In the modern professional era golf should not be an Olympic sport but it is part of the programme in Rio and player’s commitment to the concept could be key to identifying potential winners of the gold medal. Justin Rose and Padraig Harrington are relishing the whole experience and unlike other players would see becoming the Olympic champion in their chosen sport as a massive achievement.
The men’s individual tournament this week in Brazil is a 72 hole strokeplay tournament that begins on Thursday and ends on Sunday, which is what we get every other week on all the tours. The Olympics was an opportunity to showcase different formats and make the event standout. Club players play Stableford and that would have made the tournament in Rio different. Texas scramble would have been even more interesting but anything would be better than the tired old format.
The many high profile absentees include the four top players in the world rankings and six from the top 10 in the standings are not playing. Rory McIlroy amongst others said he wasn’t prepared to risk the repercussions of the Zika virus and he looks like starting a family in the next few years. That might be a red herring but the truth is the top players see the four majors as the pinnacle of the sport and not the Olympics. McIlroy even said he wouldn’t watch the golf because its virtually meaningless.
There are 60 players in the field and the only prizes are the three medals. With no money or ranking points at stake there is nothing to play for when out of contention. In regular tournaments the prize money difference between finishing fourth and finishing 60th is substantial but if you don’t win a medal nobody will remember the final scores and finishing positions. Maybe to add a twist ranking points for the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup could have been incorporated so scores would mean something. Most of the field will have no chance of winning a medal at the weekend.
The location has not helped and the London Olympics would have attracted a stronger field but golf was only introduced this year after an absence of 112 years. Golf in 2012 could have been played on one of the excellent inland courses near London or even on the south coast on the links course at Sandwich in Kent. The Rio course has been created specifically for the Games so there is no course form to assess and that scenario is always difficult for golf punters.
The field brings together six major champions, six WGC winners, one former world number one and 39 European Tour winners. However, the numbers are made up by players well down in the world rankings but who are committed to winning a gold medal for their country. The circumstances could produce a big priced winner or the cream could rise to the top. Rose and Harrington have won majors and their commitment to representing their country could bring enough desire for them to contend even if conditions are hot and uncomfortable.
The course has had positive reviews but that could be PR spin as nobody involved would openly criticise an Olympic venue. In the spirit of being friendly with the Earth the course has been built around the natural terrain and vegetation. The track is open to the elements and if the wind blows it would be a tough challenge. Conditions will favour good links players and Harrington has won two British Opens. In 2008 at Birkdale the winds were strong and the Irish player won with a score of three over. Harrington is attending other sports and he would be proud to win a medal for Ireland.
Rose made his name at Birkdale in the 1998 Open when he finished joint fourth as a teenager and amateur. His record in the oldest championship in the sport is nothing special and he’s never contended since in his national Open. However, Rose is proven at major championship level and has the mentality to keep his form in bad weather. Henrik Stenson may suffer from mental letdown after two weeks in the cauldron of major championship golf when in contention. Danny Willett’s form has dipped since winning the US Masters in April.
The rights and wrongs of golf being part of the Olympics will probably be discussed by the International Olympic Committee as part of a review of the Games. However, Rose and Harington will be advocates of its continued inclusion if they appear on the top of the podium listening to their National Anthem on Sunday.