Featured Golf News
An Open Letter to the International Olympic Committee
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the I.O.C.,
Wake up and smell the Hybrids, folks, it is time to play golf. Time to put this sport back on the Olympic list, to tee it up with the trumpets blaring and the flags flying and the medals-podium looming and nationalism bleeding and braying all over the course. The Olympic credo, "Citius, Altius, Fortius" should be cheerfully expanded to "Citius, Altius, Fortius, Birdius," or loosely translated: "higher, faster, stronger and who has the balls to go for the 18th green in two with the world watching and a gold medal in the balance?"
It could be great, really great and it wouldn't be that hard to do. Might just bring a few more sports fans to the Olympic table, too.
Golf is a huge participant and spectator sport worldwide these days with an estimated 50-60 million people banging away on a regular basis on seaside links and flawless country club tracks and dog-eared munis all over the world. Think your television ratings for Team Handball, Badminton, Field Hockey and Luge are off the charts? Just imagine a simple match-play format that dumps, say, Vijay Singh, Jumbo Ozaki, Ernie Els and Tiger Woods into a one-day, two-round, final-four competition; Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa Julie Inkster and Natalie Gulbis on the women's side. Throw in a one-day team competition and you have the potential for some wonderful golf and sporting moments worthy of the Olympic Games.
But that's the back end of the process. Let's start at the beginning and assume we want to fill a 64-player field for both the men and the women.
Fill the first 32 slots using the current World Rankings. Make up the remaining half with players who qualify for the privilege (yes, let's remember it's a privilege to represent your country at the Olympics) in a stroke-play competition held in the weeks before the Games.
Using today's World Rankings (for men), the first group would include players from 12 countries in North America, South America, Scandinavia, Europe, Asia and Oceania (or whatever it is you want to call Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and the rest of paradise in the South Pacific). Seven countries, including rising powerhouse, Paraguay, would be represented among women players.
If the top players don't want to compete then you just keep bumping down the list until you find those who do, and if you get to the 100th-ranked player and haven't found 32 golfers willing to give up playing in the Greater Tasmanian Open or the Tidee-Bowl Shootout or the Flemish Rolex Euro-cup or some other tournament that conflicts with the Olympics once every four years, then the remaining slots got to the people who want to try to win their way into the event.
No, there wouldn't be much prize-money if any for the pros to chase, but then how many of them really need another week's paycheck from the Tour? And how many might jump at the chance to win the first Olympic golf medal in more than a century? And consider that advertisers fairly drool over the chance to climb on the Olympic medal bandwagon so a good performance won't exactly hurt the pocketbook. Also, any pictures of flag-draped, dewy-eyed superstars marching in the opening ceremonies singing the anthem will surely play well back home, wherever home is. Quality images for those seeking marketing opportunities and career-boosting "Golf is great" commercial spots. And maybe a few will even do it for all the right reasons and none of the above.
Don't worry about the field being watered down. If Phil and Ernie and Colin don't want to play, well, maybe Sergio and Retief and Tiger will. The lure of Olympic competition has drawn tremendous fields made up of top professionals for Tennis, Cycling, Hockey, Basketball and other sports.
And for the 32 "Monday Qualifiers" who make it in, it will be the thrill of a lifetime. Those positions should be split up and spread out around the world, with the regional golf associations determining the qualifying standards. And let's save four of those slots for the over-50 crowd. Wouldn't you love to see a fired-up Watson or Aoki or Irwin making a gallant run through a match-play format? It's golf after all and it's head-to-head golf and improbable things happen nearly every round.
So, Ladies and Gentlemen of the I.O.C., imagine that 64 players arrive in London in 2012. Or Antwerp in 2016. Or Topeka in 2020: wherever and whenever you wise up to the opportunities and star-power of the sport.
Individual match-pay competition will be a three-day event, with the players drawn from the World Rankings seeded 1-32 and the qualifiers (somebody will figure out a formula for this, just not me, today) seeded 33-64. Two rounds the first day will cut the field to 16, two rounds the second day will produce your "Final Four" and Day 3 will crown the first Olympic golf champion since Canadian George Lyon beat American H. Chandler Egan back in 1904 in St. Louis.
On day four you hold the team event. I propose that every country which has qualified a player for the Games gets a shot here. Each country selects three players, with countries not qualifying that many for the match-play tournament being allowed to add competitors to make up a trio. Each country plays as a threesome with the two best balls on each hole making up the team score. One day, one round, one chance at international golf bragging rights. Play 18 holes, crown a winner, hand out the medals, have a few beers and go home. This would be a wide-open, go-for-broke game and anybody could win. How do you like Spain's chances with Sergio, Jose Maria and Miguel Jimenez? How about South Africa rolling out a line-up of Goosen, Els and Immelman? Or Australia teeing up Appleby, Allenby and Scott? Woods, Watson and Lefty defending the Stars and Stripes? What a blast. The possibilities are endless, the prospect delightful.
I appreciate your consideration of this modest proposal and respectfully await your response. Maybe you can find the time to look into it after you've finished tweaking the rules for the Three-Position Air Rifle competition and the Team Synchronized Swimming.
Have a nice day.
Allen Schauffler is the weekend news anchor and Legal/Consumer reporter for KING TV, Seattle's NBC affiliate and its top news station. He is hopelessly addicted to golf, although years of playing the game have not improved his score much. On any given day he is just as likely to shoot 84 as 104, but will usually stumble into the clubhouse happy and stupid with a score in the mid-90s.
Allen has covered four Olympics, including the Summer Games at Sydney and Athens, and the Winter Games at Salt Lake City and Turino. He's slated to cover the 2008 Summer Games in Bejing.
Schauffler is a proud charter member of the Northwest Golf Media Association, even though he anchors two news shows, works a weekly "Legally Speaking" consumer interest beat, and really doesn't write about golf all that much. He also has a soft spot for the funky nine-holers, the lost-puppy courses and out-of-the-way tracks that would be scorned by the country club set. He attributes this odd attraction to growing up in Oregon and playing at courses like Orenco Woods, the long defunct Neahkahnie, Hawk Creek and that weird hillside par-3 up near the Portland Zoo that was plowed under 35 years ago.
Now if you happen to be a member of the aforementioned country club set, Allen is no fool and will almost never turn down your invitation to play at a top-flight course; he just relishes teeing it up in the middle of nowhere.