Olympic golf format lacks pizzazz

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This is the first time since 1904 that golf will be featured in the Olympics and one would have expected the professionals to be champing at the bit to be involved. It seems anything but.

Singh withdrew citing fears over the Zika virus, despite the fact that the virus can only be contracted by a pregnant woman being bitten by a mosquito. Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel – at Nos 7, 13 and 20 in the world respectively – have also said they will be bypassing Rio due to “scheduling issues”. This is despite them knowing last year already what the schedule for 2016 was going to be.

It does seem that there is plenty of locker-room talk about the Olympics and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few more bigger names said they were unavailable as well.

It’s far easier to criticise the cramped golfing schedule, or “family reasons” than it is to speak out against a poor format or anything else that might be the root cause.

The format itself is boring, in that it is no different to a “regular” Tour event. Four rounds of individual stroke play and at the end of it the three medals will be dished out. It is entirely possible that world No1 Jason Day, or Nos2 and 3, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy, shoot a high number in the first round while others have gone in the mid-60s. Effectively, their Olympics chances would be ruined there and then.

It is also quite possible that a golfer is so dominant – both on the men and women’s sides – that they have clear daylight between themselves and the rest of the field and the gold medal is virtually sewn up in an anti-climax.

One could say that this is possible in any of the four Majors, and that’s completely valid. However, what the four Majors don’t have to compete with is a multi-code Games going on around them at the same time. Golf will be competing with the swimming, for instance. Would you rather opt to watch Chad le Clos and Michael Phelps going head to head, or follow a couple of golfers ranked around 100 in the world?

Had golf’s format been more exciting then one could expect more anticipation, more of a “shootout” and build to the gold medal.

At Rio there will be 60 men’s golfers. As of last week, Gavin Green was the qualifier occupying the 60th spot. The Malaysian is ranked No369 in the world but he could be the Olympic gold medallist. Hugely unlikely obviously, but possible.

I’m sure that many of the top golfers would like to have seen the Olympics offer something “different” to a regular Tour event. Perhaps a team betterball Stableford, similar to the World Cup, which actually felt like a team event. The reality is that these Games won’t be a team event. It’s 60 individuals going up against one another, as they do every week. The only thing different will be the clothes they wear, which will identify them as to which country they’re from.

I would have thought that the format could have been far more inventive without having to re-invent the wheel. Even if the field is pegged at 60, then why not have had a 36-hole individual event and take the top 32 golfers from that, leaving the other 28 to pack their bags. While a few big names might be surprise casualties, you’re likely to have quickly separated the men from the boys. With the remaining 32, make it straight matchplay: 32 becomes 16, that becomes eight and then four. The two semi-final winners go into the final for the gold match shootout and the two losers play for the bronze medal.

Many of those expressing disappointment at the absence of four Major champions – two of them being South African – reckon that pro golfers are too spoilt and get paid such huge amounts of money on the regular Tour, that the Olympics should rather make it open only to amateurs, if golf is to feature.

The reality too is that the big-name professionals – and this applies to tennis players like Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams – choose to stay outside of the athletes’ village. Which in itself is a huge pity. Part of the magic of any Olympics for the athletes is to rub shoulders with “ordinary” sportsmen and women, some of whom aren’t even household names in their own family.

What sounded like a good idea is quickly unravelling.

– Sunday Tribune

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