Date: August 23, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

IBF wants team format for 2020 Games

Australian coach Ian Baker-Finch has urged Olympic and International Golf Federation officials to adopt a team format for the Tokyo Games in 2020.

And the former Open champion has also thrown his support for golf to extend its Olympic tenure beyond Japan, saying it proved in Rio to be a more than viable concept.

Baker-Finch, who oversaw both men’s and women’s Australian teams in Brazil, said the combination of larger than expected crowds in Rio and enormous TV ratings in the United States and Europe had proved there was widespread interest in Olympic golf.

He particularly cited Sweden, where almost nine times the number of viewers who’d watched Stenson win the Open Championship last month tuned in to see his battle for gold against Justin Rose in Rio.

But with a vote by the IOC over whether to keep golf in the Olympic family in 2024 and beyond to be taken next year, Baker-Finch predicted even stronger fields and reach in Tokyo.

“This has all culminated in a positive experience in both weeks and they (the IOC and IGF) would have learnt a lot from it,” Baker-Finch said.

“Next time in Tokyo, with Japan a more passionate golfing nation, even if they stuck the same (format), Tokyo would be better.

“But with so many people here note-taking, hopefully they can meld into the IOC a little more golf mentality.

“Whether they can do a mixed doubles, as Su (Oh) has expressed here, I don’t know. But I would like to see a team medal (on offer), somehow,” he said, referring to medals only on offer for individual men’s and women’s events.

“I understand it was difficult to do anything different first year and they didn’t want to step too far outside the box, (but) I hoped all the way through the process we’d go to the World Cup format with a singles and a doubles.

“And I really think we’d have had a stronger representation from the men had there been a two-man team (event). That would have added a bit of a team atmosphere.

“But overall I think the whole thing was way better than most expected. It was really, really good.”

IGF president Peter Dawson was “delighted” by golf’s performance as an Olympic sport after its first showing in 112 years.

“We were always confident that we would deliver high-quality men's and women's competitions and we have witnessed that over the last two weeks,” Dawson said.

"Golf's success has been endorsed by strong viewing figures throughout the world and genuine interest from enthusiastic crowds in Rio. To see medallists crowned from six different nations is hugely gratifying.

"It is very important that we continue to be a supportive, contributing member of the Olympic family. We believe the values of our sport complement those of the Olympic movement and I am both hopeful and confident that we will continue to play our part beyond 2020."

Baker-Finch criticised the negative build-up as being the primary reason there had been so many pre-Games doubters and why many of the top men shunned the tournament.

“Had it been in Tokyo this time around, I think it would have been better representation (on the men’s side) – but the media made it seem so negative that it was put in the `too-hard basket’ for a lot of guys,” he said.

“I’m not knocking Brazil, I’m just knocking it was a little bit too negative leading in.

“All in all, it was a very positive experience and I probably saw about three mosquitoes for the three weeks I was here,” Baker-Finch said with a broad grin in reference to the Zika virus problem that wasn’t as bad as feared.

“I saw more capybaras than mosquitoes.”

“There was a lot of negativity leading in that just wasn’t warranted, as we found. But we didn’t know, did we?  I knew course would be good, because it was Gil Hanse, but it was great.

“I have already given copious amounts of feedback – hopefully some of it has been retained and taken in.

“I would say (to the IOC) that golf deserves to be there, especially the women who have supported and embraced it so much and I think the men will next time do better having seen how good it was this time.

“I’d be saying please keep it in and it will get the support. I think tennis struggled first time in, but now it seems it’s sought after (among players). But do whatever you can to keep it going and keep golf in the Olympics.

“I’d hate to see it voted out and we have it only one more time.”

Baker-Finch was full of praise for the Australian team members – and for the notoriety the Olympics he hopes will afford them.

“I said to Marcus (Fraser), people won’t even know you won tournaments in Asia and Europe, but they’ll know you finished fifth in Olympics.

“I reckon at the tournaments at home this year, Marcus and Hendy (Scott Hend) will be far more popular than they have been previously because they were Olympians and that’s good in itself.

“That it’s seen as an Olympic sport, it transcends our little niche sport (globally). It’s a specialist sport, with large participation in Australia, but to be an Olympic sport is great and let’s hope we can grow the game in Australia and around the world.”

And he heaped praise on Aussie women Minjee Lee and Su Oh.

“The girls are awesome. They’re really world class. Straight out of a sport psychologist’s book, they’re so perfect. If I’d been that close to winning a medal, I’d have been kicking the door in the locker room … but they were so calm,” Baker-Finch joked.

“They’ve got so much support from Golf Australia and the programs we have in Australia, they’re destined to be long-term top-10 players in the world, both with the prospect of being No.1.

“They’ll grow from this experience. They’ve really embraced it. Su felt bad she took Karrie’s spot, but I told her she’d earnt it and that Karrie would do her best to knock her out of the team for Japan … and that’s the competition we want.”

“But if things work out for them and golf (in the Games) hopefully they play 4-5 Olympics, who knows?”