Olympic Golf Has Supporters, Foes

Wednesday, September 20th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The closest golf has come to the Olympics this side of 1904 is Greg Norman and Karrie Webb carrying the torch in Australia.

And Tiger Woods using his golf club for a javelin in a television commercial.

For a sport that has been around more than 500 years — certainly longer than water polo and table tennis — it seems an injustice that the best players in the world cannot compete for the gold once every four years.

Hal Sutton, who wrapped himself in the Stars & Stripes during his stellar play in the Ryder Cup, tried to imagine what it would be like to stand on a podium as the national anthem played and the flag was raised.

``It would mean a lot,'' he said.

But what would mean more? A gold medal around his neck or a green jacket over his shoulders?

A medal or a claret jug?

Just about every Olympic sport brings together the absolute best from countries in even the most remote corners of the globe. What happens when golf comes to the Olympics, but Tiger Woods doesn't?

``It would be like any other competition in golf,'' PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. ``If everybody played, it would be stronger. If not everybody played, it wouldn't be as strong.''

The Olympics need golf a lot more than golf needs the Olympics.

Golf already has its four major championships. For pressure-packed qualifying, international strife and dispute over commercialism, it has the Ryder Cup. For those left out, it has the Presidents Cup. For global competition, it has the World Golf Championships.

The schedule is crammed already. The competition is spread across the planet, from America to Asia, from Europe to Australia. Not everyone goes everywhere, and most are driven by the almighty dollar.

``I don't think it would be a big priority in our game, just because we have four major championships with equal significance every single year,'' said Woods, who already has said he's not going to Australia for the Match Play Championship in January.

``Most of those athletes, that is the pinnacle,'' he said. ``Now, if we had majors that were once every four years, you throw the Olympics in there, it would have quite a bit of significance.''

That's not an opinion shared by everyone, least of all Norman, who called it a ``crying shame'' that golf has been left out for so long.

``I think it's time to take off the blinders and just see how popular the game of golf really is on a global basis,'' Norman said. ``It deserves to be in there.''

Perhaps it will. And maybe it will be a huge success, even without Woods.

Last month in Berlin, David Fay of the U.S. Golf Association and Peter Dawson of the Royal & Ancient received approval to recast another Olympic proposal. They are joint secretaries of the World Amateur Golf Council, which the IOC recognizes as the official federation for golf.

``Over the year, people have looked at the notion of Olympic golf and said, 'Why should we do it?''' Fay told Golf World magazine. ``That frustrates me. I ask, 'Why shouldn't we do it?' I haven't come up with one reason.''

Here's two.

Try squeezing yet another tournament into an already crowded schedule.

``As one of the older guys that believes in tradition and has watched the Olympics all my life, I personally would like to see it,'' Sutton said. ``But I don't know what the younger players would think. They're doing so much now, I don't know they want to add more tournaments.''

The other issue is television.

Unlike most other Olympic sports, it's difficult to present golf in 10-minute packages. And given the size of the arena, it's expensive to produce. That's one reason the PGA Tour has been so lukewarm to the idea.

``Being a part of the Olympics has its appeal,'' Finchem said. ``It just has to be done the right way. We're always open to talking about it.''

The LPGA Tour is doing more than just talking.

Commissioner Ty Votaw conferred with his board and his players, then fired off a letter to Fay offering full support and cooperation to add golf to the Olympics. Webb and Meg Mallon are among those who told Votaw they liked the idea of golfing for gold.

The only obstacle would be rearranging the schedule, something Votaw has had to tackle just about every year.

Besides, it makes more sense for the LPGA to get involved with the Olympics.

``I think this would only be an extension of what the LPGA has become, which is a world tour,'' Votaw said Tuesday. ``What greater world event is there than the Olympics? Having my players walk into an Olympic Stadium with the Korean team or Canadian team or Australian team would be the thrill of a lifetime.

``It's something we're going to work on trying to do.''