Tiger Woods is a smart guy. He's the only professional golfer I've ever heard effortlessly deploy the word "caveat." But he's now thrown his weight behind a fairly stupid idea: golf as an Olympic sport.
According to USA Today, Woods is "supporting the International Golf Federation's (IGF) bid to be included in the 2016 Summer Olympics." Evidently, Tiger, along with several other international players, has written the International Olympic Committee. Woods has also sent a "32-page brochure" to the IOC. So, in addition to being a global sports superstar with millions and millions in the bank, Tiger is also mailing out, um, brochures. It gives you pause. I don't remember "mailing out brochures to IOC" being on the now-famous list of Woodsian daily activities, which were recited in frightening detail on the Golf Channel's "The Haney Project: Charles Barkley."
Woods' timing is impeccable. By 2016, he'll be 40. He should have broken Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 professional majors by then. And what better way to celebrate that by winning a gold medal, something that Nicklaus can't really do? Jack should really enjoy that double-whammy.
The Olympics has gotten completely out of hand. Every few years, it seems, we hear about some new sport trying to cram itself into the two-week celebration of international brotherhood, as channeled through kayaking, gymnastics, and Greco-Roman wrestling. Golf has come up before, mainly because tennis has gotten in, and the two sports are sort of joined in the public consciousness. But in the past, the professional golfers who would seem to be the main force behind any drive to Olympify the game have expressed a lack of interest.
Some of this may stem from simple humility and a sense that a sport like golf just doesn't quite fit. Furthermore, the golf schedule is already crowded. Finally, a proposal like this does raise the queasy-making question of how the competition would be handled. The United States, South Africa, Australia, and a few other countries could send solid teams, assuming they're made up of touring pros (you don't think Tiger's pitching an inclusion of golf as an amateur sport, now do you?). But what about the rest of the world? At least with tennis, the talent is spread around the globe.
Then there's the redundancy factor. We already have the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup for international team competition in golf. In recent years, the Ryder Cup has really come on as a major sports spectacle. Including golf in the Olympics would either dilute that, or fail to offer quite the same appealing flavor.
And let's not forget the time factor. Golf isn't like track and field. It stretches on and on. The professionals who would make up the teams all play at a glacial pace. If it's set up as a match-play tournament, there's always the chance that the marquee draws will get knocked out too early, thereby spoiling the allure for TV. How would the broadcast integrate it? By showing Woods hitting a few shots, then cutting away for more pole vaulting?
I don't even want to think about the team uniforms.
Arguably, what the Olympics needs is fewer sports, not more. As we insist on adding competitions that let the pros in to a greater and greater extent, the chance to see more offbeat yet potentially thrilling contests evaporates. Badminton finally broke through last year. And how about fencing? Can I please get some more fencing?
So could we ask Tiger to shelve this one? True, the viewers might want to see him win gold, and we all know that the broadcasters would love it. But is this something that as a sporting culture we really need?
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