabrera seized his second major at the Masters. The globalization of the sport has been years in the making; in retrospect, Olympic golf seemed inevitable.

"This is, I think, a great day for the sport of golf," PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem said from San Francisco. "We are absolutely delighted with the decision by the IOC."

The tournament will be a 72-hole stroke-play tournament for men and women, with 60 players in each field. With a limited number of courses in Rio, it seems likely that golf-course developers will soon be clamoring for a chance to build the venue.