If ever you get cynical about the upcoming Olympics, listen to somebody such as Hamilton’s Alena Sharp, as I did here on Tuesday, about what competing in Rio means to her.
Try to suppress a smile when you see a Sasky lad such as Graham DeLaet post this on Twitter.
It’s starting to sink in that I will be an Olympian representing Canada in Rio! What an honour! #Rio
I’ll be chatting with the other two members of the Olympic golf team next week, David Hearn at the RBC Canadian Open and Brooke Henderson at a PING junior clinic in Calgary, and I’m sure from previous discussions that they’ll have the same feelings about representing their country.
Canada is one of the countries untouched by all the withdrawals, particularly on the men’s side that have affected golf’s return to the Olympics. The Canadians are proclaiming this about heading to the Olympics.
For them, it does matter, unlike what Rory McIlroy one of the players who decided not to go to Rio, suggested when asked if he’d be watching at least. McIlroy replied, “I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch.
“Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters.”
So golf’s exclusion from that statement means it doesn’t matter?
McIlroy might clarify that statement in the coming days, but whether he does or doesn’t, the damage is done. It’s hit the fan Tuesday at the British Open, an event that captivates both hardcore golfers and casual observers of the game.
Everybody will be tuning in to see what happens at Royal Troon this week, but Rio is still a mystery to most golf fans and I can’t predict that they will all be tuning in to see what happens there, especially with all the high-profile names who have WD-ed.
Had all those marquee players not withdrawn, I’m still not convinced that it would have the “grow-the-game” potential that the game’s leaders were predicting in the years since golf was brought back into the Olympics in 2009.
At that point, the game was to be a showcase, with Tiger Woods still the game’s brightest star, which has faded as we all know in the years since then. Still, the emergence of McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and others still represented a primo event before their respective exits.
In other words, it was good for ratings, but that doesn’t mean growing the game as in putting more people out on the fairways. Marquee players can throw a spotlight on to the game, but if it is to grow, the responsibility is ultimately on the golf industry to strike into new demographics and offer reasons for newcomers to play.
And no, I don’t mean getting people already involved in the game even more excited about playing, although that is a beneficial side effect. It’s all about introducing golf to newcomers.
“I don’t feel like I’ve let the game down at all,” said McIlroy about his decision to bow out.
“I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win championships and win major championships, and all of a sudden, you get to this point and there is a responsibility on you to grow the game and I get that,” he said.
“At the same time, that’s not the reason that I got into golf. I got into golf to win. I didn’t get into golf to get other people into the game,” he said.
“But, look, I get where different people come from and different people have different opinions,” he said.
On that point, he’s absolutely correct. The only way he becomes a marquee name and stays a marquee name is by winning and his success on the golf course will determine if he puts a spotlight on the game itself.
Sure, making appearances at junior events, such as what Henderson is doing next week, or contributing in other ways helps, but his main focus must be success.
Yet, his critics were plenty after that statement on Tuesday, conveniently forgetting that there are plenty of other reasons for the WDs other than the much-publicized Zika virus and when all is said and done in Rio, the players can’t be accused as the lone villains in what happened.
Let’s not forget an unimaginative 72-hole stroke play format, or the existing jam-packed schedule that the players have, or security concerns in Rio.
The backlash against McIlroy indicates that the players may take the lion’s share of the blame and not the administrators who believe that a kid in a non-traditional golf country will go out seeking a golf course with hundreds of dollars in his/her pocket for lessons and equipment as a result of watching it on television.
It’s not going to happen, even with the big names playing.
There are no instant fixes, only events that can help the cause. If they provide that, they’ve done their jobs for both themselves and the game.
The game’s powers-that-be need to get over their celebrity obsession and so does the media.
If the game is to attract new players, it will be done at the local level, not with the wave of a magic wand as a marquee player stands atop a podium. The spotlight of such an achievement is intense at the time, but it fades quickly.
When the Canadians play in Rio, they will, as McIlroy says, be playing for the gold medal and think of what it will mean for each of their respective careers and what it will mean to them going forward when they get back out on tour.
That’s has to be their focus and that’s OK.
They’re golfers, not marketers. Let’s quit passing the buck.