We all get it wrong in this game.
Your scribe once predicted a teenage Lydia Ko would be the next Tiger Woods. While there’s still ample time for the reinvigorated Kiwi to rack up 13 more Majors, the probability of it actually happening appears slimmer than Tiger’s 2022 Masters chances, such is the strength of competition in women’s golf nowadays.
About 25 years ago another senior writer at this magazine proclaimed electronic mail “would never take off” (Disclaimer: he used it to file his story on regional golf – see page 44.) But the greats aren’t immune to the occasional misjudgement, either. Take Greg Norman, for example, who’d love a mulligan for his approach into 18 during the 1986 Masters. Instead of blasting a 5-iron, the Shark tried to finesse a 4-iron, only to push it well right into the crowd. As we know, he would eventually scratch his way to a bogey and hand Jack Nicklaus a sixth green jacket.
Mistakes are the doorways of discovery. Which brings me to the point of this editorial: they say that to admit you were wrong is to declare that you are wiser now than you were before. It’s precisely why Rory McIlroy remains the pre-eminent voice in golf. He is a walking, talking example of why it’s important to seek the truth for yourself rather than take someone else’s word.
McIlroy – among a chorus of the world’s top players – will no longer speak ill of golf’s place in the Olympic Games. Many will recall the Northern Irishman’s controversial views on golf’s return at the Rio Games in 2016. “I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch,” he said, adding the sports he probably would turn the box on for would be “Track and field, swimming, diving… the stuff that matters.”
The stuff that matters… from Rory McIlroy… ouch.
Yet time and experience can change a person’s perspective like no other. Five years on and McIlroy has a newfound respect for competing in the Olympics after representing Ireland in Tokyo this year. And, typically, he was the first to admit he got it all wrong.
“I made some comments before that were probably uneducated and impulsive, but coming here experiencing it, seeing, feeling everything that goes on, not just Olympic golf but just the Olympics in general, that sort of Olympic spirit’s definitely bitten me and I’m excited for the future.”
Indeed, this year’s event in Tokyo was a seismic leap for the sport. Just as skateboarding hooked a whole new demographic of teenagers, and three-on-three basketball showcased how a cut-down version of a sport can be equally as appealing, golf stood tall in its pursuit of athletic excellence. In soaring temperatures, world No.1 Nelly Korda held her nerve to claim gold in the women’s tournament. Meanwhile, on the men’s side we had a podium finish for the ages. While two male high-jumpers added new meaning to the term “anti-climax” by somewhat inexplicably agreeing to share the gold medal, golf needed a seven-man, sudden-death playoff to decide who was going home with the bronze. What other sport can provide such drama for a consolation prize? It was gripping entertainment.
“I think I need to do a better job of just giving things a chance, experiencing things, not writing them off at first glance,” he said. “That’s sort of a trait of mine. But I’m happy to be proven wrong. I was proven wrong at the Ryder Cup, I’ve been proven wrong (in Tokyo) and I’m happy to say that.”
Other tour players, like former world No.1 Dustin Johnson – a perennial no-show at the Games – may still disagree with McIlroy’s sentiments, but as Golfweek’s whimsical wordsmith Eamon Lynch writes: “Some contend that the worthiness of golf as an Olympic sport is determined not by the stature of its competitors but of those who stay home. Thus, when Dustin Johnson sat out these Games (twice) it was entered as evidence that no one else should bother either. This grasping at strawmen mindset would grade restaurants on the views of people who don’t eat there.”
In the eyes of a tour professional, a gold medal will never be on par with golf’s Majors. In truth, it was never meant to be. But ask Aussie basketball hero Patty Mills what price he puts on wearing the green and gold over winning an NBA Championship and there’s still hope for our golfers.
As tacky as Cam Smith’s mullet etched with the letters ‘AUS’ may have been to some, it proved golfers, too, can be team players and love the experience. Argue the correct format all you like – team event, mixed event or matchplay – the fact is golf matters again, Zika virus and COVID-19 be damned.
Next on the tee: Paris 2024. Vive la France!
Featured photo by GETTY IMAGES: Stephen McCarthy