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If Olympic golf wants to stand out, it'll need a different format, and different personality

By Shane Bacon | Blogger
Much will have to change to make golf stand out at the 2016 Olympics. (Getty Images)

This past weekend, the London Olympic Games ended to high acclaim from just about anyone that attended. Everything seemed to run smoothly, and while we as a people will spend a day or two looking back on all the triumphs, it's in our human nature to look ahead, and that for these games is Rio 2016.

The good news for us golf freaks is that the next Summer Olympics will allow our favorite sport to be included. No more battling for airtime with the men's basketball finals during our fourth major, because the best players from each country will be in Brazil competing in the Olympics for the first time since 1904.

The problem is, few golf experts are overly excited about it. Tim Dahlberg of the Associated Press penned this column on Monday that ended basically bashing the idea of golf being added to the Olympics, simply stating, "There's nothing special about golf's best players getting together for a big tournament, because they do it probably 10 times a year and already compete for their country in the Ryder and President cups," and sadly, Tim might be onto something. What is exciting about an event that mimics all the other golf events we have?

Yes, it's true. The Olympics are leaning towards a boring, 72-hole stroke play event that would have multiple players from countries, but they'd be as much of a cohesive unit as Michael Phelps and Misty May-Treanor. If Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson made it, they'd be competing under the same flag, but they'd still be competing against one another, with no real "unity" besides the shirts they'd be wearing.

The argument for this stroke-play format is simple; tennis is a sport that plays all the big tournaments the same and plays the Olympics the same and people seem to pay attention. Andy Murray winning the gold medal was one of the top five or six moments of the entire two weeks in London, and it was played in exactly the same format as Wimbledon on the same hallowed grounds.

The problem with a stroke play event that resembles, say, the WGC-Bridgestone is that there will be absolutely no history there to help bump it up. First, the golf course is being built for the Olympics, so it isn't like the golfers are headed to Pine Valley to exhibit their skills. Second, unlike Olympic tennis, golf rarely gives you the top three or four players in the world all battling down the stretch. This makes it tougher to predict, especially if someone like Andres Romero was able to step his game up and steal the gold medal while Tiger (or Bubba Watson or Rickie Fowler) was T-20 heading into the final round.

The bottom line is, this needs to be a match play-style event, and it needs to be teamed. We see enough stroke play all year, and if the Olympics want to stand out, it needs to add a different wrinkle. It would be like Hugh Hefner throwing the exact same theme party 10 times a year at the Playboy Mansion. Yeah, people would still attend, but wouldn't that get a little old?

Dahlberg argues that we already have things like the Presidents and Ryder Cups, but those are full teams, and this would be just two guys competing together. Why not play it like the Omega World Cup, with the top two qualifiers going at it as a team, much like the format of the Ryder Cup? The first day the highest seeded team plays the lowest seeded team in an alternate shot format, and winners move on to the afternoon four ball matches. The next day the group is smaller, with single elimination being the wrinkle that sets this thing apart.

Make it the golf version of the NCAA Tournament. If the Americans get canned on the first day, so be it, and let them play out in different formats until we crown a champion.

Honestly, who doesn't like watching team golf? it's so different and unique and seems to bring out the best in golfers. It allows players to group together for their country, and it isn't just "you and the caddie against everyone" like the rest of the golfing season.

Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros. Lee Westwood and Luke Donald. How is this a bad move?

Olympic golf will need a personality if it wants to stick around. It'll need something fun. If Ryder Cup meets the Accenture, and we can figure out exactly how this will work, I say go for it. It sure beats the hell out of watching a bunch of guys play golf with the only distinction being that they're using a different golf bag for the week.

 
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