Date: April 05, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Another major incentive to win Rio gold

Golf’s first Olympic champions in more than a century will gain automatic entry into next year’s major championships.

Both men’s and women’s gold medallists when golf returns to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years will earn the prized berths on top of their place in history.

Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who ran the 1996 Atlanta Games, told a pre-Masters press conference today that it was another key moment in the sport’s return to the Olympic family.

“We believe our game's visibility will be dramatically elevated by the global platform that only the Olympics offer,” Payne said.

“New audiences from all over the world, some for the very first time ever, will be exposed to our great sport and come to know and appreciate the amazing athletes and heroes in golf.

“From this greater visibility, we believe will evolve greater participation in our game, and it will be a certain beneficiary.”

While the move was largely viewed as positive, one knock is that the gold medal winners are likely to come from a small group of players already qualified for golf's most revered events.

But PGA of America chief executive Pete Bevacqua rejected the suggestion that offering major exemptions as an incentive in Rio was an insignificant gesture.

“From our perspective, whether it's someone that is in the top rankings of the world or someone who is that Cinderella story, in both ways it's a positive,” Bevacqua said.

“It's a positive for golf, it's a great story for golf.”

Payne said he expected more and more of the world’s elite players to become enthused about the Olympic return as the August dates neared and that national pride will surface.

“My experience has been when looking at the joy and the happiness of kids competing all across the board in various Olympic endeavours, that there is nothing, nothing, more powerful than representing your country,” Payne said.

“So I suspect that you will see that take over and totally capture the enthusiasm of the players for golf.

“I think what you feel now, and what you hear now, as some of these individuals themselves become part of the Olympics, probably change their mind.”