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Should Golf Ditch the Olympics?

Morning Read contributors John Hawkins and Mike Purkey wonder if the sameness of Olympic golf (72 holes, nice prize at the end) means the sport has outlived its usefulness at the Olympics.
Hawk and Purk Podcast

Longtime golf journalists John Hawkins and Mike Purkey, who co-host the Hawk & Purk podcast, also discuss and debate the game’s hottest issues in this weekly commentary.

Now that the Summer Games are over, should golf remain an Olympic sport?

Hawk's take: It has always been a weird fit, this pairing of middle-aged millionaires (in dress pants, no less) and the five-ringed festival. That doesn’t make it wrong, however, which is why our game should remain on the IOC’s docket in 2024 and beyond. So what if nobody cares? The PGA Tour threw its considerable weight behind golf’s Olympic inclusion throughout much of the 2000s, ostensibly to increase its international profile, as if tomorrow’s Gary Player or the next Hideki Matsuyama would never exist otherwise.

Yes, it’s a silly premise. So is faux amateurism. From a scheduling and logistical standpoint, the Olympics don’t really get in golf’s way that much. It happens once every four years -- kind of like a win from Rickie Fowler. And for all the superstars who’d rather not be bothered, there are some who truly care, who are proud to represent their country and willing to take part in a unique competitive experience.

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Besides, you don’t douse a bonfire after 20 minutes, and you don’t kill an Olympic sport after two tries. Especially with a pandemic messing up everything on the second attempt. It might be more meaningful if all the relevant honchos came to their senses and imposed an age limit (23 or younger?) on the format, owing to the fact that this shindig was conceived long ago as an athletic platform for those who don’t get paid to lace up their track shoes or hop into a Speedo, but those days are long gone.

Nothing stays the same forever. Golf deserves another shot or two, but more appealingly, as a youth-oriented, amateur-rooted event true to the original Olympic spirit. Most people still wouldn’t care, but that’s not what matters. It would be the noble thing to do.

Purk's take: Golf doesn’t belong in the Olympics any more than skateboarding, beach volleyball, surfing, artistic swimming -- or tennis. In fact, the drumbeat is thumping louder that the Olympics as a whole might have outlived its usefulness.

Look, the golf experiment was noble but all we have is two 72-hole tournaments in which the top three finishers receive a pretty cool prize. But Olympic golf was no more compelling this year than it was in 2016, which is to say not at all. A number of people believe if the format was changed to create a team element and perhaps match play, the competition would be more watchable and meaningful. That’s arguable.

The case against golf in the Olympics has always been that the game already has its big international events -- the major championships, four for men and five for women. Those are golf’s top prizes and they don’t give a trophy for second and third place. And to have a successful Olympic competition, all the stars must show up, which hasn’t been the case. Many of the top male golfers skipped the last two Olympics, using the Zika virus as an excuse for Rio in 2016 and apathy as the reason for taking a pass on Tokyo in 2021.

Playing for your country with a chance to win an Olympic gold medal can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, which is entirely understandable. However, winning a major championship can accomplish the same thing -- and will be remembered longer.