Should golf be an Olympic sport? I don’t know but I’m glad it is. I haven’t necessarily always thought that but if Rory can change his mind then so can I. Some golfers clearly don’t see it as a big deal though (ie the ones who didn’t bother playing in it) but they seem to be in a minority and those that did take part were right into the spirit of it.
Maybe the likes of DJ, Brooks, Louis Oosthuizen and Adam Scott will one day look back and regret their decision to not play. Ok, so not DJ. That man is so laid back I doubt he’s ever regretted anything in his entire life. The others might though. It would be interesting to know what they were thinking when they saw Xander with his gold medal.
This is still new and this was only the second time golf was an Olympic event, but when you see how into it these players were it feels as though this potentially could grow into something really big, given time.
Golf’s four majors will always be the yardstick the top pros measure themselves by but maybe in the future an Olympic gold may be seen as being just as big, in its own way. It’s not there yet, not by a long way, but it felt like quite a big deal this week just because of how excited the players were about playing.
No doubt being around other Olympic athletes from all the other sports had an impact on them, as they see their compatriots bringing medals home and it’s human nature to want to do the same. It’s kind of a new experience for the top golfers, as Olympic competition is not about money, it’s all about medals and that was probably a refreshing change of pace for some of these lads.
I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes and asked myself would I rather win Olympic Gold or one of the Majors and it depends which Major. I might take Olympic Gold over a PGA but definitely not the other three. It would also depend on how many other majors I had though.
For instance, Justin Rose has a US Open and he’s won the Olympics. If I’m him, I wouldn’t swap the US Open for the Olympics because as a top golfer you really want to win at least one major. You don’t want that “best player to not win a major” tag but if I’m Phil or Tiger and I have multiple majors would I swap one for an Olympic title?
I would say maybe I would, but then that’s because I’d be that guy I accused Bryson of being last week. If I had an Olympic Gold I’d wear it everywhere, Kurt Angle style. You can’t do that with a claret jug or a US Open trophy. I guess you can with a Masters jacket though, so I wouldn’t be trading that one in.
Justin Thomas called this event “the greatest thing I have ever been a part of” and said it was bigger than any major or the Ryder Cup. Slow down, Tonto. I doubt that too many of his contemporaries would go that far and he’s maybe been caught up in the moment of being around athletes from other sports, but if one of the biggest names in golf is talking like that then this definitely has the potential to grow into something really significant.
Of course, he could just be talking like that for the benefit of DJ and Brooks. Like when you were a kid and you had some sweets that your mates didn’t have, so you’d go completely overboard about how amazing they tasted just to make them think they were missing out on the greatest sweets that have ever been made.
That tactic will work on a lot of people, but not DJ. Maybe Brooks though. He likes to give off this “I don’t care” vibe but I’m not buying it. After all, he let Bryson get under his skin. You know that DJ almost certainly doesn’t even know Bryson’s name, he just refers to him as ‘that fat dude in the cap’.
JT then went out and shot 18 straight pars in his opening round. Is that a good round or a bad round? It was eight off the lead but no bogeys in 18 holes is never a truly bad thing, surely? Or maybe I’m judging that on my own low standards. I could only ever shoot a bogey free round in my dreams, and even then my sub-conscious wouldn’t allow it and I’d end up missing a two footer on 18 to ruin it.
18 pars though, if nothing else it’s unusual and something that people will remember if it happens in a high profile event. Everyone recalls Faldo doing it at Muirfield to win the Open but after that Faldo was seen as being a bit robotic, dull, machine like. He was obviously great, but he was boring.
Given the choice of watching Faldo or Fred Couples, I’d have gone for Freddie every time even though Faldo would be the one most likely to be winning the tournament. Freddie was just box office. He still is, even on the seniors. Freddie will hit one in the water and then slam dunk his approach for birdie. He’ll leave two in a bunker and then hole the third attempt for his bogey. All this while Faldo would be hitting the middle of the green and two putting.
There is more chance of ME hitting 18 straight pars than there is of Fred Couples doing it. 18 pars is the golf equivalent of Jose Mourinho’s brand of football or watching Novak Djokovic play. In fairness, Thomas’ game isn’t normally so bland which is probably why he was so frustrated afterwards. The stink from that dull round will wash off quickly for him I think.
