This week with the Summer Olympics in full-swing there are some great articles being written about golf returning to the Olympics (Rio 2016). The article written by Brent Kelley titled “What Will the Men’s and Women’s Olympic Golf Tournaments Look Like” provides an easy to understand explanation and a list of what the teams would look like if golf were in the Olympics today.
The essence of the article states that the Olympic format will probably be similar to the 72-hole tournament that is currently used on the professional tours. This makes sense for individual medals. The article also explains that the top 15 golfers (men and women, by professional world rankings) would automatically qualify; and that each country would be allowed two players (which accommodates countries with no professionals in the top 15). Therefore, at a minimum, each country would have two players competing (in the men’s and women’s events). Some countries could have more than two players (for example, there are currently eight American men golfers in the world top 15.)
It all seems fair when you first read the details but two things popped into my mind. First, why is there no team competition? Given the popularity of the Ryder Cup and the Solheim Cup it surprised me that team match play was not part of the format for the Olympics. The Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup is USA against Europe, but I would think a match play format with all the countries playing for medals could work. There is a strong probability that the USA, South Korea, or any of the other countries with the top professionals would win, but who cares because fans still get to cheer for their country’s team. Team match play might even give a less known country a “Cinderella” experience. Team competition is not unprecedented in the Olympics (e.g. gymnastics has both team and individual formats.)
The second thing that came to my mind was there is no opportunity for top amateur golfers. It’s true that “amateur status” has not been an Olympic requirement for many years. If you are old enough to have watched the Olympics before 1986, then you remember the communist countries that dominated the games because their athletes were not “amateurs” in the true spirit of the Olympics. In 1986, the International Olympic Committee changed the Olympic Charter to allow “all the world’s great male and female athletes to participate” so professional status was no longer an issue. But using the world golf rankings in 2016 eliminates the ability for the top amateur golfers to qualify. It reminds me of when the “Dream Team” was announced for basketball for the 1992 Olympics. Only one player on the team was a college star; the rest were all from the NBA. I remember feeling sorry for the amateur players (mostly top college players) that had their Olympic dreams vanish when professionals were selected for the dream team.
I have no idea what the final format will be for golf in the 2016 Rio Olympics. However, if I were on the committee to decide the format, I would suggest adding a team competition. Also, let each country add the top male and female amateur to their rosters and add a “lowest amateur” medals category. This would be inline with the current golf “low amateur” awarded at professional tournaments today.
The Olympics provide the biggest stage in the world for sports. I think it would be a missed opportunity to limit the competition to 72-hole stroke play. I vote for showcasing all aspects of golf — amateurs, professionals, stroke play, and match play.