At the US Open in June, Geoff Ogilvy spoke of Oakmont, the most penal of championship courses in the United States: “It does everything to make you hate it, but you still have to love it.”
As schoolchildren we are imbued with the notion of Olympic glory being inextricably tied to national achievement and pride. Then comes the realisation so much of what we had watched as awestruck children was a fraud perpetrated by chemists, doctors and governments with no concept of fair play or the “Olympic ideal”.
Winning at all, and any, cost is the way it works. Not in all sports, but so many of the bigger ones. And the line of disgraced “heroes” grows longer with each subsequent Olympics.
Golf isn’t immune from impurity, but unlike most sports, players are essentially their own judges and arbiters of the rules.
That all but one of the contestants in the men’s 100m final in Seoul would subsequently fail a drug test is a staggering reality. Just imagine if seven of the first eight finishers in the Open Championship were found to have such a blatant disregard for playing fair.
It would become an event stooping to the level of the Tour de France and the fraud perpetrated by Lance Armstrong – and most of the rest of them in his era, by all accounts.
Still, as much as Armstrong made you want to hate the Tour, we still watch. As much as Ben Johnson made you want to hate Olympic athletics, we still watch.
Golf has dealt itself into the Olympics, but in the short term at least, winning a gold medal will not measure alongside the significance of winning a major championship in either the men’s or the women’s game.
Some argue it’s a generational thing and 50 years from now, winning at the Olympics will be one of the absolute pinnacles of the game. Maybe. Equally possible is Olympic golf doesn’t survive beyond Tokyo in 2020.
Many of the best men have their reasons, including our finest pair, Jason Day and Adam Scott. Rory McIlroy won’t be in Rio, nor will Jordan Spieth or Dustin Johnson.
The selling of golf to the IOC was no doubt centred on Tiger Woods and, back in 2009 when locked in, it was almost inconceivable he wouldn’t be one of the best four American players. When the men tee off in Rio this week, is anyone prepared to say with any certainty Woods will even play competitively again?
In contrast to the men, all the best women are playing. Well, sort of. Hana Jang and So Yeon Ryu are the 10th and 11th best players on the world rankings, but there are four other Koreans ranked ahead of them, so while players ranked in the 300s will be in Rio, two of the very best will not.
The women’s event has a greater air of legitimacy as all the best players have embraced it. Whilst Day and Scott have walked away, there is surely no more disappointed Australian than Karrie Webb who’d have played all the way from Atlanta to London had golf been a part of the Olympics. The best women well understand – and always have – that if they do not support their tour it will wither and die for lack of sponsor support and television ratings.
Many have written off Olympic golf as a disappointment before a shot is hit.
But, like so many other sports with negatives in the lead-up, perhaps judgments are better left until it’s all over and Olympic golf might magically have conspired to have us love it despite many wanting to mark it as an irrelevance.