To be or not to be an Olympian

By Dean Murphy
New Zealand Golf Chief Executive

As we close out the summer tournaments season here in New Zealand, a great deal of attention is turning towards Rio de Janeiro and the Olympic Games to be held in August.
In recent times, most of the media discussion has been focused on the players who have withdrawn their availability for selection.
Much has been made of the decisions of a few of the world’s leading players to bypass the Olympics in favour of their personal or professional schedules.
Following the media coverage, I have been inundated with messages suggesting this was always bound to happen and it was obvious that players would never want to play. Some messages I’ve received propose that golf has no place in the Olympics and others believe golf is destined for failure as an Olympic sport as it will never become the pinnacle of our great game.
In my opinion, much of this comment completely misses the point and is made with too much haste.
Firstly to golf’s status as an Olympic sport. As one of the world’s biggest sports with a truly global reach, I can’t understand the viewpoint that golf should not feature on the games’ programme.
If the Olympic programme features football, tennis and rugby sevens then why not golf? Why should golf be treated any different to these sports and what makes our sport any less deserving of its time in the Olympic spotlight?
Many say it is due to the fact that golf already has its majors and the Olympics will never be the pinnacle of the sport. For me, this argument completely misses the point. The Olympics are not supposed to replace majors as the pinnacle of the sport — they will simply compliment them once every four years.
There are many sports to be played in Rio where the event will not be the pinnacle of the sport. Tennis, boxing, football, basketball come to mind quickly and there are plenty of others. To suggest these and other sports shouldn’t be included in the Olympics because their pinnacle events are elsewhere, is a tough argument to understand.
The fact is that the Olympic Games remains the greatest sporting gathering on Earth and provide an opportunity for the world to focus on all that is good about sport.
Athletes who attend Olympic Games truly cherish the experience and it is my view that in time all golfers will view the Olympic Games as a must attend event and a memorable part of the calendar once every four years. Sure, a few of the world’s best players have decided not to attend this time round but I hold the view that golf will closely follow the path of tennis as an Olympic sport in this regard.
When re-introduced to the games’ programme in 1988, almost all of the top ranked players bypassed the event as many held the view it wasn’t a pinnacle event and wasn’t worth attending. Tennis already had its majors so why attend the Olympics? Perceptions quickly changed and now all of the top ranked players play the event. It has become an event they all want to win and an important focus once every four years.
For our part, we can’t wait for golf to take its place on the Rio programme. Our athletes are incredibly focused on the event and excited to represent their country on sport’s biggest stage.
In all the conversations I have had with players, none of them see the Olympics as an event that is supposed to replace major championships. Far from it. They all still want to win those.
Where the Olympics is different is it provides a once in a four-year experience where golfers can strive to win a gold medal for their country. In this age of so much professionalism and cynicism in sport, it has been heartening to see the attitude of our players who simply want to pull on their black shirts and play for New Zealand as Olympians.