Golf tours push for inclusion at 2016 Games

/ Source: Associated Press Sports

Tiger Woods, Olympian?

Golf’s major governing bodies stepped up their campaign to get the sport added to the Olympic program in 2016, naming former LPGA commissioner Ty Votaw to lead the effort.

Votaw, now an executive vice president of the PGA Tour, will be loaned out from that post over the next 15 months to represent seven of the bigger hitters in the game: both the American and European tours, Royal & Ancient, LPGA, U.S. Golf Association, PGA of America and Augusta National Golf Club, home of the Masters.

“The time is right for the world of golf to come together for the common good of the sport,” Votaw said.

The IOC will decide in October 2009 on possible changes in the Olympic program at the same meeting where it picks the next host city for the Summer Games. The 2016 finalists are Chicago, Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro and Madrid.

Golf hasn’t been an Olympic sport since 1904, but a news conference that also featured PGA commissioner Tim Finchem, European tour executive director George O’Grady, and R&A chief executive Peter Dawson showed those at the top are firmly committed to getting back in the Games.

“There’s much to be done, and some stiff competition, but we do feel we’re putting together the right organization to get the job done,” Dawson said.

Other candidates
Six other sports are vying to get on the 2016 program, including two — baseball and softball — that will be played at the Beijing Games next month. They were dropped for the 2012 London Games, but have petitioned to get back in the Olympics four years later.

The other candidates are rugby, roller sports, squash and karate. The IOC is only expected to add a maximum of two new sports for 2016.

While men’s golf already has four major tournaments a year, not to mention the Ryder Cup (U.S. vs. Europe) and Presidents Cup (U.S. vs. the rest of the world) in alternate years, Finchem said getting onto the Olympic program is vital to golf’s development.

He cited “the incredible impact it could potentially have on growing the game around the world, particularly in areas that are fledgling in their current development of the game.”

Finchem acknowledged that some players have been cool to the idea of adding another major event to their already crowded schedules, floating the idea that it should be a competition for amateurs. But there’s no way the IOC will consider golf unless it offers up the top professionals for both men and women.

The best of those is Woods, who would be 40 when the 2016 Games are held. He has expressed mixed feelings about playing in the Olympics, at times pointing to the potential benefits, others times looking at the possible drawbacks.

“There are issues with respect to the structure of the schedule,” Finchem said. But he feels those concerns will be wiped away once players are educated on the potential for growth.

“Where the game is 10, 15, 20, 25 years from now could be fundamentally different because of the steps we’re taking, and the short-term issues will pale in comparison,” Finchem said.

Drug testing is another potential snag, but golf has recently moved in line with the rest of the sporting world by initiating anti-doping programs on all its major tours. While not as strict and comprehensive as World Anti-Doping Agency standards, Finchem believes any significant differences could be worked out.

Organizers of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics wanted to add golf to their program — and play it at Augusta National. That proposal failed when some IOC members and others criticized the club’s all-male membership, and the fact it had only recently taken a black member.

In 2005, golf failed to win inclusion at the London Games. Under that proposal, officials suggested 72 holes of stroke play with 50 men and 50 women. Eligibility would have been determined by the world ranking, with no country getting more than three players.

“I’d love to be a part of it,” said English golfer Justin Rose, who will be 36 in 2016. “The Olympics is all about competing at the highest level, world records and things like that. That’s what the Olympics means to me. Golf at the Olympics would be fantastic.”

There could be one drawback, however.

“I’m not sure my wife (Kate) would ever forgive me if I ever won a gold medal,” Rose joked. “She was a gymnast as a kid and that was her dream.”