IT’S surprising how many people have told me they think golf shouldn’t be in the Olympics. I ask them why and they say, “Because it’s a professional sport.” But so is athletics. So is swimming. These sports are not amateur anymore. It might have been different had they asked me during my career, when these sports were most definitely amateur sports. Not anymore. Golf has a right to be there, just like any other sport, team or individual.

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THE beauty of the Olympics is it gives athletes who are playing for big money week in, week out, a chance to come down a level and play for the honour of a gold medal. The pride of winning a gold medal is worth a hell of a lot more than money. It’s the kudos and sense of achievement and for golfers specifically, it’s about them saying, ‘OK, I may be a Masters champion but I’m also an Olympic gold medallist.’ Nothing beats that.

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I WAS a bit disappointed when I heard Adam Scott say he was unavailable to go to Rio because he couldn’t fit it into his schedule. I think Australia would have preferred him to come out and say the Zika virus was a genuine concern for him and his wife. He could have said they were planning to have more children and they don’t want to take unnecessary risks and that would have been received a whole lot better than the busy schedule excuse.

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WINNING a gold medal meant everything to me – it was the greatest achievement of my life. I was lucky enough to win four but the first one is always the most special and I can’t wait to see which golfers get to share that same feeling in Rio.

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I WATCH as much golf as I can and I’ll tune in to see the players in Rio. I really like watching women’s golf, in particular. I’m a great admirer of Karrie Webb and Laura Davies – both very special people and incredible golfers who have given so much to the sport and deserve Olympic gold around their necks. Minjee Lee is a good little kid, too.

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FROM my time in golf, it’s easy to see why Koreans dominate the women’s game. As soon as they can walk, they’re practising 12 hours a day. It’s a job to them. I’ve seen a lot of the Korean kids with their parents at ranges all day, working through the bag, from club to club. They work extremely hard and deserve everything they get. Their work ethic has been a big wake up call for the rest of the world but they’re slowly catching on.

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I ALWAYS trained hard during my swimming career and it inevitably spilled into my passion for golf. I was determined to get better. That inspiration came from a meeting with the legendary Babe Didrikson Zaharias, who gave me a copy of her book that revealed her intense training secrets while she dominated golf. I went home and started practising eight hours a day at my uncle’s place in Bankstown. He had a net in the backyard and I would hit 1,000 balls a day and play competition rounds Thursdays and Sundays. I would go home with bloody hands but the pain was worth it because I got down to a nine handicap.

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I THINK golf is still too expensive. I was a member of a Sydney club for 10 or so years and I’ve just pulled the pin there because it was too expensive for the amount of golf I was playing.

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I’VE had to put golf on the backburner for a while due to an accident I had recently. I had a fall while loading my jet ski on a trailer. I got caught in the rivets of the boat ramp, slipped and landed like a sack of spuds on my shoulder. I have to get surgery on it and won’t be able to swing a club for a while. It actually happened the day Jessica Watson sailed back into Maroochydore. I was in a hurry to go see her and now I’m paying for it. I never forgave Jessica for that [laughs].

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THE best thing about golf is playing different courses and meeting different people. Of course I like trying to beat the course but I’ve been lucky enough to meet guys like Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Sergio Garcia. Golf gives you an opportunity to mix with all sorts of people, of all ages and abilities. It can take you all around the world if you want it to.

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I GOT into trouble recently over some comments I made about Aussie tennis player Nick Kyrgios. I’ve been critical of some of our young athletes who constantly put themselves in troubling situations through their fame and fortune. I can’t say the same for young golfers because they seem to mix with the right people. I heard Bernard Tomic recently say he has $10 million in the bank and he can stay where he wants. We don’t want to hear that. OK, so you win a tournament worth a million dollars – what are you going to do with it? Book a penthouse and throw a party and play loud music all night, then get kicked out of the hotel? Is that the reputation you really want to live by? These young kids can learn a lot by watching guys like Jason Day and Adam Scott and how they handle the fame and fortune.