The polar opposite to JT’s round came from my neighbour, Tommy Fleetwood. Well I say neighbour, it’s not like he lives next door but I could probably get to his house in less than 15 minutes from mine so that’s close enough. Plus it sounds good.
He shot -1 in a wild opening round which included an eagle, six birdies, three bogeys and two doubles. So that’s only six pars. That scorecard is like one of mine, apart from the eagle and birdies. I can do the six pars and two doubles standing on my head though, and that’s just the front nine.
The highlight of round one was Sepp Straka leading after a 63. Highlight for me anyway, as I had him at 40/1 to win a medal so it was all looking good. Then he pulled a Rickie Fowler on me on Friday (see last week’s column). He bounced back well from that and gave me a decent run for my money (the sum of one whole English pound!) but that Friday round killed our chances.
Yes, that’s right, I said ‘our’, that wasn’t a typo. I like how golfers now always include their caddy and talk as tough it’s a team sport so any time I’ve got a bet on a player it’s going to be ‘we’ ‘our’ ‘us’ etc. Except when it’s Rickie. There is no ‘we’ with me and Rickie. Not anymore.
My biggest take away from Olympic golf wasn’t who won or who finished in the medal spots. It was Rory playing without a hat. That was so weird. We become so used to seeing golfers wearing a hat that when they don’t have one it just looks odd. In some cases they look like a different person. Tiger with a cap on is one seriously handsome cat. When that hat comes off, he looks a bit… can I say… dorky? I’m probably going to hell for that level of disrespect but come on, we all think it, right?
So Rory without a hat was quite jarring and it took me a long while to get used to it. It only really felt like Rory when he missed that six footer in the bronze medal playoff after an amazing drive and beautiful approach had set him up perfectly. Now THAT looked like Rory.
The hatless look works for him though and I think he should stick with it, although I’m sure Nike will have several million reasons why he shouldn’t. Perhaps that’s for the best as I’m still trying to come to terms with Jurgen Klopp suddenly having no glasses.
I don’t particularly root for or against Rory but he is frustrating to watch even for a neutral like me because he’s so talented it feels like he should be winning, or at least strongly contending, every time he tees it up. But if I’m frustrated by that imagine how he must feel, especially having tasted so much success when he first started out.
Rory took some stick on social media for choosing to represent Ireland rather than Great Britain. He also took stick recently for saying he’s not very patriotic. I felt bad for him as the politics of it meant there was no way of coming out of this unscathed no matter what he’d chosen to do.
He played because he felt like he owed it to the game of golf to support the event, but he knew he was going to be getting all sorts of grief regardless of who he chose to represent and that’s probably why he was initially so dismissive of the Olympics. It’s sad that he was put in that position, especially when there are some golfers, some other Rorys in fact, who don’t care which country they represent as long as they can back door their way into a spot in the event. I’ll get to that charlatan in due course.
I do find it baffling that people care so much who McIlroy chooses to represent, but then the whole issue of patriotism and national pride is kind of lost on me anyway. I just don’t feel it. Rory was eligible to play for GB or Ireland so let him do what he likes as this is nobody’s business but his. Whatever he chose to do was never going to please everyone so just let the lad make his decision and respect it.
One man who had no such worries about who to represent was the self proclaimed ‘Captain America’, Patrick Reed. Very amusing that, as the only things Reed and Steve Rogers have in common is they are both American and both male. That’s where any comparison ends as the controversial Reed is the antithesis of everything the sickeningly good, pure and wholesome Rogers stands for.
That doesn’t mean Reed can’t be ‘Captain America’ though as he’s very much cut from the same cloth as the other ‘Cap’. You know, the new guy who looks like Harry Kane and breaks whatever rules he wants in order to win? That ‘Captain America’.
Don’t misinterpret that as a criticism of P Reed though. Far from it. There’s a line from Goodfellas that comes to mind here; “Jimmy was the kind of guy who roots for the bad guy in the movies”. That’s me. I’d also root for the heels in wrestling (or at least I did 20 years ago when it was actually worth watching) and my favourite ever footballer is Luis Suarez. So of course I have a soft spot for Reed.
