Olympic Dreams Are in the Details


SAN FRANCISCO – There are those who contend big picture, not minutia, should be our life looper. Details, the modern shaman contends, are for pencil-pushers handicapped by narrow vision.

Yet, as the news that golf had gotten its Olympic gold medal crept its way across the globe the thought occurred – “big picture” just became much more complicated. Paul Azinger said that it was “a zillion little details” that lifted the United States out of its Ryder Cup rut last year at Valhalla. It will be a gazillion details that will decide the game’s fate on the Olympic stage.

Make no mistake, golf’s Olympic walkoff is good for the game globally if not within the confines of the “Lower 48.” Proponents say the 2016 Games will spark interest in “developing golf nations,” which will beget millions of wannabe gold medalist, which will beget economic opportunity to build courses and sell equipment, which will beget global peace . . . or something to that effect.

Tim Finchem
Tim Finchem reacted to the Olympics decision Friday before fourball began at the Presidents Cup. (Getty Images)

Simply put, a gold medal has more street cred in Buenos Aires than a green jacket or a claret jug. It is the psyche of the third-world sporting nation that makes an Olympic opening so important for golf.

“The Olympics transcends just one sport,” said Michael Yim, a player manager with IMG who represents Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi. “It is a more recognizable event and the general public would relate to it easier.

“Not that a PGA Championship or Masters win isn’t a tremendous accomplishment, but if you were to say K.J. or Y.E. is an Olympic gold medalist, it just resonates a different sound to it.”

The details, however, remain despite, or maybe because of, the fuzzy glow of victory.

Consider the 2016 docket: the Rio Games are scheduled to be played Aug. 5-21. Although the dates are not yet set for the ’16 PGA Championship or Ryder Cup, those events are historically played the second week of August and the second week of September, respectively.

Within an eight-week window, the game’s best will be asked to play the PGA at Baltusrol in New Jersey, the Olympics in Rio, the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Minnesota and whatever version of an unkissed FedEx Cup remains after Tiger Woods collects his eighth consecutive. When every event is special, none of them are.

“There will be some movement in the schedule,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “I looked at several permutations for each of the city dates and we will be able to manage our way through this.”

But then the question is will the public be able to manage potentially seven must-see events in eight weeks?

The chosen format also seems to be a detail that needs adjusting. Although most of the game’s top players agreed the best way to decide a gold medal bout is with 72 holes of stroke play, this week’s matches at Harding Park have shown the value of foursomes action.

Imagine America’s “Dream Team” of Woods and Phil Mickeslon (insert your own joke there) taking on the globe in a double elimination foursomes match, perhaps the purest format for a team event in golf.

One of the biggest concerns the International Olympic Committee had with golf is whether the game’s top players would support the Games. “That issue is put to rest,” Finchem said early Friday.

For 2016 the issue is put to rest, but what of the Games beyond the Tiger era? Golf has always been defined by major championships. No one can recite Jack Nicklaus’ World Cup record, or his Ryder Cup line, but those 18 Grand Slams are the holy grail of golf. Will the Olympics shift that paradigm or will the 2020 Games and beyond suffer the same fate of basketball, which faded in importance after the original “Dream Team” hit gold?

As Finchem was making the media rounds on Friday at Harding Park the sun finally worked its way through that frigid marine layer. The course and the commish took a moment to enjoy the spotlight.

“I’ve always wanted to be in Rio,” Finchem smiled.

Now that he and golf have that coveted ticket to Brazil, the hard work, and the details, remain.