Golf proves it belongs in Olympics during Rio Games

By Rex HoggardAugust 21, 2016, 5:30 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Apologies for jumping ahead here and for not putting together a formal PowerPoint presentation, but fresh off golf’s fortnight in the Olympics, it seemed like an opportune time to sign the game’s Olympic scorecard.

We know this will be an ongoing process and a final decision on golf’s future in the Olympics won’t be made until September 2017 when the International Olympic Committee finalizes the Games’ program beyond 2020 during its session in Lima, Peru.

You’ll be busy looking at every Olympic event before then so we’ll keep this concise – golf has proven it deserves it spot on the podium.

“We are going to tick a lot of boxes here,” said Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation on Saturday in Rio. “We’re not complacent. There is a lot of competition for staying in the Olympic Games with all the various events. We’re going to put golf’s credentials forward the best way we can.”

Specifically those boxes include spectator interest, television ratings, commercial success and how the players behaved while in Rio.

And, of course, the competitive purity of the events, but on that it’s best to let the athletes do the talking.

“Anybody making the decision [whether golf remains in the Olympics beyond 2020] going forward, I would just ask them, ‘Were you in Rio on Sunday?’” Justin Rose said.

If you weren’t in Rio for the final round of the men’s competition, or perhaps you were under a rock, the CliffsNotes recap will suffice: Rose and Henrik Stenson went toe-to-toe until the last hole in the men’s competition, where the Englishman secured the gold medal in dramatic fashion with a birdie. Just for good measure, American Matt Kuchar tied the then-course record (63) in the final round to win the bronze medal.

On the women’s front, former world No. 1 Inbee Park beat current No. 1 Lydia Ko in a rout for the gold medal, but the competition for the silver and bronze medals also came down to the last hole.

Yep, that happened.

“If you can’t see golf in the Olympics after two fantastic weeks back-to-back you can’t have much of a sporting heart,” said Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, who was a part of golf’s original bid to re-enter the Games in 2009.


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Beyond the competition, however, is where we believe golf truly proved its worth.

You threw us a curveball in golf’s Olympic debut. There was no golf course in Rio, no infrastructure to build a layout and virtually no interest in the game.

“It was harder to get here than I expected,” admitted Dawson, “given the difficulties of getting the course constructed.”

Golf delivered a course that proved to be up to the test with the potential of leaving a true legacy in Rio thanks to architect Gil Hanse, who was last seen sleeping off what has been a difficult few years.

Let the record show the game did have some participation issues, specifically on the men’s side where four out of the top 5 in the world rankings took a pass on Rio, but given the response from those who did make the trip, that shouldn’t be a problem in Tokyo - site of the 2020 Games - and beyond.

There were those who argued that golf in the Olympics was an unnecessary evil, that the game’s majors were the pinnacle of success and didn’t need any company, but as many athletes explained over the last two weeks, the Games are simply a different side of the same coin – neither better nor worse than a Grand Slam, just different.

“Saying it’s worth less than a Grand Slam [event] is not a reason for not playing,” Dawson said. “If that was the logic you’d never play any tournament other than a major. You wouldn’t play the Phoenix Open, you wouldn’t play the John Deere [Classic].”

But golf’s reach in its first Olympics in over 100 years went well beyond the confines of the golf course.

Sunday’s coverage of the men’s competition on NBC and Golf Channel ranked as the second-highest rated 90-minute window of final round golf coverage in 2016 with a combined 5.6 household rating and 8.8 million average viewers, behind only the Masters, which is kind of a big deal in golf.

Even the galleries exceeded expectations, with the final round of the men’s event sold out, which was no small thing considering that golf in Brazil is very much a curiosity.

The commercial impact of golf’s return to the Games will take some time to gage, but anecdotally consider the potential impact a soft-spoken 18-year-old could have in India, where an estimated 75,000 people play golf out of 1.25 billion citizens.

On Thursday Aditi Ashok carded a second-round 68 to move to within three strokes of the lead, setting off a frenzied attempt to put the Indian teen’s accomplishment in context. Consider that over 400,000 Indians searched for Ashok’s name on Google after Round 2 in Rio, that was more than searched for “Rio Olympics” and “Ryan Lochte,” for what’s it worth (as an aside, “golf” Google searches spiked over 110 percent during the Games).

For at least a single afternoon, golf mattered in a country where golf never matters. Where the 10 most popular sports, according to Indian Golf Union council member Dilip Thomas, are “cricket, cricket, cricket and cricket . . . ”

When we first made our pitch for golf’s return to the Olympic stage in 2001 it was, admittedly, an amateurish attempt. Seven years later we clearly made a more persuasive argument. Now we come to you, the IOC, again with a story to tell; but this time instead of vague promises we bring verifiable facts – a track record of our successes and failures to decide if the game, our game, is worthy of remaining in the Olympic family.

“Our performance here in Rio is just going to help us, it’s done marvelous and so many of the IOC members suddenly realize what a great game golf is and what a show we’ve put on here,” Dawson said.

Take your time, consider the facts, digest what golf did despite the obstacles in our path. Forget the emotion of the competition, forget Gerina Piller’s tears on Saturday after failing to earn a medal or Kuchar’s pride of claiming a bronze that far transcended your random third-place finish.

Look only at the checklist of golf’s accomplishments as you decide our Olympic fate.

“As far as I can see golf will tick many, many boxes,” Dawson said.

Drop microphone. Walk off.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.