Do medals matter?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Did the Olympic Men’s Golf competition surpass your expectations?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Yes.  As stated in my blog this week, I think it worked out just about as well as could be expected… a mano-à-mano showdown by two of the game’s best players, a fine golf course, and a truly international field.  The only better result might’ve been Graham DeLaet or David Hearn surprising everyone, but all told, I think this competition did as much for golf as it could have.

Frank Mastroianni, Freelance Writer: I already know there will be plenty of golfers calling me out for my “negativity” this week, but no, it was pretty much as expected. The event was poorly attended, little cared for outside of those who already golf and featured a horrible format. You can add to that horrific coverage with atrocious announcers on the world feed (the one we were stuck with 90% of the time). The only thing that was good about the competition was the golf course, but I doubt few people outside of architecture geeks like me will care.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): No, it did not, but that is only because I had big expectations for the event going into the week.  Even though there was no money on the line, the guys in the field were really into it and that made all the difference.  Rose and Stenson played fantastic golf all week long, leading up to one hell of a finish, while an incredible final round from Kuchar saw the American come out of nowhere to sneak onto the podium.  Plus, we got a hole-in-one, two rounds of 63 and some alligator sightings.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): The outcome was pretty much what was scripted when you have a small field and only a handful of elite players. The duel between Rose and Stenson was a bonus but what took the Olympic golf competition to another level was the pure joy shown by the three medal winners plus players like Rickie Fowler. They showed that being there meant a lot more than just the golf tournament – representing their countries, being part of a team and enjoying the whole Olympic experience. It elevated the tournament for everyone that watched.

TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (@GolfAwayTJ): It did! I watched way more than I thought I could – it was nice that TSN had basically full coverage over the weekend.  And I thought the course looked and played great, almost makes me want to risk catching Zika to head down there and try it out myself…almost.  It’s nice that two of the heavyweights ended up battling it out and it came down to the last hole.  At least it had the feel of a gold medal match; they were lucky that way I think.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: While channel surfing on the weekend, I came across the golf — thought for a moment that it might be an LPGA Tour event because there wasn’t a single spectator in the frame — but was distracted by Canada playing arch-rival Canada in women’s beach volleyball, so switched to that and started pondering what other sports shouldn’t be part of these crazy bloated quadrennials. So, yah, the golf met my expectations.

Was the outcome and the overall experience enough to convince the IOC that golf belongs in the Olympics past Tokyo in 2020?

Rule: Hard to say if it was enough to warrant carrying it on beyond Tokyo, but it was a good experience, and once the bigwigs sit back and analyse it, they will have a better idea of what impact it has on the sport.  I don’t think it was a bad impact, despite the bad press the event was getting leading up to the Olympics due to the format, players dropping out, etc.  Perhaps the PGA Tour will increase their drug testing to Olympic levels, and then the top athletes won’t be scared to compete!  Doubt they’ll have a convenient excuse like Zika next time around!

Mastroianni: I wouldn’t think so. The last couple of holes were semi-exciting, but you can’t bank on that kind of finish every four years. They kept touting a sold out crowd in the final round, but sold out was defined as 12,000 people. As comparison, because I coincidentally happen to have the figures staring me in the face right now, the 2016 Dubai Duty Free Irish Open on the European Tour had 25,270 attend the final round. The BMW PGA Pro-Am (the Pro-Am!) on the Euro Tour had 19,123 spectators in attendance (the final round attendance was 24,912). I’m not even going to compare PGA TOUR attendance stats. Sure, a place like Tokyo — host of 2020 Olympics — may, and I emphasize may, bring out more people, but to me it’s more hassle than it’s worth.

Kaplan: Well, we are not quite finished here, yet, as the women are still set to play this week. I can’t possibly foresee the IOC holding golf out of future Olympics.  However, that organization is as crooked and petty as it gets and there is a chance that the IOC will take the widespread player absences on the men’s side personally and try to sabotage the sport’s future in the summer games going forward.  Let’s hope that doesn’t happen.

