Goodbye, Rio: 20 observations from the Olympics
August 22, 2016
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Golf's return to the Olympics could be declared a success, and will lead to great anticipation leading up to Tokyo 2020. (Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
RIO DE JANEIRO – The 2016 Summer Olympics are over. In 1,438 days, the first round of the next Olympics golf tournament will begin at Kasumigaseki Country Club on the outskirts of Tokyo. The 2020 Games aren't exactly around the corner; nevertheless, here are 20 golf-related observations from the two weeks in Rio.
1. Olympic gold is now the toughest prize in golf. No, this isn’t a rehash of the medal vs. major argument. There’s a place for both, so no need to choose. Besides, a golfer’s career will continue to be defined by major wins, just like athletes in other established sports are defined by the championships. (Hoops fans know Michael Jordan won six NBA titles. Do you know off-hand how many Olympic gold medals he won? I had to look it up – two.)
But it’s simple mathematics. During a 20-year career, elite golfers theoretically will have 80 starts in majors. Even if his prime window is half that, it’s still 40 starts. Meanwhile, at most he’d make five Olympic starts (in this scenario, we’re assuming golf will remain an Olympic sport for the foreseeable future. Fingers crossed.). As Justin Rose noted, his reign as current Olympic champion will last through 16 majors.
Golf is an Olympics infant right now. Once it gains a foothold in the game and in players’ minds, perhaps the world’s best 50 years from now will covet it more than a major, and consider a gold medal the single-biggest achievement of any career.
2. Certainly it’s the toughest championship to defend. Rose will be 40 years old when the Tokyo Games begin. He should still be an elite player but just making Team Great Britain will be difficult. His fellow Olympian, Danny Willett, is 28. So is Chris Wood. Andy Sullivan is 30. Youngsters such as Matthew Fitzpatrick (21) and Tyrrell Hatton (24) might be reaching their primes. And that’s just the players from England.
Meanwhile, Inbee Park will be 32 four years from now. She may have an even more difficult time than Rose; the Korean women’s golf team might be the toughest to make in any Olympic sport. Plus, lots of speculation during the last week on her future and if she plans to continue playing. She was married less than two years ago and wants to start a family at some point.
“There is no plan for retirement at the moment,” Park said. “I really haven’t planned for anything right now, so I’m just going to go day-by-day.”
If nothing else, Rose and Park will at least have bragging rights for the next four years.
3. A little symmetry with the medalists – gold and silver were won by players ranked between 1-12 in the world. Bronze was won by players ranked 13-20. No Cinderella medal winners, but on the flip side, those who did reach the podium were well-established. Five were major winners (Kuchar still looking for his first).
4. Cinderellas did make an impact, though, en route to reaching the final group in the final round. Australia’s Marcus Fraser has one win in the last six years; American Gerina Piller is still looking for her first LPGA win. Once the sting of their final rounds subside, each should take positives from their weeks in Rio.Gerina Piller looks to take a strong performance at the Rio Games and translate it over to a strong finish in the 2016 LPGA season.(Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
5. Speaking of Cinderella … the most-trafficked Olympic story on PGATOUR.COM was a feature on an 18-year-old female golfer from India ranked 462 in the world (click here to read). Aditi Ashok was in contention after the first two rounds, and the curiosity factor kicked in. Even though she dropped off the pace, her story resonated well beyond the golf community. She called it “an incredible experience. She starts LPGA q-school on Monday.
6. So the lowest round of the entire two weeks is the 9-under 62 shot in the final round by a Russian woman ranked 348th in the world and known for most of the week by the style of hat she was wearing. Anyone see that coming? Didn’t think so.
7. Lots of chatter about potential format changes for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Many players discussed the addition of a team format along with individual stroke play. “I think it would make things more exciting or more fun,” said American Stacy Lewis. Some also suggested a mixed-team competition, perhaps squeezed in between the men’s and women’s tournaments as a 36-hole two-day competition. While it would reduce practice time, players might gladly give that up to have a chance at another medal.
8. If there had been two-player team competitions in Rio …
MEN: Gold/Silver playoff between Sweden (Stenson/Lingmerth, 20 under) and USA (Kuchar/Watson, 20 under). Bronze to Great Britain (Rose/Willett, 16 under).