Unfortunately ‘Captain America’ didn’t deliver Gold for his country; he was nowhere to be seen in fact. It was an unsung hero, Xander Schaufelle, who brought it home for the US. Maybe he should give himself a nickname too, just to rub Reed’s nose in it. The X-Man maybe? Yeah, bit lame but there’s nothing obvious that jumps out here. It’s not like Bryson as ‘the Hulk’ or Collin Morikawa as ‘Iron Man’ (BOOM! see what I did there? Damn that’s a good one).
It was about time Xander won something though. He almost never wins but he’s always in and around it. Maybe this kick starts it for him now and I hope so as he’s a phenomenal talent. I like Xander, he seems like a good lad and this was a nice story due to his family background.
For those who don’t know, Xander’s Dad was an aspiring Olympian whose dream was ended by a drunk driver. Xander had to really fight and scrap over the last nine holes due to some erratic driving of his own. There’s clearly a bad taste joke to be had here, but relax, I’m not going there.
It wasn’t a convincing win as he struggled to get over the line. He didn’t have his best stuff on that back nine but he found a way and that’s the main thing. I think that probably shows us more about him mentally than if he’d have ran away with it. Time to replicate that grit in the Majors now.
I love how Xander milked the whole medal ceremony thing though. He put on the tracksuit that you’d normally see the track and field athletes and swimmers wearing when they get their medals and he did the old ‘bite the medal to make sure it’s not a chocolate coin’ thing too. That’s one of those things everyone who wins a medal in any sporting event does just because they’ve seen everyone else do it. Like whenever someone gets a selfie with a boxer they have to pose with a clenched fist. No-one knows why, it’s just what you do.
Phil has already tweeted Xander giving him his blessing to use the gold medal as a ball marker next time they play together because “that’s something I’d do”. He would too. We saw the month long victory lap he went on when he won the US PGA. God I love Phil. If I could be buddies with anybody in golf, it’s Phil by a landslide.
Number two on that list? Bryson. Not because I particularly want to be his pal, but I’d be willing to do it because I believe I could be a good influence on him. Just little pieces of advice here and there, you know.
“Bryson, send the Tik Tok kids home to their parents, you’re not Michael Jackson and this isn’t a good look for you.”
“Bryson, don’t blame the equipment as it makes you look like an ungrateful diva”.
“Hey pal, you know what might be a good idea? Lose the silly hat. You’re not Ben Hogan”.
“Bryson, the next time Brooks opens his big dumb mouth you should refer to him as Brooks Crapka and then correct yourself like it was unintentional”.
I could do wonders for his brand and I wouldn’t even want paying. Bryson, I’m available, bro. DM me.
Back to the events in Tokyo, Rory Sabbatini grabbed the silver medal, coming from nowhere with a staggering final round 61 to finish a shot ahead of seemingly half the field who ended up in that massive playoff for bronze. I’ll get to that in a second, but the Sabbatini nationality thing needs addressing. He shouldn’t have been there and his presence there as a ‘Slovakian’ made a mockery of the Olympic spirit. This isn’t like Rory choosing between GB and Ireland. There is no similarity here at all, not least because Rory qualified for both.
Sabbatini was there representing Slovakia even though he’s a South African who lives in America. He also has US citizenship and a British passport. He knew he wouldn’t qualify for South Africa, the USA or Team GB so he took his wife’s nationality and because Slovakia don’t have any other golfers, hey presto he qualifies for the Olympics.
Some may argue that because he was good enough to finish second that validates his place in the field. Nah, not for me. Any player in that field had the talent to potentially finish second and there are easily another hundred who weren’t eligible for Tokyo who could have done what Sabbatini did if they had a hot few days with the putter. They weren’t there though because they didn’t change nationality to back door their way in.
I don’t actually hold it against him as it’s a smart move on his part. Some proper heel behaviour if you like, so clearly I have some level of admiration for it. The fault here is the system and process that allowed it.
He’s currently 204 in the world rankings and without taking advantage of that loophole he’d never have been anywhere near Tokyo. He wasn’t good enough to qualify for his home nation so he pulled the old Tony Cascarino routine (an Englishman who played football for Ireland after lying that he qualified through an Irish grandparent).
