In my three years working in the golf industry, a clear highlight has to be a Wednesday afternoon at Lake Karrinyup Country Club covering the final round of the 2014 Bowra & O’Dea Championship.
Every member of the gallery was aware they were witnessing something special. Current WA Open champion Curtis Luck was one of those present, commenting “this is ridiculous” while stating that he could only hope to have the game to match what was on display.
The eventual top 3 on the 72 hole leaderboard read;
-22 Su Oh
-21 Minjee Lee
-15 Hannah Green
It’s with that in mind that I bring up a recent radio interview on Perth’s SportFM, where I was asked to provide a simple yes or no answer to my opinion on golf’s place in the Olympics in the wake of Rory McIlroy’s withdrawal.
I answered with an emphatic yes in favour of golf at Rio 2016 — to which the radio presenter suggested that my response was just a case of me toeing the company line.
It was frustrating not being able to back up my personal opinion due to time constraints, and these pent up frustrations have bubbled over in the wake of Jason Day’s recent withdrawal from Rio 2016.
Before I continue I will add a caveat in bright flashing lights — I totally respect and understand the decisions of the likes of Day, Scott and Leishman to remove their hat from the ring — especially considering the health concerns surrounding the Zika virus. If I was offered a free trip as a spectator, I’d think twice before taking it too.
But whether it’s directly stated or implied, many in the golfing circles, and by extension the media, are linking these withdrawals to a perceived lack of importance of the gold medal to golf’s existing suite of majors. Is golf really too good for the Olympics? Is Zika maybe just a scapegoat for those wanting to withdraw without seeming disrespectful?
Whether there’s an element of truth to this or not, it leads to the most frustrating part of this debate. People who say that golf shouldn’t be in the Olympics because it doesn’t represent the pinnacle of the sport completely gloss over the fact that they’re really only talking on behalf of men’s golf.
Do you know how many women have ruled themselves out for the Olympics?
Some may view this as further proof that the Zika concerns are overstated, but I say it’s more proof of the women’s determination to play this event in spite of the risks.
The greatest thing about the Olympics is that all gold medals are equal in the final tally and in the eyes of the public. While our Australian and Victorian Opens fight the good fight with equal prize money, when it comes to golf’s majors it’s patently obvious that the women’s US Open, British Open and US PGA titles pale in significance when comparing the prize money and promotion of their male equivalents.
And I shouldn’t even bother wasting pixels highlighting the cavernous gap between golf’s obsession with the US Masters and indifference to the Evian and ANA Inspiration.
But at the Olympics a gold is a gold. It’s a much needed step towards bridging the gap between the women’s and men’s game, and it’s sad that we’re wasting our energy discussing which male golfers won’t be playing instead of focusing on who from the women’s field could prevail as they battle for their equivalent of a Green Jacket.
It’s fitting that within hours of each other, both of golf’s world number ones made statements on their stance on the Olympics. While Jason Day’s understandable withdrawal has 606 retweets at the time of writing, Lydia Ko’s gushing excitement for Rio 2016 has just 10.
“I think [the Olympics] is how people outside of the golfing industry will learn more about us…It’s not every week, not every year you get to do this, to represent your country, amongst the world’s best athletes in other sports, so I’m super excited about it, and there are just so many positives from Rio that golf can take.”
Where’s the love for Lydia?
Golf has shown it’s willing to fight for equality, such as when we collectively lampooned Muirfield’s decision to vote against allowing women’s membership. If we were so quick to decry a stance that is viewed as bad for the game, why don’t we put as much effort into celebrating this brief moment of equalisation – and on a stage so big it eclipses the US Masters many times over!
Finding someone in the golf industry who feels that growing the women’s game is crucial to the strength of golf is easier than shooting fish in a barrel, yet as a collective we’re making very little noise about the importance of this amazing opportunity to promote the best women in golf, while capturing the imagination of girls (and boys for that matter) around the globe.
Australian male golfers get up to four chances a year to make themselves a household name.
But what will it take for the likes Minjee Lee and Su Oh (currently holding the Olympic selection position) to become a household name? I don’t doubt they’re both aiming to become next “greatest of all time” like Karrie Webb — or they could simply win an Olympic gold and instantly get their face on a stamp.
If the withdrawals continue, we might even get to the point where Lydia Ko is genuinely the biggest name in golf to front up at Rio – and to me that wouldn’t be such a bad thing!
Just this once let’s embrace the women taking a well-deserved place on centre stage and use that as a reason to celebrate, not criticise, golf’s inclusion in the Olympics. It’s what the women want and deserve, and if you’ve ever wished for golf to strengthen itself outside of the usual demographics, it’s what you’d want too.
Tom Fee is the Marketing & Communications Officer of Golf Western Australia and a regular contributor to the Golf Australia website.