he pressure to represent and perform will always be there in the Olympics. But in the case of the golfers eligible for Rio, the most commonly shared incentive is the anticipated thrill of being included and taking in the experience.
Traditionally considered nerdy “semi-athletes” compared to team-sport stars, golfers getting to the Olympics is a little like having the cool kids in high school nally invite them to their party. Even Nicklaus betrays a bit of that thinking when his time as an outstanding high school basketball player is mentioned. “I became a golfer because,
rst, I was an athlete,” he says. Arnold Palmer likes to tell about being on stage with baseball star Roger Maris before the presentation of the 1960 Hickok Belt for best athlete of the year.When Maris saw Palmer, he said derisively to the golfer,“What the hell are you doing here?”After Palmer was announced as the winner, he brushed by Maris on his way to the microphone and whispered,“What the hell are you doing here?”
Of course, today’s golfers have been athletically validated, by Woods and by disciplined training regimens that carve out lean muscle. In a role reversal, tour players are now held up as models of athletic coordination and concentration by team-sport athletes who aspire to be better at golf. And some golfers even have Olympic roots. Jeev Milkha Singh’s father, Milkha Singh,
nished fourth for India in the 400 metres at the 1960 Olympics in Rome.The parents of Korea’s Byeong-Hun An were medallists in table tennis at the Seoul Olympics in 1988. Before marrying BubbaWatson,Angie Ball was chosen for Canada’s Olympic women’s basketball team but couldn’t play because of injury. It’s doubtful that the golfers will feel as much like outsiders in Rio as they did in their adolescence.
Which will make it easier to do what they are really looking forward to: just hanging out.As the schedule goes, the men will get more time in the Olympic Village around the opening ceremonies, and the women around the closing ceremonies.
“Sure, the Olympics are going to elevate our sport a bit into that more athletic realm,” says Ernie Els, who at 46, was hoping a late surge might qualify him to represent South Africa.“But I’d give my left toe just to be part of the whole spectacle. I love seeing and meeting these athletes, the absolute best in the world. I just want to see what they’re all about and learn from them. Can you imagine?” But Spieth is also a lover of sports who intends to spend time in the OlympicVillage “and come in contact with some of the greats. I’d love to pick their brain. It can’t hurt at all.”And he’s another one with a soft spot for the opening ceremonies:“When I was really young, that’s how I thought of the Olympics.To be one of those athletes would be something I’d never forget, walking with the American ag there.” Another American, Bubba Watson, is of a similar mind. “Bottom line, I want to be an Olympic athlete,” he says. “Winning a gold, or any medal, would be a bonus. But watching and meeting the other athletes – that’s going to be the growing part for who I am as a person, and who I am as an athlete.That’s the true cake, and the icing would be a medal.”
Also representing the US is Dustin Johnson, often acknowledged as the most gifted athlete among professional golfers. He has consulted his future father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky, who played for Canada’s hockey team at the 1998 Winter Olympics at Nagano.“The thing I would look forward to most would be walking in the opening ceremonies,” Johnson says. “I think it would be awesome. I’ve talked to Wayne, and he said it’s really cool.”
Brooke Henderson, 18, was a youth-hockey goalie when she began dreaming of representing Canada, as she will as a golfer in Rio.“The Olympics is something that I’ve looked forward to almost my entire life,” she says.“As a