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Golf a step closer to the Olympics

Tiger Woods is a step closer to adding another major title to his name: Olympian.

Players and golf officials alike were thrilled at the International Olympic Committee executive board’s decision Thursday to recommend golf and rugby sevens for inclusion at the 2016 Games. The full 106-member IOC assembly has the final say, voting in Copenhagen in October.

“I’d love to play for the rugby team,” Woods joked after shooting a 5-under 67 at the PGA Championship. “No, I think it’s great for golf. We’re long overdue to have it in the Olympics. Our sport is a global sport, it’s played all around the world. Hopefully, it will be passed in October, and it will truly be in the Olympics.”

Woods is arguably the most popular and recognized athlete in the world, and his support has been key in golf’s bid to be added to the Olympic program. He appeared in a video golf officials used during their pitch to the executive board in June, and he said this week he would play in 2016. IOC president Jacques Rogge even mentioned Woods by name Thursday, calling him a “major icon” in the world and saying golf is an important sport.

Golf’s other big names have eagerly lent their support, too, with Lorena Ochoa, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Annika Sorenstam all promoting the bid. Defending PGA champ Padraig Harrington even suggested the Olympics could someday become the fifth major.

Golf was played at the 1900 Paris Olympics and 1904 St. Louis Games. While Woods’ popularity has helped fuel worldwide interest in the game—the World Cup will be in China this year and the field at this week’s PGA included players from almost two dozen countries—golf officials say there is still plenty of room for growth. Being part of the games is essential because many governments fund only Olympic sports.

“I’ve said there is no singular decision or singular program that can globalize the game of golf like a nod from the IOC to join the Olympic Games,” PGA of America CEO Joe Steranka said, beaming after the IOC announcement was made. “We still have Oct. 9 to look forward to, but we’re very encouraged by today and we’re proud of the support we’ve received.”

Golf has proposed a 72-hole stroke-play competition for men and women, with 60 players in each field. The world’s top 15 players would qualify automatically. While match play could still be considered, International Golf Federation executive director Ty Votaw said stroke play was proposed after discussions with the top players.

“(They) felt it was the best and fairest way to identify a champion in a competition like an Olympic competition,” Votaw said.

All the major professional tours have said they’ll alter tournament schedules to avoid a clash with the Olympics, but that could mean some significant shifts on the calendar. The four cities bidding for the 2016 Games— Chicago, Madrid, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro—have proposed dates in July and August. The PGA Championship, the season’s last major, is traditionally played in mid-August, and the United States is scheduled to host the Ryder Cup in 2016.

But Votaw and Steranka said it’s too early to worry about what tournaments will have to be moved and where.

“So many things would have to be addressed with venues and with television partners,” Steranka said. “But we are all committed to do that because the prize for golf is that good.”

Players sure seemed to think so, with some almost giddy at the prospect of being Olympians.

“You look at the Olympics last year, and you see Michael Phelps is going for the gold medal and LeBron James is there watching him and all of the basketball players,” Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy said. “It would be great to be part of a team like that.”


August 14, 2009

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