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.

Rose (65) leads Rahm, Frittelli in Dubai

By Associated PressNovember 18, 2017, 3:24 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Justin Rose shot a 7-under 65 Saturday to take a one-shot lead into the final round of the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship.

The 37-year-old Rose made a gutsy par save on the final hole after a bogey-free round for an overall 15-under 201. The Englishman leads South African Dylan Frittelli, who produced the day's best score of 63, and Spain's Jon Rahm, who played in the same group as Rose and matched his 65.

Rose is chasing his second Race to Dubai title but leading rival Tommy Fleetwood is only two shots behind here after a second straight 65 on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estates.

Fleetwood did his chances no harm by overcoming a stuttering start before making eight birdies in his final 11 holes to also post a 65. The 26-year-old Englishman was tied for fourth place at 13 under, alongside South African Dean Burmester (65) and Thailand's Kiradech Aphibarnrat (67), who closed with five birdies in a row.

U.S. Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit crown, is tied for 13th on 10 under.

Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Rose is hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”