One year later: Olympics give golf global spark

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2017, 4:00 pm

As a catalyst for change, India’s Aditi Ashok didn’t exactly look as if she’d been plucked from Central Casting.

Golf’s return to the Olympics last fall for the first time in over a century was billed in some circles as the ultimate grow-the-game initiative, a chance to transform a sport that had long been considered the realm of the wealthy in many parts of the world into a bona fide competition worthy of a nation’s best.

In theory, the proponents explained, a chance to compete for medals at the Olympics would elevate golf in the eyes of many, which would generate interest and potential funding. In practice, it was the shy, rail-thin Ashok who stood as the standard-bearer when the then-18-year-old carded a second-round 68 to move into contention at the Olympic women’s competition and became an example of golf’s Olympic reach.

“Prior to golf coming back to the Olympics, there was very little that the [Indian Golf Union] got from the sports ministry in India,” said Dilip Thomas, the executive vice chairman of the Indian Golf Union. “Golf was also categorized as an elite sport and supposedly played by wealthy people. After the Olympics and following Aditi's performance in the early part of the event, the Indian government has started to look at golf through different eyes and now consider it to be a medal prospect for the country in the future.”


Full golf coverage from the Rio Olympic Games


But if Ashok’s impact on golf in India, where an estimated 1 in 10,000 people play the game, was predictable, a year removed from Olympic golf’s return, it has resonated beyond the Rio leaderboard.

In underdeveloped golf countries the Olympics provided a unique opportunity to educate the public, which a recent International Golf Federation study suggests goes beyond the reach of even the game’s majors and other marquee events, as well as a chance to leverage the game’s newfound status as an Olympic sport.

From China to Chile, national golf organizations have enjoyed an influx of interest and support that is unprecedented.

“In Argentina they’ve been able to gain funding from their national Olympic committee for their elite amateurs, which they wouldn’t have had,” said Antony Scanlon, the IGF executive director. “China has changed, now they have primary schools and high schools that have golf-specific development programs to create an elite pathway right up to professional golf.”

Prior to the ’16 Games, Scanlon explained that golf was a part of the sports ministry in China called the “small balls” department, which was mainly for non-Olympic sports. Now that it’s under its own umbrella, the opportunity for growth and support has increased dramatically.

That’s the power of a potential Olympic medal in countries where coming in third at the Games – which China’s Shanshan Feng did – could generate more interest than winning a major.

“Getting a medal is huge and it doesn’t make much difference, bronze, silver or gold, it’s a medal,” said Miguel Leeson, the former president of the Argentine Golf Association. “The Olympic movement has a lot of traction financially, so for countries like ours it’s really important. We get support from the high-performance center and we are a role model for other sports. We got into the Olympic movement and other sports are copying what we are doing.”

Although many of the gains golf has made in places like Argentina and China are anecdotal since last year’s closing ceremony, it’s the potential for support and recognition that has created optimism among administrators.

“The IGU secretariat has had discussions with the sports ministry and we have been told that a much larger level of financial assistance will be available in the years leading up to the 2018 Asian Games and the 2020 Olympics,” Thomas said.


Hoggard: One year later: Olympic course defies the odds


Even in places that didn’t send golfers to Rio, the Games have created opportunities that weren’t there before the Olympics, like in Puerto Rico, where the island’s Olympic committee has provided about $25,000 in funding for its golf association.

“It’s not a lot but it helps offset some of the expenses we have to travel to championships and prepare ourselves,” said Sidney Wolf, the president of the Puerto Rican Golf Association. “We have seen the funding that we didn’t see before. We are encouraged.”

But if the financial benefits created by the Games are encouraging, the interest among a largely non-golf public has generated the most optimism.

“We think it will be a good start and grow after this Olympic Games. We are making a lot of communication and marketing with [Fabrizio Zanotti and Julieta Granada, who both represented Paraguay in the Olympics],” said Hugo Fernandez, the president of the Paraguay Golf Association, who has created a marketing campaign called “Finding Olympic dreams” that targets school children.

The spike in interest in golf around the Games surprised even those who preached the mass appeal of the game’s return to the Olympic stage.

According to a recent study, there were more than 650 hours of golf coverage globally that reached more than 285 million households. More telling, however, was an IGF study that measured “fan engagements” via social media.

Golf ranked as the seventh-best Olympic sport in fan engagements with more than 190,000, just ahead of boxing and behind diving. Swimming was first with more than 780,000 engagements. (Engagements were defined as any social media post specific to a particular sport and included a four-month window, two months before and a month after the Games.)

To put that in context, that put Olympic golf ahead of every major played since 2013 and behind only the 2014 Ryder Cup.

“I knew we’d have new fans coming to watch, but that really surprised me,” Scanlon said. “That vindicates why we wanted to be a part of the Olympic program … to expand the reach of the game, and it certainly proved that.”

Scanlon also points to the expansion of the IGF, which leads golf’s efforts in the Olympics. In 2009, the foundation included 116 member organizations, but that has grown to 150. Each of those new members can now become part of their country’s Olympic committees.

Unlike at the Rio Games, the actual logistics of the Olympics becomes easier for golf moving forward, with established courses already in place for 2020 in Tokyo and in Paris, which will likely be named the site of the 2024 Games in September at the IOC’s Executive Board meeting in Peru.

But for Scanlon and those tasked with turning golf’s Olympic dream into reality, the challenge moving forward is how the game leverages that unparalleled attention into more resources and grassroots interest in underdeveloped countries.

“How do we convert that sort of three- or four-month window of excitement about golf in the Olympics and put a golf club in hand?” Scanlon asked. “That’s the challenge for me working through to Tokyo.”

With golf now firmly established in the Olympic rotation, officials now recognize that the key to continued change will come from the most unlikely places, like an 18-year-old who captivates a nation with her play.

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.

Rahm wins finale, Fleetwood takes Race to Dubai

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 1:42 pm

Jon Rahm captured the final tournament on the European Tour calendar, a result that helped Tommy Fleetwood take home the season-long Race to Dubai title.

Rahm shot a final-round 67 to finish two shots clear of Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Shane Lowry at the DP World Tour Championship. It's the second European Tour win of the year for the Spaniard, who also captured the Irish Open and won on the PGA Tour in January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

"I could not be more proud of what I've done this week," Rahm told reporters. "Having the weekend that I've had, actually shooting 12 under on the last 36 holes, bogey-free round today, it's really special."

But the key finish came from Justin Rose, who held the 54-hole lead in Dubai but dropped back into a tie for fourth after closing with a 70. Rose entered the week as one of only three players who could win the Race to Dubai, along with Sergio Garcia and Fleetwood, who started with a lead of around 250,000 Euros.


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With Fleetwood in the middle of the tournament pack, ultimately tying for 21st after a final-round 74, the door was open for Rose to capture the title thanks to a late charge despite playing in half the events that Fleetwood did. Rose captured both the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open, and was one round away from a two-trophy photo shoot in Dubai.

Instead, his T-4 finish meant he came up just short, as Fleetwood won the season-long race by 58,821 Euros.

The title caps a remarkable season for Fleetwood, who won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship as well as the French Open to go along with a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing at the U.S. Open.

"I find it amazing, the season starts in November, December and you get to here and you're watching the last shot of the season to decide who wins the Race to Dubai," Fleetwood said at the trophy ceremony. "But yeah, very special and something we didn't really aim for at the start of the year, but it's happened."

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.


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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”