Golf should loudly celebrate Olympic inclusion, then tinker with formats | Ewan Murray

Ewan Murray
Golf proved its credentials as an Olympic sport in 2016 but the fact it has a future in the Games until 2024 should be more roundly cheered. Photograph: Chris Carlson/AP

It felt like a classic case of missed opportunity. Olympic golf had been beset by such a wave of negative publicity before the actual event got under way in Rio that the success of the competition itself, plus the weight Justin Rose placed in victory, was much needed. So, too, was the news that golf had finally and formally been retained as an Olympic sport for 2024 in Paris.

Yet it was a case of blink and you’d miss the latter situation. Rather than celebrate a stirring recovery from the point where players questioned the validity of Olympic inclusion – and in several high-profile cases refused to travel to Brazil – the news trickled out.

Ask around in golf circles and many are unaware of golf’s continued Olympic alliance. The public relations campaign has been non-existent rather than bullish. In many ways, this sums up the culture of taking things for granted which undermines the sport.

“Golf, as one of the 28 sports, is excited about the opportunity that this creates for the continued development and growth of our sport around the world,” said the International Golf Federation. “We look forward to building upon the success of golf’s return to the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and working with the organising committee of Paris 2024 to create a memorable experience for our athletes and fans, and a lasting legacy for golf.”

The excitement hardly leaps out of this corporate comment. If part of the IGF’s role is to deliver a powerful Olympic message on behalf of golf, they have fallen short.

It has taken questions from players for golf’s Olympic plans to be expanded upon. Those scheduling the sport have also played a part, with the switching of the US PGA Championship to May from 2019 set to create space and attention around the Olympics when it falls. “It is every four years, it is a big thing to win a medal,” said Henrik Stenson, who was runner-up to Rose in Brazil. “The important thing is it was a good competition when we played it, good on television and good for the sport. That secured us for a number of Olympics.

“It was a great experience for me and I’d love to be there again. The whole presentation from golf’s side turned out really well. I think we will see some increased participation going forward, a few guys who didn’t go seemed to feel like they missed out on something. You realise you are part of something bigger there. I haven’t heard any negatives from players who went.”

The broader and intriguing picture relates to format. In Rio, for both men and women, it was four rounds of stroke play and was criticised for being identical to standard stops on the PGA or LPGA Tours. There was an understanding that tweaks would be made for 2020 in Tokyo, with match play or team elements raised as possibilities. “It would have been fun to play for another medal in a team format,” added Stenson.

“The golf is over a two-week period for women and men to play for three medals each. Even if you are not in the absolute mix for an individual medal, something big is still up for grabs. You could do that but the issue might be some countries having only one qualified player. You could have one great player from a country and nothing else then they are out of the team format.

“I know there was some format talks earlier this year, I was asked to give my thoughts but I don’t know where we stand now.”

Rose, though, sees no reason for alteration. “It has proved to be one of the most important things in my career,” said the Englishman. “I’m not saying it is a major championship but I’m saying it is one of the most important events there is for golf.

“I think this is the truest, most tried and tested format. Look at the WGC Match Play where they have tweaked the format because they know the No1 player can go out in the first round. With 18 holes of match play, you are not always going to get the truest and best player on that week.

“I think if they added a medal and did a combined team competition too, that would be a cool addition but I think 72-hole stroke play is the truest form of the game. For an event that important, that’s what it should be.”

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