I don’t disagree with some of what former Olympic swimmer David Wilkie is quoted as saying in this story by Martin Inglis for Bunkered in the U.K.
Wilkie’s knowledge of golf is unclear, but he does make a point that golf isn’t going to enjoy any great surge of participation in emerging countries because of the Olympics, which is contrary to what Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player are telling us.
What the Olympics will offer golf is a global profile, never a bad thing. During the Olympics, I’ve watched the sport in which Wilkie won a gold medal in 1976 in Montreal, but I’m not going to take it up. Trust me, this is not a swimmer’s body.
If you believe, however, that high profile names winning marquee events will suddenly have every fairway in a land as big as Canada jammed with people, it didn’t happen after Mike Weir won the Masters in 2003 and it didn’t happen to a great degree as a result of Tiger Woods’ incredible accomplishments.
That’s not to take away from the significance of either as far as putting a spotlight on golf and encouraging existing competitive players to reach for more, but there will be no wave of a magic wand that will increase participation.
Any rise to prominence by any great golfer at any marquee event is going to have to be followed up by the golf industry in terms of access, affordability and programs if it is to grow in participation as opposed to profile. If not, it’s an opportunity lost.
That’s especially true in emerging countries as Wilkie not so delicately puts it. “If people in these countries are going to play golf, it’ll never, ever filter down to the poorer people so I think what they’re saying is absolute bullshit,” he is quoted as saying.
While I may not agree with Nicklaus and Player on the impact of golf for growing the game, they have every right to say it to anybody who will carry their message to the masses.
There’s a reason for that, with all they’ve accomplished on the golf course and done for the game away from the fairways. That’s where Wilkie steps out of line in questioning their motives.
“I think they’re just looking after their own psyche in the sense that they want to build more golf courses because of the money they’ll get paid for designing them,” he said.
He couldn’t leave well enough alone before serving crap on a cracker to two icons of the game. Perhaps, at age 62, Wilkie was doing this to remain relevant, which Nicklaus and Player don’t have to worry about in their chosen sport and even beyond.
Wilkie continues to sink quickly when he widens his criticism beyond two of game’s most iconic names to the golfers who will take part. While players such as Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel withdrew, at least they were honest enough to step forward with their reasons.
In Wilkie’s mind, there’s more to it, dismissing the enthusiasm of all golfers for the Olympics. You’d never recognize a lack of enthusiasm from this interview I did with Hamilton’s Alena Sharp on the subject.
The same holds true for all the Canadians who will likely be in Rio, based on discussions I’ve had with them
According to Wilkie, you stick around for the entire Olympics if you’re enthused about playing and isn’t he lucky? He’s from a sport that is built around international competitions such as the Olympics. He has that luxury and, therefore, looks down upon somebody who doesn’t.
That attitude is something I’ve criticized golf for over the years – if you don’t walk like me, talk like me, dress like me, think like me, then you’re not a golfer. At least we know that attitude isn’t limited to golf, if Wilkie is an example.
The fact is that both the PGA and LPGA Tours have made big changes in their schedules to accommodate the Olympics this year. Just check out the placing of this year’s RBC Canadian Open between two majors if you need a quick example.
Wilkie’s argument boils down to whether the Olympics should allow professional athletes, or go with strictly amateurs. It’s a conversation that has gone on since long before golf’s inclusion and Wilkie really isn’t adding anything new.
The attention he receives as a result will be short-lived as he sinks to the bottom. Once August passes, he’ll need another target in order to remain relevant.