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Friday, August 5, 2016

Rio '16 Golf: What a Shame

In October of 2009, I pictured this month’s Sports Illustrated cover with grandiose visions dancing in my head from memories of a February, 1991 cover depicting Michael, Charles and the Mailman with Magic and Bird - the Dream Team. 

My imagination, dancing from those memories, conjured up a special meeting in New York City with a few cases of cold suds and a few industry friends. We’d take-over a conference room at Sports Illustrated and SI-writer extraordinaire Jack McCallum would be holding forth, along with the creative minds of Chris Stone (now the head honcho), longtime basketball scribe and author and former Vermont Frost Heaves GM Alex Wolff, legendary writers like Gary Smith, Steve Rushin, Leigh Montville, and Ian Thomsen along with award-winning photographers Walter Iooss and John McDonough.

From the NBA’s side, we’d toss in Brian McIntyre, Russ Granik and Rick Welts, for old times sake, as they were among the architects of the “original” Dream Team. Kim Bohuny, a scratch golfer out of Furman and a longtime NBA-USA Basketball-Goodwill Games executive would be asked to put on both her basketball hat and golf visor, for which we would reward her with a bottle or two of Silver Oak.

From the world of golf, we’d need some creative genius and no better place to start than with David Feherity, commentator, talk show host and former pro golfer. He’d be joined by Golf Channel cohort Tommy Roy, the executive producer on the PGA Tour but also a contributor to the NBA on NBC. Add in the great Bob Condron, formerly of the USOC and currently the venue chief for golf at Rio 2016, along with golf course architect Gil Hanse as the majordomo for the return of the sport of golf to the Games. We’d toss in Verne Lundquist and Bill Raftery for some sporting perspective and humor, and top it off with the brilliance of Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus to be sure everything was as copacetic as a Bill “Bojangles” dance marathon.

The issue at hand and nearing deadline would be the proper naming and headline writing of my imaginary (but just recently received) “Double Issue” Olympic Preview of Sports Illustrated, once king of Olympic Games coverage. The assembled group would discuss the options.

Fast forward  -- In the July 25-August 1st edition, seven United States Olympians graced the cover. It was fine. There were stories on Simone Biles, the new Queen of women’s gymnastics, on Usain Bolt and the "next gen" of track & field athletes, on the most decorated Olympian ever in Michael Phelps. His USA Swimming teammates Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky had their S.L. Price moment, right alongside a Price-penned “back-of-the-book” piece on the “Refugee Team,” a group of Olympians competing without the backing of a country to call home or a flag with which to march into the Olympic Stadium.

There wasn’t a single story on GOLF.

With the sport of golf teeing it up for the first Olympics since 1904, I envisioned an issue filled with profiles on the greatest active golfers - the “Dream Teams” of Dormie.

Let’s take a quick look at who could’ve graced the “Golf Plus” SI cover of a lifetime.

Tiger Woods
Phil Mickelson
Jordan Spieth
Rickie Fowler

Sergio Garcia
Miguel Angel Jimenez

Padraig Harrington

Northern Ireland
Rory McIlroy
Darren Clarke

South Africa
Ernie Els
Retief Goosen
Louis Oosthuizen

Jason Day
Adam Scott

Bernard Langer
Martin Kaymer

Lee Westwood
Justin Rose
Ian Poulter
Luke Donald

S Korea
KJ Choi

Hideki Matsuyama

Vijay Singh

Henrik Stenson

And, that’s just to name a few of the sport’s greatest active golfers. 

The SI Cover could’ve looked a little like the album cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, although I’m not a sure we could replace only four Beatles. We might’ve needed eight or ten silky psychedelic suits to do the sport and its global appeal justice. They could’ve all gathered around on the Zoysia grass with a few flowers to add some color. Peter Blake and Jann Haworth would be much obliged by the newfound work and a hefty Time, Inc. payday.

Of course, the pundits would’ve been conjuring and criticizing an Isiah Thomas-like conspiracy theory snub-fest, fueling enough debate to knock The Donald off the boob tube for a night or two, and we don’t mean The (Luke) Donald.

The gripes?

Where’s Jim Furyk?

Where’s Colin Montgomery, that old crank from Scotland, the birthplace of the sport?

How come there are no golfers from Canada on the cover?

Tiger’s washed up and can’t play anymore (Remember the Larry Bird critics?)

Instead? We give you Golf in the 2016 Summer Olympic games.

Thud! What a waste of a sport.

Just as sure as the IOC reinstated Baseball and Softball for the 2020 games in baseball-loving Japan, you can bet your Callaway Great Big Bertha that golf will get the (sand) trap door at the next world congress of sporting corruption. Hospitality and event planners for 2024, you can kiss your birdies good-bye.

It could’ve been great. It could’ve done for golf what the Dream Team did for basketball in 1992. 

But, oh no, only a handful of the best golfers in the world wanted to play. 

If it were the ’92 basketball players balking, it would’ve been a public relations nightmare for the N.B.A. and, the likes of Ben Simmons, Dirk Nowitzki, Yao Ming and Tony Parker might’ve never seen United States soil, never mind NBA stardom, worldwide fame and fortune. But, this summer, golf is being given the benefit of the doubt and a free ride, PR-wise, as health threats from the terrible Zika virus and the outdoor nature of the game have swayed public opinion of the sporting slight to say, “Well that’s alright with us”

Rightfully, we should point out and give proper credit where it is due to the likes of Kaymer, Stenson, Rose, Fowler, and Harrington. High-fives to Matt Kuchar, Bubba Watson of the USA, Graham Dalaet and David Hearn of Canada and Jhonattan Vegas of Venezuela, just to name a few of the men’s golfers scheduled to compete. And, the women of the LPGA deserve much credit as their showing is strong, but sadly, far less impactful for the overall growth of the sport.

Just think of what could’ve been as we all planned the cover and penned the new name.

What would your suggestion have been for the headline of the Return of Golf to the Olympics issue?

Sadly, we could only come up with - “What a Shame Game.”

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