No need to jazz up golf format as more stars become Olympic converts

I’ve got a confession to make. Due mainly to being on holiday but also feeling that I was in need of a total break from the sport, I barely watched any golf over the past fortnight.

Rory McIlroy of Team Ireland lines up a putt in the play-off hole for the bronze medal in Japan. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.
Rory McIlroy of Team Ireland lines up a putt in the play-off hole for the bronze medal in Japan. Picture: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images.

A week past Sunday in the final few hours of a spell in isolation after being ‘pinged’ from The Open, I briefly interrupted some therapeutic fence painting just in time to see Stephen Dodd hole his winning putt in The Senior Open at Sunningdale.

Having first come across ‘Doddy’ when he beat Craig Cassells in the final of the 1989 Amateur Championship at Royal Birkdale, where his success had the legendary Chris Smart sounding as though he was signing as he filed his copy to the Welsh papers, that really was a wonderful sight.

Next year’s edition, of course, is being staged on the King’s Course at Gleneagles for the first time and that promises to be every bit as appealing and exciting as the Ryder Cup and Solheim Cup at the Perthshire venue over the past few years.

New Olympic champion Xander Schauffele, centre, is flanked by bronze medallist C. T. Pan, left, and silver medallist Rory Sabbatini on the podium at the medal ceremony of the mens golf event during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Kasumigaseki Country Club on Sunday. Picture: Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images.

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The only other golf action I have encountered since The Open was some of the highlights from the Olympics and, hands up, that was only because it appeared on the screen as part of one of the BBC’s daily round ups.

For some reason, I don’t think I caught any of the golf coverage from Rio in 2016 as the sport marked its return to the Games after a 112-year hiatus.

Like some of the players, I hadn’t been able to get overly-excited about that, but, having heard what it meant to Justin Rose to become an Olympic champion after already proving himself as a major winner, my view was different this time around.

Tommy Fleetwood had played a part in that, first listening to him during the Scottish Open after his selection had been confirmed then seeing how excited he was about heading out to Japan to be part of Team GB.

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In contrast, it didn’t seem that Rory McIlroy was all that fussed about making the same journey to represent Team Ireland, but he has now been well and truly converted.

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Olympic stars set to be out in force in Women's Scottish Open

“I made some comments before that were probably uneducated and impulsive,” said the four-time major winner after losing out in a seven-man play-off for the bronze medal.

“But coming here experiencing it, seeing, feeling everything that goes on, not just Olympic golf but just the Olympics in general, that sort of Olympic spirit’s bitten me and I’m excited about how this week’s turned out and excited for the future.”

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Justin Thomas, the world No 4, was similarly enthused after getting his first experience of the Games. “It was cooler than I thought it was,” he admitted.

“I’m more proud of being here than I thought I would be. I thought I would be proud, but the first day or two I immediately found out that this is the coolest thing I’ve ever been a part of.”

Only Olympians can describe exactly what it is, but, in the golf event, a simple little thing like seeing players in team colours can get pulses racing and watching McIlroy playing without a hat even added something different, even though I know that probably sounds stupid.

As did seeing the new champion, American Xander Schauffele, and the two other medallists, Slovakia’s Rory Sabatini and CT Pan from Chinese Taipei, all wearing tracksuits rather than golf gear on the presentation podium.

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“This medal is for my country and my family, especially my dad,” wrote Schauffele, who, like Open champion Collin Morikawa, is set to be a brilliant ambassador for the sport for a long time, in a post on social media, referring to the fact his father, Stefan, had once dreamed of a being an Olympian himself before a car accident ended his decathlon career.

Other sports have jazzed things up a bit as part of the Olympic extravaganza. Rugby, for instance, is the sevens version, while this Games has witnessed the introduction of three-a-side basketball and short deciding sets in tennis.

Questions continue to be asked about whether golf missed an opportunity by not going for something different than the staple diet of 72-hole stroke-play or made it for amateurs rather than professionals.

I’d like to see a team element and all the better if that can be a mixed format going forward, but, based on what we’ve seen so far and we still have the women’s event to come this week in this edition, it’s been a hit, so let’s not encourage any unnecessary tinkering with something that doesn’t need it.

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