WOMEN: Gold to Korea (Park/Ying, 25 under). Silver to USA (Lewis/Piller, 15 under). Bronze to Australia (Lee/Oh, 13 under). Note that New Zealand had just one representative in the field (Ko, 11 under).
MIXED: Gold to Great Britain (Rose/Hull, 24 under). Silver to USA (Kuchar/Lewis, 22 under). Bronze to Sweden (Stenson/Nordqvist, 20 under).
9. Interesting twist to first-tee introductions, with the golfers lined up shoulder to shoulder, a hand-held TV camera panning over them as each named is called out. Evidently, the players weren’t expecting it, so it threw some for a loop that first day. But it certainly made for a nice pre-round photo op. China’s bronze medalist Shanshan Feng called the introduction “quite neat.” Might be worth carrying over to annual events.
10. Players raved about the Gil Hanse course. In no particular order, here are some of the reasons they cited:
It was fun.
It was interesting.
It offered a different challenge depending on the weather.
Perfect balance of tough holes vs. scoreable holes.
Not overly penal, not overly easy.
Forced to use every club in the bag.
Consistent-rolling greens – and speeds not maxed out on the stimpmeter.
11. One of Hanse’s goals in designing the Olympic course was to have the men and women hit similar shots and use similar clubs throughout their rounds. He didn’t want a course that played differently. Evidence that he achieved his goal? The winning score for each gold medalist was 16 under. And all six players who finished double-digits under par won medals.
12. On Saturday afternoon, while the three women’s medalists were in their press conference, a heavy rain began to fall. On Sunday , the final day of the Olympics, more rains and vicious winds – in fact, the most powerful winds of the entire two weeks – ripped through the area. Good planning and a stroke of fortune allowed the golfers to avoid any severe weather conditions.
13. In October of 2009 when golf was voted into the Olympics, Tiger Woods was the world’s No. 1 player. At that point, it was difficult to imagine Tiger not playing in Rio. Things changed, of course. But what if Tiger had qualified to play? Would have he opted to stay away like the other top Americans, or would he have competed for gold?
“If Tiger was around, he definitely would’ve played,” speculated Padraig Harrington, “and he would have led nearly all the players here. We needed a leader to come. If Tiger was here, I don’t think anybody would’ve been pulling out … definitely the rest would’ve followed. So we miss Tiger.”
14. One aspect the Olympics tournament did fall short on compared to the majors – a big-time merchandise tent. Five things I would like to have seen sold in Rio:
- A respectable pin flag
- Course art by Lee Wybranski
- Caps featuring the course name
- Country-oriented apparel
- Tervis tumblers (although the ubiquitous yellow collectible cups offered a nice challenge – especially for those trying to find one featuring “Golfe”)
15. One other suggestion – set up a specific area for fans to trade pins, perhaps in a tent or at least a shaded area. Golf fans spend all day at the course; it might be nice to have a place to rest but still do something fun. First, though, the various national golf organizations around the world need to make sure they have pins available. Frankly, I wasn’t able to find that many golf-oriented pins, although I did manage to procure a sweet Golf Canada one.
16. Speaking of pins, I turned a mixed bag of these …
Into these ...
Shout-out to USA GOLF representatives for the bargaining chips
17. Some feared that Brazilian fans, unfamiliar with proper gallery etiquette, might negatively impact play. While there were some instances of cellphones ringing, ill-timed movements and loud background chatter near the greens, it didn’t appear to be a big issue and certainly didn’t influence which players found the podium. Players seem to understand that it was a small price to pay for having the privilege of playing in the Olympic Games in a non-traditional golf country. One suggestion moving forward -- make sure marshals provide instructions and directions in the host country's native language. Shouting English to a gallery that speaks Portuguese doesn't make much sense.
18. Speaking of fans ... gotta applaud the passionate folks following the Korean women. They bulked up the nice-sized galleries for Saturday’s final round. Eventual gold medalist Inbee Park said she felt like it was a home tournament. Said one impressed observer: “It’s like every Korean in Rio is here at the golf course.” They were aptly rewarded.
19. Best quote from a player: “Every week, 156 guys tee it up. You have one winner, 155 losers. This week, 60 guys tee it up and we’re all Olympians. We’re all winners. Everybody’s walking away feeling like they’ve achieved something this week.” (Harrington)
20. As a result ... expect the top men's players to play in the Tokyo Olympics. What a tournament that will be. It can't get here quick enough.