Of course jealousy might be a factor in my displeasure here. Sabbatini is only a couple of years younger than me and he’s at the Olympics winning a silver medal while I’m sat here in my boxer shorts, toast crumbs all down the front of myself, being snarky about it in a column that will probably be read by less people than he had shots in his final round. So there is that.
I just don’t like the precedent this could set. What’s going to happen in three years time in France? Is Patrick Reed going to show up as “Captain Latvia” because he couldn’t get on the US team? Will DeChambeau be frantically searching back through his family tree looking for a French connection?
And what’s next for Rory Sabbatini? Dropping the ‘y’ for an ‘i’ and identifying as female to nab a medal in the women’s event perhaps? You may scoff but that’s the next logical step here, surely? He seems like the type of fella that will stop at nothing to get what he wants. He’s actually more like Patrick Reed than Patrick Reed is.
That bronze medal playoff though. Wow, how great was that? I woke up on Sunday morning and checked my phone to see how my boy Straka had done. Turns out we missed out on third spot by a single shot, so that’s another hard luck gambling story to go with all the rest in this recent slump of mine. We gave it a good run and just came up short though.
Then I noticed that seven players were tied for third and had just begun a playoff. Excellent, I’ll have some of that. So I turned the TV on, made my breakfast and settled down to watch. By that point seven had become five as Paul Casey and hometown hero Hideki Matsuyama had been sent packing, but now we had all five playing in one big group which was great.
The only time I ever see a fiveball like that is on Bootle Golf Course after the shop has closed and it’s a free for all with the locals. The main difference here was there were also five sets of clubs rather than two being shared, and none of the golfers were on bikes, they weren’t smoking weed and none of them had dogs running around chasing rabbits, peeing on flagsticks and crapping in bunkers.
That little passage of play when Mito Pereira, Morikawa, CT Pan and McIlroy all stiffed approach shots to within a few feet was mesmerising. You have to feel bad for Sebastian Munoz who found the green but was nowhere near the flag and then had to watch everyone else hitting darts all around the bullseye. He needed a miracle that didn’t come and we then had the subsequent drama of Mito’s filthy horseshoe and then Rory lipping out.
Golf can be so cruel. Rory’s putt just wasn’t quite good enough but Mito’s looked in the whole way. Heartbreaking. I’d never even heard of him until this week as he’s only recently earned his tour card. This goes back to what I was saying last week though about the depth in golf being ridiculously good now. There are so many players capable of winning and most of us haven’t even heard of half of them.
So with Munoz, Pereira and McIlroy all eliminated, then there were two. But not for long. “Iron Man” for once wasn’t perfect with his distance control on his approach shot and he ended up in the front bunker with one of the worst plugged lies imaginable. There was hardly any of that ball showing and to top it off he had an awful stance too.
It was all he could do just to get that out and on the green, but that left CT Pan with a chip and putt to win, which he comfortably managed. He’d bounced back from an opening day 74 so for him to grab a medal was a hell of an effort and a great lesson in never giving up. This wasn’t like a regular tour event when you keep plugging away to get a bigger slice of the prize money, this was just pure desire and determination to climb that leaderboard and fight for a medal.
It was an entertaining and fun event and it’s a shame that the ungodly hour they were playing at will have severely impacted viewing figures around Europe and the US. I’m glad that golf is part of the Olympics but I don’t care enough to stay up all night watching it. I’ll be glued to it in three years time though when it’s in France and at a much more sociable time.
The women’s event is still to come at this Olympics and while I don’t usually go out of my way to watch the LPGA events, just like JT and Rory the Olympic spirit is flowing through me now so I’ll probably set the alarm and catch the last hour or two of play each morning.
I might even have a cheeky little bet on it just for interest. I have no idea who will win but the way things have been going for me lately that’s probably a good thing. At this point I’ve as much chance of winning by just picking someone at random.
Staying with the women’s game to round things off this week, Annika Sorenstam won the senior US Women’s Open which is a hell of a story as she’s been retired since 2008 but came back to play on the seniors when she turned 50. She won by eight shots, so fair play to her. Fantastic achievement.
Enjoy this while you can though, Annika, because come 2025 you might just be having to contend with the pride of Slovakia, ‘Rori’ Sabbatini.