Tweaking The Olympic Golf Format: Golf Needs More Disciplines

Even if you have disdain for the Olympic golf concept or discussion of the Games at this point, the issue of what to do going forward in Tokyo 2020 is important for all to consider.

Why? Because the fallback excuse for golf not broadening its format horizons is consistently lame: 72 holes of stroke play is the most recognized format for deciding a champion. Therefore, we're stuck with it in the Olympics even though even the most casual fan can see it's not very Olympian.

Stroke play is only the most recognized because any effort to introduce new formats has been strangled, trampled and bemoaned by players, who are paid not for their creativity and vision, but to display their golf skills. Yet as the Ryder Cup reminds us every two years when played with formats that most modern players would have torpedoed in a policy board meeting, the event produces consistency entertaining spectacles.

Olympic golf offering more disciplines and team fun should be our immediate priority, while weaving in other formats beyond the Games should also become a focus of the IGF. Showing fans the many ways golf can be played beyond card-and-pencil stroke play will do more good than any grow-the-game initiative.

Doug Ferguson of the AP declared Olympic golf a success in this story, quotes Peter Dawson mentioning how the IOC doesn't want a "trial format," and then gets to a possible solution that gets team play into the 2020 games.

The Summer Youth Olympics nailed it in China two years ago, though the field size was 32 players instead of the 60 players for the men's and women's competition in Rio.

The boys and girls each played the first three days for a 54-hole individual medal. Then, they played mixed team the next three days — 18 holes of foursomes, 18 holes of fourballs, and two singles matches to reach a 72-hole score. Sweden won the gold in a playoff over South Korea, while Italy won a playoff for the bronze over Denmark.

One idea being kicked around is to stage a mixed-team event the last two days between the men's and women's competitions. That could be either fourballs and foursomes on the same (long) day, or a 54-hole event with foursomes one day, and two singles the next day. That way, every shot would count.

My colleague Jaime Diaz made a valid point: the men’s event was such a success, that this actually frees the IGF to propose a bolder format tweak to Olympic golf instead of merely trying to keep it in the Games as is.

My polling of IGF officials, players and Olympic veterans suggests the following parameters must be kept in mind:

—60 player fields will probably not change. Even though many golfers, as expected, stayed outside of the Olympic Village because they traveled with family and spouses, golf still most can’t exceed that number.

World Ranking points will likely remain for qualifying. But it sure would be fun to hear of a more creative way that introduces a "play-in" element that serves as a great way to create excitement going into the games. If team play is introduced, shouldn't players be able to pick their partners ala beach volleyball?

—Individual stroke play will remain, and it'll be 72 holes.
A 36-hole final day could be interesting, but with five hour rounds that would be a long day for players, volunteers and the course maintenance crew.

--The IOC doesn't like competitions within competitions. Therefore three days of stroke play that determines a two-person team medal, followed by a one-day stroke play event, does not work for them. Unless its gymnastics.

—The Olympic format should be recognized in some international event of significance
. Pointing to the Ryder Cup for Four-ball and Foursomes play makes our task easier. The WGC Match Play has added pool play, so that’s covered too. However, proposing rounds of less than 18 holes become an issue in this scenario.

—Mixed Events Are Big With The IOC.
I haven’t thought of a way that a mixed doubles event works outside of the one outlined above by Ferguson, but the mixed team concept appeals to many. Though it would appeal more if players could select their partners and qualify (think Martin and Gerina Piller!). Golf would need to have a mixed event added to the PGA Tour, LPGA and European Tour schedules, something that is long overdue anyway.

—One week is enough for each gender. Keeping the golfers at the Games for all two weeks would be excessive. As would too many 36-hole days. Let them go enjoy the Olympic spirit. As we saw with Rickie, Bubba and the other golfers last week, having our game’s stars interacting with the other athletes not only gave a great impression, it positively changed their perspectives.

As I discussed with
Gary Williams on Monday's Morning Drive, we have to get a two person team competition. Based on the feedback of those in Rio and in watching, I'd like to see one of two ideas considered (neither incorporates the mixed element).

--72 holes of stroke play, with the three low two-person teams awarded medals after 54 holes for best aggregate scores. Yes, some countries only send one player, but enough send two (or four) that world rankings could determine teams. Not a perfect concept and it's not introducing match play, but it's a competition that would spice up the first three days significantly.

--72 holes of stroke play, followed by two days of team match play. Award medals for individual performance and use the medal play days to whittle the match play down to the best 8 teams from the first four days. This gives players something to play for if they are out of the individual medal race. From the 8 teams qualifying,  play a four-ball or foursomes match play event over two days to determine three more medals.