Brazil’s Adilson da Silva will hit the first shot in Olympic competition for 112 years tomorrow when golf’s controversial return to the Games finally gets underway.
International Golf Federation president Peter Dawson happily admitted it was certainly not a “random” draw which ensured world number 288 Da Silva tees off first at 7.30am local time, alongside Canada’s Graham DeLaet, and South Korea’s Byeong Hun An.
Canadian countryman George Lyon won the last Olympic gold medal in 1904, while An’s parents both won medals in table tennis in Seoul in 1988.
But given the problems which have plagued the sport’s inclusion in the programme for the first time since 1904, Dawson was equally happy that the time for talking about such issues was almost over.
“On behalf of the sport of golf we are absolutely delighted to be here in Rio and returning to the Olympic Games after a long absence of 112 years,” Dawson said.
“It’s a particular honour for golf that three golfers acted as flag bearers for their countries; Laetitia Beck for Israel, Julieta Granada for Paraguay, and Siddikur Rahman for Bangladesh.
“This week really does mark an historic moment for golf. Securing our return to the Olympic Games has been a long journey and we embarked on it not only to broaden our competitive landscape, but also because it was apparent that Olympic inclusion is the biggest grow-the-game opportunity available to golf.
“So many smaller nations, in golfing terms, said to us that if golf was an Olympic sport it would dramatically increase the game’s exposure, government support and indeed funding in their respective countries.
“This is already proving to be true and the importance of the Games is further endorsed by the fact that 30 countries have joined the IGF since we were voted into the Olympic programme.”
Golf is also guaranteed to feature in Tokyo in 2020, but the IOC will review the entire Olympic programme next year and the withdrawals of more than 20 top male players - including the world’s top four of Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Ireland’s Rory McIlroy - has been a major blow to golf’s future prospects.
“It’s certainly not helpful but now we are looking forward and concentrating on those players who are here,” Dawson added. “They will always be able to say they are Olympians and whoever wins the medals will have something to carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“I am very confident that golf’s players over the coming Olympic Games will all come and play. They will be witnessing a wonderful spectacle in Rio and we’re already seeing those players that are here making very positive remarks about their experience.
“What would make these two weeks a success would be exciting Olympic competition with very high quality golf watched by a large number of fans, both on the course but particularly around the world on their televisions and other media routes.
“If a top player wins it justifies the golf course, the whole structure, but on the other hand if we get a lesser-known player win that’s a wonderful story too.
“The IOC will have a very sophisticated methodology for measuring events and what we have to ensure is that golf comes as high up the rankings in as many of those criteria as we possibly can.
“We’re confident that will be done and it’s not just all about the events. Golf needs to be a very good and supportive member of the Olympic family and we’re working at that very hard, playing our part and not just trying to do something well once every four years.”
IGF executive director Antony Scanlon said 58% of the available tickets had been sold, with the final round of the men’s competition on Sunday a 12,000 sell-out. Tickets cost 50 Brazilian reals (€14) from Thursday to Saturday and double in price for Sunday.
With most fans unlikely to have attended a golf tournament before, a fanzone has been constructed beside the 18th fairway with coaching nets staffed by 12 professionals, golf simulators with nearest the pin and long drive competitions and six-hole putting course.
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