Another week, another string of tour pros making themselves ineligible for golf’s return to the Olympics later this summer in Rio.
Jason Day, Shane Lowry and Lee-Anne Pace have all opted out of the Games in the last week, joining Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Adam Scott - as well as Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh - on the list of absentees.
This, of course, has reignited the debate over golf’s ‘place’ in the Olympics. Some people maintain that it shouldn’t be there; others, that it should be for amateurs only.
I can see the ‘it shouldn’t be there’ argument, although I disagree with it. The ‘amateurs only’ suggestion, however, is lost on me. It is rooted in idealism and a whole other era altogether.
The Olympic movement was, once upon a time, considered to be the realm of the amateur athlete. That much is true. Indeed, the Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion of 1912, Jim Thorpe, was stripped of his medals when it was discovered that he had played semi-professional baseball before the Games. (They were, however, subsequently posthumously restored by the International Olympic Committee in 1983 on compassionate grounds).
Read more -> Jason Day the latest to withdraw from Olympics
Swiss and Austrian skiers, meanwhile, boycotted the 1936 Winter Olympics in support of their ski instructors, who were not allowed to compete because they earned money from their sport and were, as a result, deemed to be ‘professional’.
However, as a result of a change in class structure throughout the 20th century and the advent of state-sponsored ‘full-time amateur athletes’ in the Eastern Bloc, the definition of ‘amateurism’ evolved and, in the 1970s, the amateurism requirement was ‘phased out’ of the Olympic Charter.
After the 1988 Games, the IOC decided to make all professional athletes eligible to compete in the Olympics - and that’s the way it has been ever since. Almost 30 years of ‘professionalism’ already in the can.
So, to suggest that professional golfers have no place in the Games is, ironically, quite an amateurish, naïve statement. They have just as much right to be there as anybody else. Indeed, their involvement was, I’m told, one of the requirements the International Olympic Committee imposed on the International Golf Federation when discussions were taking place over golf’s re-inclusion. The IOC wanted Tiger Woods competing in its showpiece and why not? Back in the late noughties, after all, he was the biggest draw in golf and one of the biggest transcendent names in sport. In fact, despite his struggles on and off the course, some would argue that he still is.
One thing the Olympics does more than anything else is bring together all of the biggest names in each of its constituent sports. For golf to be included but not feature the likes of Tiger, Rory, Jordan and Co. would have devalued both the golf event and the Olympics. No offence intended to the likes of Maverick McNealy, Sam Horsfield and Ivan Cantero Gutierrez – the current top three on the men’s WAGR – but they imply don’t have the same profile as their pro equivalents: Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson.
Some have reasoned that professional golf in the Olympics makes no sense because a gold medal isn’t the pinnacle of the sport. It’s the majors that take top billing.
Fair enough. But I’m not sure that gold would be the pinnacle of amateur golf either. To my mind, that’s the US Amateur. It’s special to amateurs in the same way that the majors are special to pros. Its lustre comes from its history and impressive roll call of former winners: Jones, Nicklaus, Palmer, Tiger, Phil and so on.
Read more -> Gary Player hits out at Olympic withdrawals
Just like you can’t parachute the Olympics into professional golf and expect it to matter as much as the majors, you can’t throw it into the amateur game and think it will become instantly the most important, desirable prize in the game. The suggestion alone shows a remarkable lack of understanding of amateur golf.
Look, I love amateur golf as much as the next person. Probably more so. I’m part of a team that produces two different newspapers, each five times per year, that are specifically devoted to the game’s grassroots. If I thought there was a legitimate case for having amateur golfers compete in the Olympics ahead of professionals, I’d champion it enthusiastically.
But there’s not. It’s just a limp, poorly thought-out alternative from those who would sooner see Olympic golf fail than succeed.
Which, when you think about it, is rather sad.
This week, I have been… enjoying the BBC’s coverage of Wimbledon, as I do most years. And, again, as I do most years, I wonder why the Beeb didn’t try as hard with its golf coverage. If it had, perhaps live coverage of the Open Championship might still be free to view….
Delighted to see Steve Stricker, Patrick Reed (above) and JB Holmes commit to play in next week’s Scottish Open at Castle Stuart. No doubt the event was the beneficiary of the unfortunate cancellation of the Greenbrier Classic – all three played in the Greenbrier last year – but, still, they’re fantastic additions to the field. If you have the chance next week, go watch them in action. Castle Stuart is a terrific course for spectating and is close to a gem of a city.
And another thing… Well done to the members of Royal Troon Golf Club on voting to accept women as club members. Not so well done to the ‘hilarious’ keyboard warriors on social media who reacted to the news with a predictable (but lamentable) double dose of everyday sexism and vulgarity. The idiots.
Follow @BunkeredOnline Follow @MMcEwanBunkered
Michael McEwan / The Cut Line
Log-on every Friday morning to read The Cut Line, a new weekly blog by bunkered's Michael McEwan.