The simple fix for golf that isn’t so simple
RIO DE JANEIRO — For all the praise of golf’s return to the Olympics, there was no shortage of suggestions to make it better.
The easy fix is to introduce a team format.
All golf leaders had to do for the Rio Games was to combine the scores of the top two players from each country to provide a team medal. There would have been 24 teams for the men and women. For the men, Sweden would have won by one shot over the Americans, and Justin Rose’s birdie putt to win the gold medal also would have given Britain the bronze medal by one shot over Spain.
How’s that for an additional layer of drama?
If only it were that simple.
“We didn’t have time,” said Ty Votaw, vice president of the International Golf Federation.
Votaw said the International Olympic Committee doesn’t allow for two competitions in one. A team format would have had to be a separate competition. Try squeezing that into two weeks, on an 18-hole golf course that was brand new for competition without knowing how much stress it could take.
“The IOC rejected it,” Votaw said.
The other option was to have a team format in place of the individual competition. Sure, that might have enticed some of the countries that skipped out (the Australians and South Africans come to mind), but it would have reduced the number of flags raised along the 18th fairway at Olympic Golf Course.
“We thought having the most countries was better than team competition,” he said. “And then someone like Jhonattan Vegas (Venezuela) would not have had a partner.”
Lydia Ko would have been left out, too.
As it was, six medals went to six nations over two weeks. So it wasn’t all that bad.
One element that won’t change — or shouldn’t — is 72 holes of stroke play.
All but a few tournaments throughout the year use that format, and there’s a reason for that. It remains the best way to measure who played the best golf that week. And that’s what the Olympics should be. Match play is bad for television and leaves spectators only one match to follow at the end, and there’s a history approaching 20 years at the Match Play Championship that illustrates how unpredictable it can be.
Any other format would be a gimmick, or best saved for the silly season.
“The last thing the IOC wants is a trial format,” IGF President Peter Dawson said.
The IGF needed to keep it simple in the first year, and it needed support of the top players when making its bid. Votaw won’t rule out the IGF trying to persuade the IOC to reconsider the two-man team played at the same time as the individual competition.
“What we wanted to do is put our best foot forward, and I think we did that,” Votaw said. “We’ll look at all sorts of things. We do have a time issue in terms of how many things we can fit into a two-week period.”
There are a few steps to take before golf starts contemplating any changes.
The IGF president has a limit of three two-year terms, and Dawson’s time is up at the end of the year. The only exception is if the IGF board unanimously votes to keep him on. Dawson wasn’t about to speculate on those prospects.
The next step is making sure golf stays beyond the Tokyo Games in 2020. Golf did its part by staging an exceptional event over two weeks.
The logical conclusion is a team event, and a mixed team might be the most ideal. The Summer Youth Olympics nailed it in China two years ago, though the field size was 32 players instead of the 60 players for the men’s and women’s competition in Rio.
The boys and girls each played the first three days for a 54-hole individual medal. Then, they played mixed team the next three days — 18 holes of foursomes, 18 holes of fourballs, and two singles matches to reach a 72-hole score. Sweden won the gold in a playoff over South Korea, while Italy won a playoff for the bronze over Denmark.
One idea being kicked around is to stage a mixed-team event the last two days between the men’s and women’s competitions. That could be either fourballs and foursomes on the same (long) day, or a 54-hole event with foursomes one day, and two singles the next day. That way, every shot would count.
Golf will be held at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Japan for 2020. It has 36 holes, and the best option might be to have both courses available if it makes sense. And if the IOC is willing to allot for medals for golf.