JOHNS CREEK, Georgia – Fair or not, there is a general feeling that professional male golfers exude an atmosphere of disturbing disinterest in the Olympics. Some of those who choose to show up seem like it would be a chore to be ticked off between cleaning the gutters and rolling the trash to the end of the driveway. Or for Sunday brunch at Grandma’s home.
Honestly, five of the world’s six best male players plan to be in Tokyo in a couple of weeks, with Americans Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, Xander Schauffele and Bryson DeChambeau joining world number one Jon Rahm from Spain. Seventh-placed player in the world, Patrick Cantlay, would love to be there, but he can’t as the four-man US squad declared “last call” after DeChambeau’s name in sixth place. The same goes for Brooks Koepka and Patrick Reed, who are top 10 outside players who look inside.
What we’ve seen with the men in the past few days is a constant trickle of Olympic defectors. The most notable before that was Dustin Johnson, the second-placed player in the world, but he is hardly alone. The group starting Tokyo includes Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa), Tyrrell Hatton (England), Adam Scott (Australia), Victor Perez (France) and Sergio Garcia (Spain) as well as Lee Westwood and Matt Fitzpatrick (England), Bernd Wiesberger ( Austria), Emiliano Grillo (Argentina) and Martin Kaymer (Germany). There are more. They all have their reasons and each have their own.
Who are we to question their planning if we don’t add an event that is a long, long road to go for most. Johnson wants to focus on the FedEx Cup and Grillo needs to improve his position in the overall standings (he is 41st). Garcia believes he can represent his country in the Ryder Cup, but he might also have this week of September off. We can only hope for nearly full participation for France (2024) and Los Angeles (2028), the next two golf games at the Olympic Games.
It is certainly a busy time of year with the British Open still underway in England, as well as the lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs not long after the Olympics. After the Olympics, the men at the WGC event in Memphis, a final event in the regular season to compete for points and positioning (Wyndham Championship), and three consecutive weeks of playoffs with s wallet slowly moving towards a bazillion . Even Jim Mora would be happy about these playoffs.
History? We’re not calling your number today. You’ll have to wait another time. At least for the men.
The Olympics are about wanting to be part of it. If it’s not that important, stay home and rush “Yellowstone” or “Dexter” and no one should stand in line to question it. How do women feel about participating in the Olympic Games? Why, night, day meet. Their chips have been pushed to the center of the table as Tokyo is an unavoidable theater for them. There is “want,” and that is the most important ingredient of all.
“I just think men’s golfers have so many big events,” said 2016 women’s gold medalist Inbee Park of South Korea at this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. “You definitely play a different level of golf with many different perspectives. You have so many options and so many different weeks with so many big tournaments. I think it’s a little different with us. We’re not as big as men’s golf. I think girls just deal with it a little differently.
“I’m sure the Olympic Games are not everyone’s goal. It really depends on the player, but I think most players think it’s a very special opportunity and I think I know a lot of Korean girls. I think being on the team is one of their most wanted goals. For me too. I’ve achieved a lot in golf, won a lot of majors, won a lot of tournaments, but winning the gold medal was something completely different. I would like many players to think the same way and treat the Olympics the same way. I think it’s definitely something that should be experienced. “
How good do you have to be to make it to the South Korean Olympic team? Well, the women’s standings won’t finish until Monday, but for the moment Hyo-Jo Kim holds fourth place (a team can have four players if they are all in the top 15) and she is number 8 in the Rolex rankings. In truth, on the LPGA tour – take this week’s Atlanta event for example – we have an Olympics on wheels that goes from city to city.
Just look at this week’s tee at the Atlanta Athletic Club: India, Hong Kong, Czech Republic, Denmark, Australia, Japan, China, New Zealand, South Korea, France, Sweden, Northern Ireland, Philippines, England, Mexico and oh, even Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. If you’ve ever been there you know it’s practically a land of its own. Hey, did we mention Denmark?
We probably left out a couple of countries, but that’s our point. The pool of female talent is getting deeper and the geography wider and wider, and the LPGA players serve as great ambassadors for their game. Have clubs, passes, willingness to travel.
The LPGA players ‘passion for the Olympic occasion should in no way be diminished by those on the men’s side who will be hanging “gone fishin'” clapboards under porch lights by the end of next month. We can talk about “Grow the Game” initiatives until the very last bucket of balls is gone and the lights are out, but this is a chance to come before another fan base – a general sports fan base, peripheral golf fans at Best – and help Bringing attention, support and association money to countries where the game is still very much on training wheels.
“Golf at the Olympics is just huge for the game. If you ask young children, even boys or girls, what are the four great championships or the five great championships for women, maybe they can name one or two. But they all know what Olympia is, ”said Heather Daly-Donofrio, LPGA’s Chief Tour Operations Officer. “Knowing as a young child that they might win an Olympic medal in golf is just huge for the growth of the game because young children can get in touch with the Olympics and everyone knows what it is.
“It’s just such a great platform for our players. (Former) Commissioner (Mike) Whan always said tune in at the Olympics this week, but the good news is that at other times of the year you can see the same players at 34 other times (on the LPGA) than us pretty much have the olympic games- fill in the box in our tour events every week. “
If three Americans won the men’s golf medals, would it move the needle for teens to switch from soccer or lacrosse or baseball to playing golf in the US? Probably not. But what if Abraham Ancer won gold for Mexico? Or did Hideki Matsuyama win at home in Tokyo? Or will Fabrizio Zanotti win gold for Paraguay?
Just look at what we had at the medal booth in Rio five summers ago. England (Justin Rose), Sweden (Henrik Stenson) and the USA (Matt Kuchar) played for the men. The women’s stand was South Korea (Inbee Park), New Zealand (Lydia Ko) and China (Shanshan Feng)
“Queenbee makes history at the Olympics!” Was the headline on Sunday in the Korean Times. The last woman to win a golf competition at the Olympics was Margaret Abbott, an American from the United States, in 1900. She shot 47 over nine holes and received a bowl, not a medal. So Park’s triumph was really historic.
Feng was asked about the impact of gold mining on China in 2016. She said in 2015, before the Olympics, China registered about 3,000 young players. Today the number is closer to 100,000. China had fewer than 200 female skilled workers. Now it has about 10 players competing on the LPGA. The LPGA events are televised at home. Junior players do not need to travel to the United States to play junior tournaments. And now the level of talent has caught the attention of US college coaches. Free school. The tide rises slowly.
“I think the Chinese are really good at golf,” said Feng, “so if we have more people starting to play golf now, I think we will have more and more like world number one and Olympic medalists. “Upstairs.”
If a Chinese player were to win medals again in Tokyo, it would only bring positive and growth. Feng will be there. She wants to be there. It is important. For the women who will travel to Tokyo, and most will in general, it is a calling. It’s a long way and the air miles are really not worth it if the heart can’t keep up.