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Olympic Gold Medals in Golf Again?

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The announcement by the International Olympic Committee that golf will be included in the 2016 Games after an absence of more than a hundred years reminded me of a story included in Golf Anecdotes by Robert Sommers. Apparently, Mary Ives Abbott -- writer, literary critic and socialite -- was vacationing in Paris in 1900 with her daughter, Margaret. Both were enthusiastic and fairly accomplished amateur golfers -- among the earliest American women to take up the game seriously. While in Paris, they decided to enter what they thought was merely a city-sponsored tournament but which turned out to be part of the Summer Olympics which were being held in conjunction with the 1900 Paris Exposition. Margaret came in first in the women's tournament and, to her astonishment, was awarded an Olympic Gold Medal.

Two years later, Margaret married newspaper columnist, Finley Peter Dunne. As one of Dunne's biographers, Charles Fanning, notes in Peter Finley Dunne and Mr. Dooley: The Chicago Years, Dunne wrote hundreds of columns under the pseudonym, Mr. Dooley. Among the admonitions and other sage observations that he coined in his columns were "politics ain't beanbag," "all politics is local," "trust everyone, but cut the cards" and "you can lead a man to the university but you can't make him think." He was also the first to include among the responsibilities of the press, "comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable." Like his bride, Margaret, Dunne was a serious golfer who was a founding member, along with Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert, of The National Golf Links on Long Island, created by the legendary golf architect Charles Blair Macdonald.

Unlike Margaret, Dunne's fame did not flow from his golfing prowess but from the wit and wisdom he dispensed in his newspaper and magazine columns. While the press of his day was just as merciless in its treatment of public figures as it is today -- the terms "muckraker," and "yellow journalism" having first been applied then -- Dunne confined himself to civil and humorous observations that struck a responsive chord but did not offend. For example, as Elmer Ellis, another of Dunne's biographers, records in Mr. Dooley's America: A Life of Finley Peter Dunne, he frequently criticized President Theodore Roosevelt. On one such column, he lampooned Roosevelt's legendary boundless energy and enormous range of interests, as follows:

He's not doing much. You seldom hear of him. Whether it is old age creeping on -- he must be all of 24 -- or the responsibilities of the office but he has kind of quieted down. Now you take last week. With the exception of bouncing a few indispensable cabinet officers, inventing a battleship, writing an article on the sports of the ancient Greeks, lecturing the Presbyterian Church on infant damnation, refereeing a poker bet between one of his old companions in arms and the estate of another, describing the delights of ocean travel to the navy, passing out a bunch of legal tips to the Supreme Court, devising a tackles back play for football, and sending a recipe for preparing pie plant for the table of the Ladies Cooking Club in Omaha, you might say he hardly did anything last week.

The President apparently enjoyed this type of tongue-in-cheek commentary as much as Dunne's readers did. It has been a while since we had a Republican president or candidate with a sense of humor, let alone a polymath like Roosevelt. We could also benefit from more columnists like Finley Peter Dunne.

After the Paris event in 1900, golf was an Olympic sport only once more, in 1904, when the summer games were held in St. Louis as part of that city's World's Fair. The American team did well, with George Lyon winning the men's gold medal. The sport has not been included in the Olympics since then. However, with a resurging Tiger Woods reportedly already committed to play and with countless other gifted American golfers -- men and women -- available, maybe we can repeat what has not happened in more than 100 years -- gold medals in golf. Of course, that will not be so easy these days since, unlike 1900 and 1904, competing with the world's top golfers "ain't beanbag."

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