There’s not much ‘team’ in Olympic golf

As I write this, the Olympics are just getting underway.

Fans have been banned from the Olympic stadium, the athletes are severely restricted and the guy who was supposed to run the opening ceremonies was just fired for an insensitive Holocaust remark he made over 20 years ago. People in Tokyo are still protesting the Games and want them shutdown – even after they have started.

It’s hard to know what to make of the whole situation.

One thing for sure, the athletes who have worked so hard to make a national team or achieve a qualifying time are totally pumped to be there. They’ve already delayed a year – remember, these are the Tokyo 2020 Olympics – but it will all be worth the extra wait once the competitions begin. With or without fans, world records will be set, medals will be awarded, and some athletes will build or add to their legacies.

Canada is sending 371 athletes to Tokyo. Four of them are golfers, all from Ontario: Brooke Henderson (Smith Falls), Alena Sharp (Hamilton), Corey Conners (Listowel) and Mackenzie Hughes (Ancaster).

In a way, they’re going half-way around the world to do what they do every week, compete in a 72-hole stroke play event. Sure, they’ll be wearing Team Canada uniforms and representing their country as part of the golf team but that’s where the ‘team’ concept ends. Brooke and Alena won’t be comparing notes on the course; Corey and Mackenzie won’t be discussing alternate shot strategies; just grindin’ out 72 holes against many of the same players they see week after week on the LPGA or PGA Tour.

It could be different. If ever an event was set up for team competition, it has to be the Olympics. And for mixed events too.

I’m not going to get too hung up on how Olympic teams are selected. Somehow, some people decided that countries having four or more golfers ranked in the top 15 in the world could send four players to the Olympics, while the rest send two. Only the US men and South Korean women meet these criteria. Wouldn’t it be interesting though if instead of four golfers it was two teams of two, kind of like Bobsled, where you have USA 1 and USA 2 or South Korea 1 and South Korea 2 and they have to compete against each other. There’s precedent for that in other sports. Why not golf?

And instead of 72 holes of stroke play for men and 72 holes of stroke play for women, why not different formats including two-person scrambles, alternate shot and better ball, as well as straight medal play for both teams and singles. Team captains could decide which pairings work and which players succeed better at each format. Instead of four days of golf for the men, followed by four days of golf for the women, why not six days of combined competition? Not everybody has to play every day.

One reason they give is that the current format allows players to be away from their respective tours for the least amount of time. Tough noogies, I say. If you want to represent your country and compete in the Olympics, then make the sacrifice and go for the required time. I’m sure Justin Rose doesn’t regret for a moment whatever it took to win the Gold medal in Rio.

A lot of players didn’t want to go to Rio because of the Zika virus they said and many more don’t want to be in Tokyo because the Games fall during a crucial part of the PGA Tour schedule. Fine, maybe the Olympics aren’t for them. They’re not about money or FedEx Cup points. They’re about history and legacy and doing something very few people ever get the chance to do – represent their country in international competition.

Every year, professional golfers measure themselves in four majors and they are without question the most exciting, compelling events on the calendar. You would think that an event that only comes around once every four years would be even more of a draw for fans and players, like the World Cup in football. Part of the reason why it’s not has to do with history. George S. Lyon won the Gold medal for Canada in 1904, then golf took a 112-year hiatus from the Olympics until Rio in 2016. It will take time to restore the interest. The other reason is it’s just a boring format.

It’s too late to fix Tokyo but certainly lots of time to make changes for Olympic golf in Paris in 2024. Here’s hoping they do before they decide to drop it for another 112 years.

In the meantime, GO CANADA!

Peter Mumford
Peter Mumford is the Editor of Fairways Magazine. He's played over 500 different courses in 21 countries and met some fascinating people along the way. He's also a long-suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan.

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