Golf has not been an Olympic sport since the 1904 games in St. Louis, where George Lyon of Canada took the gold medal.
Although the 2009 International Olympic Committee decision to add golf to the Olympic program has been greeted with much fanfare, the decision is ultimately not a good one for professional golf as a whole, regardless of any potential benefit to the Olympics.
To paraphrase one of the fundamental principles of conservative political thought: Unless it is necessary to change, it is necessary not to change.
Applying this maxim to the matter in question, beyond the veneration of the almighty dollar and the fetish for spectacle, what possible need is there for professional golf in the Olympics? The players don’t care, and the top players’ schedules are already chock-full of international competitions.
The process thus far has been a mess.
From the lamentable saga of “Who will Rory play for?” to the IOC telling Gil Hanse to hurry up, and the reclamation of protected land in order to build the course to much bickering about format and who will compete—nothing has gone smoothly.
More about the mess...
Olympic Golf Will “Dilute the Majors”
Last week, newly-ordained Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson said that he felt Olympic Golf will “dilute” the four major championships. This is both as a function where the Olympics fall on the calendar—between the Open Championship and the PGA—and the fact that professional golf already has four “pinnacle” events during the same relative period of time. Jamming another “significant” event into top professionals' already-overburdened summer schedules adversely influences the majors.
An Olympic Triumph Should Be the Summit of an Olympic Athlete’s Career
Tiger Woods and other top professionals have toed the line and offered lukewarm support for golf in the Olympics. However, as Dave Whitley writes, regarding a potential Tiger Woods gold medal, “For Woods, it might outrank winning the 1999 National Car Rental Classic. I doubt it, though, since he picked up $540,000 for that weekend's work.”
Where would a gold medal really rank for Woods, who is already a decorated professional golfer? The Olympic games ought to be a competition amongst amateur athletes, for whom the gold medal is the absolute pinnacle of their careers, not simply another item in the trophy case.
There Are Already International Team and Individual Competitions in Pro Golf
Two pretty adequate team competitions exist in men’s professional golf today. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?
The Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup are all the team golf we really need. Why dilute the value of these fine international competitions with an additional spectacle of weaker players?
The four major championships and the World Golf Championship events constitute more than enough international individual stroke play tournaments. The strength of field is better in these events. Additionally, they mean more, and they pay.
Competing in the Olympics Doesn’t Matter to Pros
The following unbylined quote from Tiger Woods sums up the professionals’ take on Olympic Golf: "It would be great to have an Olympic gold medal...but if you asked any player, 'Would you rather have an Olympic gold medal or green jacket or Claret Jug...more players would say the majors."
Professional golfers do not need a tournament they don’t get paid for, or another item on their congested golfing calendars. Professional golfers care about playing in the Olympics about as much as professional soccer players do—that is, not very much. A significant portion of pros, including Ernie Els and Nick Faldo, think that Olympic Golf is the business of amateurs, not professionals.
The Current Format Is Ridiculous
Even if you’re sold on the novelty factor of golf in the Olympics, there’s no doubt that the present format is patently absurd. 72 holes of stroke play, featuring the top 15 golfers in the world, but no more than two players beyond that number from any one country makes for a comically weak, long and boring event. Team match play is the sensible and significantly more entertaining option.
It’s also entirely laughable that many of the best players in the world, as clearly determined by the Official World Golf Ranking, as well as tour membership and money list rank, wouldn’t be able to play in the event because of the oversaturation of the United States, Great Britain and Australia.
For example, the 40th ranked player in the world may not be eligible for the tournament if he’s from the U.S., but the 500th player in the world would be competing alongside Rory McIlroy if he’s from, say, the Philippines.