SAN FRANCISCO – Golfers from nine countries are staying together this week in a hotel that could pass for an Olympic village. They are playing for the flag, not cash, with a gold prize going to the winning team.
In some respects, the Presidents Cup is like an Olympic event.
On their way to Harding Park on Friday morning, Tiger Woods, Ryo Ishikawa, Camilo Villegas and other players learned they might have a chance to play for a gold medal.
“It’s a perfect fit for the Olympics, and I think we are all looking forward to golf getting into the Olympics,” Woods said.
It was reinstated, along with rugby sevens, for the 2016 and 2020 games following a vote in Copenhagen by the International Olympic Committee.
“Awesome news,” Canadian Mike Weir said. “It means a world-class athlete like Ryo Ishikawa … can have the opportunity to win an Olympic medal for his country, something none of us in golf would have thought possible when we were growing up in the sport.”
The last time golf was part of the Olympics was in 1904, when George Lyon of Canada won the gold medal and the United States won the team title. That makes the Americans the defending champions in Rio de Janeiro, never mind the 112-year gap.
Woods, the world’s No. 1 player whose Olympic support was seen as vital in golf’s bid, will be 40 when Rio rolls around; he’s already said he would compete, hopeful of adding a gold medal to his collection of green jackets and claret jugs.
British Open champion Stewart Cink isn’t sure he’ll get that chance.
“It’s great for golf,” Cink said. “I don’t know if it’s great for me or not because I’ll be 43 and I might be over the hill by then. But it’s exciting. I think that when a sport gains Olympic status, it gets a lot more attention, and national sports institutes tend to pay a lot more attention. So it will only do good for the game of golf.”
Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour’s vice president of communications and international affairs, coordinated golf’s effort to get back in the games along with Royal & Ancient chief executive Peter Dawson.
Golf had support from every tour around the world, men’s and women’s, along the a variety of its biggest stars – from Woods and Jack Nicklaus and Padraig Harrington, to Annika Sorenstam, Lorena Ochoa and Michelle Wie.
Unlike other sports, there will be no Olympic trials for golf. Eligibility will be determined by the world ranking, with the top 15 automatically exempt. PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said if the Olympics were held now, some 30 countries would be represented in the men’s and women’s competitions.
Finchem was more enthused by the growth he hopes golf will experience as an Olympic sport.
“We’ve said all along that there is good growth in the developing areas of the world, and there is,” he said. “But when you consider that over a hundred countries will now invest in the sport to grow the game, it will catapult the level of growth – particularly in Asia, Eastern Europe, also in South America and other areas that have not had the level of growth historically.”
He also expects a ripple effect across the board in the golf industry, from equipment manufacturers to golf course architects and even to resort courses around the world.
Some details have not been worked out, specifically where to play the Olympics and when. Golf already has a crowded summer schedule with three majors, a World Golf Championship, the FedEx Cup playoffs in the United States and a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup.
Finchem has said golf organizations agreed to work together to squeeze in the Olympics.
Phil Mickelson said the players “are working hard on our games so that over the next six years, we are able to make the team.” He might have been half-joking since he will be 46 when Olympic golf returns in Rio.
Among the more likely candidates are the 18-year-old Ishikawa and Villegas, a 27-year-old Colombian, and Geoff Ogilvy, a U.S. Open champion from Australia who is one year younger than Woods.
“I think on a personal level, it will add a new dimension and another thing to strive for,” Ogilvy said in an e-mail. “I think the bigger picture is more interesting, as it will potentially expose a lot more of the world to our beautiful game, and encourage nations just getting into the game to grow the game, especially at a junior level.”