No question about it, golf should stay in the Olympics

With one tweet, Jordan Spieth said what we all suspected.

He congratulated medal winners Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar, adding it “will be a goal to represent [the U.S.] in 2020.”

In other words, and we’re reading between the characters here: I messed up. Should have made the trip to Rio.

The decision to blow off Rio by giants such as Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott imperiled golf’s future in the Olympics. If they don’t care, why should we?

Then the event actually went down, and it was spectacular.

Kuchar’s caddie, John Wood, said he’d tell his fellow loopers on the PGA Tour: “If you ever qualify, do not let your man skip it, no matter what. No matter what.”

Asked why golf should remain an Olympic sport beyond 2020, Rose kept it simple: “Anybody making the decision going forward, I would just ask them: ‘Were you in Rio on Sunday?’”

The final round featured two major winners tied with one hole to play under a bright blue sky and an enthusiastic  crowd.

“It was jam packed,” Rose said, pointing out all the empty seats he has seen on TV in other Rio Olympic venues. “We felt incredibly well supported.”

Fans such as Jessica Brassard and Zach Pankratz came from Boise, Idaho, principally to watch golf. They cheered Kuchar on Sunday from the 16th fairway, and both remarked about the crowds.

“There’s more support here for the Americans than at other events, like volleyball,” Brassard said.

So the crowds were good, and the ending was spectacular. After so much bad luck in the lead-up (Zika virus, a cutoff that prevented Phil Mickelson from qualifying), golf officials hit blackjack Sunday.

Now they need to do more — both to improve the 2020 event and sell it to the International Olympic Committee, which in 2017 will vote on golf’s long-term future.

Two fixes:

Offer more medals. As pointed out by Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Assn., some countries determine funding based on medal potential. Swimming has 34 events, so 102 medals. Golf in Rio offered six, including the women’s event that starts Wednesday.  .

A team format, hopefully with a male-female mix, is needed to differentiate Olympic golf from the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

“Would it be fun to be down here for two weeks like the tennis, and have various formats and mixed doubles?” Rose said. “That would be great fun. But it depends on scheduling and so many different factors.”

Expand the field. This goes hand in hand with doubles play. The current field of 60 men and 60 women, some their country’s lone representative, would not suffice.

If 60 sounds like a lot to the IOC, which worries about expenses for travel, lodging and transportation, consider that the women’s marathon had 157 entrants.

Now, that event has a tad more Olympic history than golf. But still.

Golf is a true international game, and it should survive beyond the 2020 tournament at Kasumigaseki Country Club, which has hosted four Japan Opens, about 18 miles from downtown Tokyo.

As Rose put it, anyone who was there in Rio on Sunday can see that.

tgreenstein@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @TeddyGreenstein

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