Olympic Golf Returns

Golf is back on the Olympic stage

Tiger Woods is not a cold-weather guy, but he might make an appearance at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

His potential trip to Sochi most likely depends on whether his girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, has recovered from knee injuries and is able to defend the gold medal she won in the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

The chances are much better that Woods will be at the 2016 Summer Olympics at Rio de Janeiro, where golf will be contested for the first time since the 1904 Games in St. Louis.

“If I get in, it would be great,” Woods said last year. “It’s the Olympics, and it is a very big event and something that we haven’t historically been involved in. It’s (going to be) a first (and) to be involved in something to that magnitude … if I make it, that would be great.”

Woods, No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, would seem to be a lock to make the United States team because the top 15 players in the rankings will automatically be in the field for the 72-hole stroke-play events for men and women.

Phil Mickelson, ranked No. 5, doesn’t want to miss out on the fun either, saying recently: “I want to be an Olympic athlete.”

The record books tell us that golf has been played at the Olympics only twice, in 1900 at Paris and 1904 at St. Louis, and while that is technically correct, it is not exactly true.

There was an unofficial golf tournament held in conjunction with the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany and Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop informed Adolph Hitler that the German twosome was comfortably ahead after the first round.

So Hitler hopped in his limo and made the 450-mile drive from Berlin to the course in Baden-Baden to present the awards, only to learn upon arrival that the British pair of Tony Thirsk and Arnold Bentley had broken the course record in round two and beaten the Germans.

The infuriated Fuhrer hopped back into his Mercedes and returned to Berlin, leaving the formalities to the president of the German Golf Federation.

What little golf has been played in the Olympics was dominated by the Americans, who won three of the four gold medals that were awarded in those two Olympics more than a century ago, and 10 of 13 medals overall.

Peggy Abbott, who was an art student and a member of Chicago Golf Club, was on vacation in Paris in 1900 and decided to enter the event at Compiegne Golf Club. She won the competition with a score of 47 in the nine-hole tournament, and her mother finished seventh.

The Abbotts thought they were participating in the Paris City Ladies Championship because the Paris Games were so disorganized, so Peggy went to her grave not knowing that she had become the first American woman to win a gold medal in any Olympic sport.

U.S. women swept the medals, with Pauline Whittier taking the silver and Daria Pratt grabbing the bronze.

Charles Sands of St. Andrews Golf Club in Yonkers, N.Y., the oldest club in the U.S. having been founded in 1888, claimed the men’s gold medal with a score of 82-85–167, beating out Walter Rutherford and David Robertson, who both represented England, although Robertson actually was from Scotland.

Albert Bond Lambert, an American who was in Paris on business, finished eighth, but would go on to much greater fame as the primary financial supporter of Charles Lindbergh’s 1927 Trans-Atlantic flight to Paris in his plane, “The Spirit of St Louis.”

Lambert, with his wealth and influence, also was the driving force behind the Olympics being held in his hometown, St. Louis, in 1904. He left such a mark on the city that the Lambert-St. Louis International Airport is named for him.

The 1904 Games were held in conjunction with the World’s Fair and you might have heard the song they wrote about it: “Meet me in St. Louie, Louie, meet me at the Fair.” Golf was held at Glen Echo Golf Club, the first golf club west of the Mississippi River.

The members of the club did a yeoman’s job of publicizing the event and nearly 100 amateurs from the U.S. and Canada showed up, although there was no women’s competition this time.

The Americans coasted to the team title, and in fact, the home side was so deep that two other U.S. squads took the silver and bronze medals.

H. Chandler Egan, a 20-year-old student at Harvard and the recently-crowned U.S. Amateur champion, was the overwhelming favorite for the individual gold medal and faced 46-year-old George Lyon of Canada in the match-play final.

After 18 holes in windy and rainy conditions, they were tied and it was deemed that another 18 be played to determine the winner of the gold medal. The turning point came when Egan hit his tee shot into a pond on the ninth hole and Lyon went on to a 3-and-2 victory.

Egan admitted he had been unnerved by being consistently outdriven by the older Lyon, a former cricket player. But, Egan rebounded to win the U.S. Amateur again the following year and later turned to golf course architecture, helping the legendary Alister MacKenzie retool Pebble Beach for the 1929 U.S. Amateur, in which Egan reached the semifinals.

Lyon proved that his victory might not have been such an upset by winning the Canadian Amateur five more times to give him a total of eight titles in the event.

Four years later, Lyon went to London to defend his Olympic title, but because of a dispute involving the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, no other golfers showed up. Lyon was offered the golf medal, but refused it.

Another attempt was made to revive golf as an Olympic sport for the 1920 Antwerp Games, but reportedly failed because of a lack of interest.

Now golf is finally back in the Olympics, for 2016 in Rio and 2020 in Tokyo, although not completely by popular demand. It will be up to Woods, Mickelson and the rest of the modern players to put on a show that convinces the powers that be that this game belongs in the Games.

Otherwise, it might be another century before golf gets the chance again.

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