England’s Mel Reid has played every sport under the sun, from snowboarding to football, along with the golf from which she nowadays makes her living. All of which explains why, after representing Team Great Britain in Japan, she was as well-placed as anyone to contribute to discussions on golf’s position in the Olympics vis-a-vis some of those fresh young sports which so appealed to the top brass of the Games.
Reid said almost all returnee Olympians, as they made their way from the Far East to Dumbarnie Links for the Trust Golf Women’s Scottish Open, were applauding the efforts of Nelly Korda and Xander Schauffele while sharing the same concerns. On the one hand, they felt the 72-hole, stroke-play format was no longer a good match for the Games; on the other, they were worried that the top male golfers’ enthusiasm, or lack thereof, was not doing the sport’s Olympic cause any good.
“ ... with the present stroke-play arrangement ... there’s not a lot to play for unless you’re within six shots of the lead. In such circumstances, it can be hard to stay motivated.”
To deal first with the format, Reid described it as “100 percent too slow. You talk about these things to the other athletes, and when I got asked how long the golf lasted and told them it was around five hours a day for four days, they couldn’t believe it. Golf’s far and away the longest sport of the lot.”
Reid felt that mixed match-play would be more fun and added that several male golfers were of the same opinion. “One problem I have with the present stroke-play arrangement,” she added, “is that there’s not a lot to play for unless you’re within six shots of the lead. In such circumstances, it can be hard to stay motivated.”
Sophia Popov, the defending champion at this week’s AIG Women’s Open, seemed to think the miserably slow pace of play in today’s women’s game is accentuated in an Olympic context. “Some of the women are taking so long to talk things through with their caddies that there’s a case for making it 12-hole stroke play,” she said. And if not that, she liked the sound of Reid’s idea of swapping stroke play for match play.
Sweden’s Madelene Sagström was another to tick the match-play box while making the following point: “Right now, not enough people from outside golf would watch golf. … I found myself looking at all sorts of Olympic sports while I was at the Games, things that I had never watched before like skateboarding, canoeing and climbing … anything that wasn’t one of the more traditional pursuits.”
Argentina’s Magdalena Simmermacher felt golf would have more atmosphere if it had more in common with these other sports. “You watch the athletes compete and whatever they are doing gets done while you’re watching,” she said.
Simmermacher, incidentally, talked less about golf’s lack of immediacy than the endless bus journey to and from the Olympic village. “I don’t think there was a night when I got more than five hours’ sleep,” she said. “I had to wake up just after 4 in the morning and it was taking an hour and 15 minutes to get to the course and sometimes two hours to get back.”
Meanwhile, how about this for an idea? Denmark’s Nanna Koerstz Madsen called across to her caddie before the two made bold to suggest the Olympics should include a long-driving competition. “That’s something everyone would want to watch,” Madsen said. “Long driving is a growing sport after all.”
Popov and Yuka Saso were two to prick up their ears at that, though Popov was not alone in fearing that in this era of Olympic skateboarding and breakdancing such a quick fix of a contest might just turn out to be more of a hit than the golf itself.
On to the men’s attitude to the Olympics, the women were speaking almost as one.
“I know that some of the men were sounding more enthusiastic about it than they have done in the past, but it doesn’t help when so many of them don’t see the Olympics as a priority,” Reid said. “The Games present us with an awesome opportunity to grow the game and we’re not making the most of it.”
Simmermacher, in mentioning that one of her male compatriots had withdrawn, wondered if more men would evince an interest if the Olympics were to offer world-ranking points.
When you consider how hard the R&A and the USGA fought to get golf back into the Games, it seems madness that they, the professional tours, are not doing more to arrange their schedules with the Olympics in mind.
Looking at the positives, both the Swedes and the Danes, along with India’s Aditi Ashok, seemed to think the TV coverage the people were getting in their respective homelands would have earned golf a few ticks from the various Olympic committees. “It would definitely have helped to grow the game in India,” said Ashok, whose fourth-place finish earned congratulatory messages from her president and prime minister. “Usually cricket is the only sport people watch in India but last week everyone seemed to be watching golf. What’s more, it didn’t just go out in English but in Hindi.”
Meanwhile, it would be no bad thing if the PGA Tour and the European Tour were as supportive as the TV folk. When you consider how hard the R&A and the USGA fought to get golf back into the Games, it seems madness that they, the professional tours, are not doing more to arrange their schedules with the Olympics in mind.
True, this has been a difficult year, but even so … as things are at the moment, too many men have been too busy collecting FedEx Cup points to see the Olympics as anything other than an unnecessary interruption.
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