August 10, 2016: As golf returns to the Olympic games for the first time since 1904 this is something to seriously keep in mind. It is not always just about the winner but perhaps the journey as well. The mission for the International Golf Federation has been focused on growing the game and opening all of us to the world of golf. The true global scale of it.
Golf fans know plenty of PGA TOUR players. We know the big names from the European Tour also. But there is more to the eye. Skill abounds on tours all over the world. The Asian Tour, Sunshine Tour, PGA TOUR LatinoAmerica, PGA TOUR Canada, PGA TOUR China, PGA Tour Australasia… plus the web.com and Challenge tour. Good players abound in all pockets.
It is no secret the men’s Olympic competition has faced some significant pull outs in the lead up. It is unfortunate the threat of Zika and other issues popped up to make this happen.
The majority of those missing have said they would be involved but for health fears. In 1988 when tennis returned to the games eight of the top 10 men in the world did not play in Seoul.
But numbers rose incrementally in subsequent Olympics and hopefully golf will have those players in Tokyo.
There are some people wavering when it comes to watching Olympic golf, saying the 60-player field is devoid of some star power and lacks depth. Perhaps that is missing the point and so I implore you, don’t risk missing something special.
It is not about those not in Rio, it is about those ready to perhaps create their own legacy, or a legacy for the sport itself.
The winner will go down in history as the first gold medal winner in the sport since 1904, a significant mark on the resume. Imagine if that is someone like Spain’s Sergio Garcia. So often falling just short in the majors but yet giving us countless hours of entertainment in a glistening career none-the-less. It would perhaps be fitting for him to claim gold and have that something special to take into his twilight years in the sport. Perhaps it might even inspire him to a major down the line.
While a win for him would be special, some wins would perhaps mean more to the sport globally than others. And it might not even need a win, but just the sniff of one at some stage in the four-day competition.
Imagine for instance the impact of a medal winning performance from Venezuelan Jhonattan Vegas. The recent RBC Canadian Open winner is already a star in his native land but golf is most certainly not the sport of choice for most kids growing up. Baseball and basketball take most of the glory and then football (soccer) and even the local Coleo are much more popular.
Limited people may have seen him salute in Canada, but come Olympic time, they’re all watching. They are all hoping to see one of their own succeed in any or all of the sports on offer. It gives hope and dreams to many growing up in tough times. The thoughts begin… “Maybe I can do that too.” Vegas could be seen as a beacon of hope. An example to show the children. Train hard, play hard, perhaps you could be an Olympian too.
When Vegas won in Canada he was asked to whom he would dedicate the win. Keep in mind he’s a relatively new husband and father.
“I would say my country, Venezuela. Venezuela is a country that is suffering right now, a lot of issues, politically, economically, socially. It’s just a tough place right now, a lot of people hurting,” he said.
“So definitely I want to dedicate it to the country because of all the tremendous support that I’ve had from them, even through the rough time they are having right now.”
And what about Siddikur Rahman. Representing Bangladesh, a cricket mad country, he mathematically has a 1/20 chance of being the first person from his country to ever win an Olympic medal. Should he manage to bring his Asian Tour winning form to Rio he could effectively introduce an entire new generation to the sport.
This is why it is important for golf to be back in the Olympic Games. While we marvel at the ratings for the majors, or other big American sporting spectacles like the Super Bowl, the Olympics has more global eyes than anything coming out of the USA. Millions of potential new fans of the sport will be watching and they don’t necessarily need to see Bubba Watson or Henrik Stenson putting on a striking clinic to be hooked.
It might just be a young boy from the slums in India watching TV for the first time in a shop window who sees Anirban Lahiri make a charge and all of a sudden gets the bug.
Maybe Ricardo Gouveia nails a hole-in-one at some point, making highlights packages all over Portugal and breaking into the soccer dominated coverage.
Perhaps a young girl in Finland sees her flag next to Mikko Ilonen and is inspired. Then she sees Ursula Wikstrom and Noora Tamminen the following week and is sourcing her first set of clubs to start bashing balls.
Neither of those three countries have won a major in men’s or women’s golf but perhaps just their participation in Rio alone will inspire someone to be the person to break the barrier in the future.
You might think this sounds far-fetched. But is it really? Most athletes are inspired by others as children. The current young stars in golf point to Tiger Woods as an idol from their formative years. There are plenty of households in the USA who do not watch golf but who do watch the Olympics. Will Rickie Fowler capture even more young fans when the kids in those living rooms get a glimpse of his style?
Even if it is only one person who takes up the game for the Olympic dream wouldn’t that be worth it?
PGA Tour Release