As a 9-year-old, I will never forget my stroll down Main Street in Park City, Utah, during the 2002 Olympics. The line of people waiting to get into Roots to buy USA gear stretched out the door, and at the end of the street, as far as the eye could see, sat the Monster.com Snow Maze, a walkable maze with massive creatures carved from ice. All around were exhibits to explore, including the first-ever Jamaican bobsled, which inspired the movie "Cool Runnings." There were cowbells ringing and collectible pins being sold on carts at every corner.
Everywhere I turned, I glimpsed an Olympian enjoying the scene, just like me. My brother and I raced around, asking athletes to autograph our winter coats and photos that they passed out. Everything would eventually end up framed on my bedroom wall when I got home. These athletes had hit a pinnacle in their careers, and I wanted to be just like them.
I left Park City inspired to pursue sports to the best of my ability. Granted, I already loved sports and played every one I could, but seeing Olympic excellence firsthand on the world stage ramped up my motivation.
The 2002 Olympics were held in the winter, so I was inspired by skiers, bobsledders and lugers. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to ski, but my passion for sports lay elsewhere — in baseball. The Olympians’ success encouraged me to pursue glory on a different stage, like the World Series.
After moving to Florida and getting hit with one too many baseballs (years of switch-hitting will do that to you), my eyes turned to golf. Here was a sport where I could challenge myself every day on an ever-changing landscape, and it came with much smaller odds of being drilled with a ball. Playing on the LPGA Tour became my new dream.
The beauty, and power, of the Olympics is that these world-renowned athletes grow every sport, not just those they compete in. For example, while I knew nothing about women’s bobsledding, I remember frantically craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the sleds as they flew by. After witnessing a historic U.S. win in 2002 — Jill Bakken and Vonetta Flowers took home the gold — I returned home motivated to reach the same height of achievement.
In Rio in 2016, golf rejoined the Games for the first time in more than a century. I admired the LPGA players’ patriotism and earnestness, and that Olympic pride continues today as the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics begins. The entire sports world has benefitted because these women chose to compete, and to have fun while doing it.
Children all over the world, especially those who do not regularly watch professional golf tournaments, were introduced to golf in 2016. While competing in the Olympics is an outstanding achievement, the golfers’ participation is bigger than that. Olympians set the bar high for every sport, inspiring millions to reach (and surpass) their level. That’s how you grow the game — with shows of competitiveness, sportsmanship and greatness.
Today, I remain thankful for the winter Olympians who took the time to sign autographs and show their medals to a younger me. Their kindness and joy drove me to become not only a lifetime sports fan, but also a professional golfer with a passion for growing all games.
Who will this year’s group of Olympians inspire next?