Quinn: A little 72nd hole drama does not save an ill-conceived and badly written script. Where does that Rose-Stenson “excitement” rank with the performances of Oleksiak, Ledecky, Phelps, Biles, De Grasse, Bolt, da Silva, and the rest when the 2016 Rio story is written? Maybe on page 10, near the bottom. Tokyo should be the final scene.

Mumford: I think what happened was encouraging but my hunch is that a lot of IOC people are still ticked at the top players that stayed home. In the bigger scheme of things, the Olympics have too many sports already so dropping golf won’t hurt them. It would be a shame to see it cancelled without trying a different format that could be far more entertaining.

Deeks: That’s a tough one to answer.  If I was an IOC official, I’d be pretty disappointed that the biggest names in the game took a pass, for what (in my view) was a very flimsy excuse… and I might be thinking, if that’s their attitude, then clearly we should consider the future. Hopefully, this player apathy won’t extend to Tokyo, and golf will have a permanent place in the Games, as I’ve always believed it should.

The medal winners were incredibly pumped about the competition. Where does a gold, silver or bronze medal rank in terms of career accomplishments and would a silver medal be enough to tip the balance in favour of Henrik Stenson for Player of the Year?

Kaplan: I think that winning any Olympic medals in golf is an incredible achievement. So incredible, in fact, that I would put winning the gold right up there with winning a major title — if not above it, as crazy as that sounds.  The summer Olympics only come around every four years.  In that same amount of time, these guys will have had the chance to go for 16 major titles (four per year). Stenson locked up Player of the Year honours with his silver medal last week.  A medal and a major is more than enough to push the Swede over the top, regardless of what happens in the playoffs.  Plus, everyone else in contention for the award this year — Day, Spieth, DJ — lost points, in my eyes at least, for not competing in Rio this week.

Quinn: That gold medal is going to look great in Justin’s trophy case in his opulent home in the gated one-per-center’s enclave of Albany, in the tax haven Nassau. Surely he will toast the original spirit of the Oly Games each time he dusts it. In a no-cut field of 60, padded with some of the game’s least-known and accomplished players, just as there are no medals for merely finishing, there should be no POY points awarded in an event that made the John Deere field look strong.

Deeks: I think that regardless of how many tournaments, or majors, that Justin Rose may win in his career, his gold medal from Rio will rank among his greatest personal achievements; and that it has already increased his bona fides significantly.  Winning gold may not count as major status now, but a couple more Games from now, I expect it will. As for POY, I doubt that a silver medal (in addition to his Open Championship victory) will tip the balance in favour of Stenson… a gold might have… but he’d have my vote anyway, simply for his stellar performance at Royal Troon.

Mastroianni: I think it’s all fine and dandy for a golfer to be able to say ‘hey, look, I have an Olympic medal,’ but at the end of the day, I truly suspect most professional golfers will bring people into their trophy room and say, ‘hey, look, here’s my Green Jacket, here’s my Claret Jug, and over there is my Olympic medal.’ Rightfully there’s always strong patriotism to represent your country and there always will be, but in the end I don’t think an Olympic medal will be a factor in POY, at least not yet and if nothing changes significantly.

Rule: I think it ranks up there in career accomplishments, but not anywhere near a major. It’s much easier to win than a regular tour event to be honest, the hardest part is qualifying if you’re from a competitive golf country.  Tennis has been in the Olympics for a while, and I think Andy Murray would consider his 2 gold medals as better accomplishments than winning the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championship, but it wouldn’t stack up against any grand slam he won.  I don’t think this medal carries nearly enough weight to tip the Player of the Year scales in Stenson’s favour.  I don’t even think a gold would have done that.

Mumford: If golf survives at the Olympics for several decades, then a gold medal will start to take on huge significance. Right now it’s just a footnote to a player’s career and shouldn’t mean squat as far as POY voting is concerned.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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