The Olympics are the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth; not the WGC events, not even the Major Championships, can hold a candle to the significance of the Games.
In 1984, an interesting piece about golf’s association with the Olympics appeared in Golf Digest magazine. “It’s not every day that you learn your mother was an Olympic champion, 80-odd years after the fact,” wrote Philip Dunne, the son of Margaret Abbot, a lady golfer who won the nine-hole event at the 1904 Paris Games. Abbot, who was born in Calcutta was visiting Paris at the time, and made a spontaneous decision to tee it up when she heard about the event. Dunne wrote that his mother passed away in 1955 without realising that the nine-hole event was, in fact, part of the Olympics, believing instead, that she had won the ‘Championship of Paris’. Admittedly, that does has a ring to it: doubt that Abbot would have taken any less pride in her achievement for which she was duly awarded a porcelain cup. It was only when a professor with a keen interest in the Games researched Abbot’s life and traced down her family did the story come to light. There was certainly no precedent: women’s golf had never been part of the Olympics before the Paris Games. As it turns out, that blink-and-miss appearance remained golf’s only cameo at the Games for over a century.
If I am to be charitable, then that exclusion might explain why a number of pro golfers weren’t that enthused about taking part in the 2016 Rio Games, when golf finally made it back to the pantheon of Olympic sports. In fact the golf event was a bit of a disaster that year: 21 of the 60 golfers invited to take part sent in their regrets; most professed health and safety concerns in the wake of the Zika virus contagion in Brazil at the time. Englishman Justin Rose made the most of it; while he might not have had as little competition as Abbot had to contend with 112 years back, having the four top-ranked players in the world not show up when you’re trying to become the modern era’s first Olympic men’s gold medalist, is nothing to complain about.
Rose made history that year, and prompted a slow but steady outpouring of regret from his absentee peers for their oversight at not recognising the gravitas of what it means to be an Olympic champion. “All the guys that missed out probably made their decision for good reasons and they probably persuaded themselves it was a good decision, but I think they’re going to have sat back and realised what a successful event this was,” Rose said in an interview to The Guardian in 2016. Rose was lauded, not just for winning, but embracing the Games spirit wholeheartedly: the Englishman went the distance, watching multiple sports, hanging out with athletes at the Games Village, and making a life experience of it. It was golf’s first day in the sun at The Games after more than a century, and Rose got all the spotlight.
As it turns out, it’s going to take a while before golfers who didn’t make it to Rio will be able to reprise that experience. This time around — faced with a surging public opinion in Japan that questions the prudence of holding the Games given the danger the pandemic poses — the Olympic Committee has its back against the wall. Not surprisingly, the procedures that will be enforced to isolate players and minimise interaction are going to be stringent. Golfers, like other athletes, have to live in near isolation within the Games village — an arrangement that will necessitate an hour’s drive to the venue every day. Now that inconvenience, for our global, pampered, golf stars is nothing short of a blooming disaster. Leading the charge of the petulant was world number three—Jon Rahm: “The International Olympic Committee, due to the persistence of the health emergency, is not making things easy for us players.
Families are not allowed, they are not allowed to participate in other events, until the Wednesday before the competition golfers cannot sleep in the hotel but must stay inside the Olympic village which, from what I have been told, is at least an hour’s drive from the competition area. So it’s not easy…” said Rahm recently. Perhaps cognisant of the lampooning potential of his statement, he was quick to add that, “…I can understand why so many colleagues give priority to other events. However, this is not my case. Winning the Olympics is one of my great dreams”
Bravo Jon. Most of us have a vague understanding of what it takes to be an Olympic athlete; there is no dearth of extraordinary stories of individuals who’ve chosen the pursuit of excellence at the final frontier of human abilities. In disciplines like athletics, and especially in sports that, unlike golf, do not have lucrative professional leagues, these sportspeople live for the Olympics.
Given that the entire fate of the Games and everything these athletes have worked for, rests in the hope of zero or at least limited transmission of the virus, Rahm will have to be magnanimous here. The Olympics are the greatest sporting spectacle on Earth; not the WGC events, not even the Major Championships, can hold a candle to the significance of the Games. Something that’s even more relevant when our world is ravaged by a dogged virus that refuses to die, and has circumscribed our lives for more than a year. To be fair, I’m not sure if the Olympics should be held, but if they are, then I’m sure Rahm and his cohorts will find it within themselves to endure a long commute. You’re part of the grand show folks, just nap if you have to.
A golfer, Meraj Shah also writes about the game