“Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated” - Mark Twain.
Full disclosure, I am a big fan/borderline sucker for, the Olympics.
There’s something special about “Us vs. the Rest of the World” competition for medals that has always appealed to me. Whether it’s track, swimming or even cycling, volleyball or judo, for these upcoming two-plus weeks, I’m already IN!
Then, when the International Olympic Committee finally welcomed golf back into the summer games for the first time in over 100 years, I was more pumped.
It combined two things that I thoroughly enjoy into one setting: golf competition, but now, with gold, silver and bronze on the line. Reminder, Arnie, Jack, Gary, Lee, Johnny, Nick, Ernie, Tiger, and Phil don’t have one of those, and they never will.
But, as most of you reading this already know, the men’s golf competition upcoming in Rio in two weeks has taken a public perception pummeling. And that may be an understatement. In reality, Olympic golf been like a pinata leaking Smarties, mini-Twix and Skittles from every angle for about 90 days now.
The top four players (ranking-wise) in the game currently -- Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth – all very publicly said, “No thanks.” The P.R. damage of their collective decisions was tremendous.
Some proclaimed that the golf would dead on arrival in Rio.
Well, a funny thing has happened on the way to the funeral and graveside service.
I have often quoted this saying: “Winning cures everything. Food tastes better. Sleep better. Everybody in a better mood.”
And for golf in the Rio Games, the last two weekend winners have meant everything.
Henrik Stenson’s epic final-pairing duel at Royal Troon with Phil Mickelson was watched not only by millions in this country, but also in Europe. And when a player committed to represent Sweden hoisted the Claret Jug, you had to know the International Golf Federation (IGF) and the Rio organizers were privately pumping their fists.
Then, fast forward to last week’s Canadian Open in Oakville, Ontario, where an unlikely hero emerged Sunday to birdie the 70th, 71st and 72nd holes. When Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela clinched the PGA Tour title and Canada’s national championship, his fascinating story took on greater significance. He’s playing for his country in Rio next month, too. He’s personable, smiles a lot and just won a recent huge event leading up to going for gold.
Yeah, we can’t see them, but the IGF executives and the organizers of Olympic golf are holding up a glass and smiling ear to ear.
And now? The fourth and final major of the golf year is about to be played with the PGA Championship at Baltusrol.
And, don’t look now, but four Americans – Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar – committed to Rio Golf are all in the field, all in varying degrees of playing well, and all have legitimate shot to contend, if not win.
Throw in that household European names who are also Rio commits, like Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia and Martin Kaymer, are also in the mix for the PGA this week.
And if one of those names above puts it together for 72 holes – particularly, if it’s one of the Americans?!
At the risk of being a shill for Olympic golf, could they have had a better bounce back after all of the negativity of June and early July than the British Open, Canadian Open and now potentially, PGA Championship winners competing for gold in Rio?
If it’s another Olympic entry who wins the final major this week – ideally, a prominent one at that – then Olympic golf gets a competition with winners of the immediate three biggest events before the games.
That’s not a leaking pinata, that’s gold.