Despite its nightmarish pre-tournament narrative, the 2016 Olympic golf competition went as well as organizers could have hoped. The field seemed ingrained in the Summer Games experience, the Sunday leaderboard was littered with popular names and the tournament drew sold-out galleries. While the ultimate barometer of success will be the metabolism of golf in countries foreign to the game, the early returns on the Rio experience earned a thumbs-up review.
Which is not to say the tournament isn’t in need of tweaking. While golf’s long-term Olympic involvement will be decided in 2017, the sport will be a part of the Summer Games in Tokyo. Here are 8 changes we’d like to see for the 2020 Olympic golf tournament:
A decongested PGA Tour schedule
One of the reasons why many of golf’s best passed on Brazil concerned the jammed PGA Tour calendar, accentuated by the British Open and PGA Championship separated by just nine days. Spreading the majors out not only lessens players’ mental load, but also subtracts an excuse for bowing out of the Summer Games. Our proposal:
— Move the Memorial so it takes place on…drum roll…Memorial Day weekend.
— The U.S. Open jumps to the second week of June, with the British Open ending the second weekend of July.
— The Olympics, which run from July 24th to August 9th, holds its men’s golf competition in the second week of the Games, with the women kicking off the proceedings in week one.
— The PGA Championship goes to the last week of August, a date that manages to miss the beginning of football season.
The FedEx Cup begins in September, and we’re erasing the bye week between the BMW Championship and Tour Championship, instead giving the players a week’s rest between Atlanta and the Ryder Cup.
Before the mass withdrawal by golf’s preeminent figures became the overriding storyline, the Olympic tournament’s format drew the most criticism. As a refresher, here were the parameters that shaped the 2016 Olympic field: no more than four players in the top 15 from any one country can qualify; after the top 15, a maximum of two players can qualify per country; host country Brazil is guaranteed a spot.
This construction presents a few hurdles: chiefly, it limits the depth, even on the top level, of the entrants. For example, 13 of the top 22 players in the world are American, keeping talent like Brooks Koepka on the outside looking in. This issue is better illustrated on the women’s side, where South Korea accounts for half of the world’s top 30. Make no mistake, organizers emphatically want this tournament to be considered in a major light. To do that, it needs to get more of the top 30-40 players, no matter their country affiliation, involved.
That won’t come at the expense of others. Representatives from countries not often seen on golf’s biggest stages – think China, Mexico, Bangladesh — will still have a spot in the tournament. The entry of the top 30-40 players merely strengthens and deepens the field. The augments the Olympic field from 60 players — about 40 percent the size of a normal PGA Tour event — to the 80-90 range, instantly adding credibility and viability to the tournament.
Admittedly, this will likely receive the biggest pushback. However, other sports — most notably, basketball — are considering putting age restrictions on Olympic athletes. The age ceiling is not intended to discriminate: as Henrik Stenson, Justin Rose and Marcus Fraser proved, the old guys can pack a punch. Rather, the idea is to use the international dais to highlight young guns and fledgling talent that’s projected to be a factor in the sport for years to come. No offense to Stenson, who’s the hottest player in golf the past five weeks, but he does have a sooner-rather-than-later expiration date.
Youth won’t necessarily equate to a better show; in the same vein, it’s an easier sell to casual or fringe fans. While that marketing spiel might be tough to swallow, it’s a very real reality golf, and all athletics, have to face.