September 08, 2008

Golf's Puzzling Pursuit Of The Olympic Stage

Golf is not blessed with a role in the Olympics, so those of us who follow this simple outcast of a game must settle for a tiny, intramural scrum that is the Ryder Cup. Anybody who has watched or attended these matches between the United States and Europe might suggest that this biennial competition is as worldly as it is compelling, as are four storied majors every season, along with assorted other big-time events, not to mention the Presidents Cup that is young but as worthy as the International players who also deserve center stage every other year.

One would think this is sufficient global exposure for golf, but obviously we aren't visionaries like those emissaries who recently traveled to Beijing so they could do their begging in person. They want desperately for golf to become part of the 2016 Olympics, and that meant serious genuflecting before the International Olympic Committee, where some of the most pompous, devious and hypocritical people you will ever meet do business. And that's exactly what it is, business. They claim their mission is to preserve the Olympic ideal—citius, altius, fortius, and so yawn. But it's all Bolshoi. Their finish line is the bottom line.

Not that the Ryder Cup is the Red Cross. Louisville will be ready and willing to spend whatever it takes, starting with the opening ceremony, a parade that helps golf people scratch their Olympic itch. Whether lip-synching will be part of the program is unclear. In Beijing a cute 9-year-old, Lin Miaoke, was hailed for singing "Ode to the Motherland" until it was learned that the voice belonged to Yang Peiyi, 7, who had an imperfect dental chart. Given that organizing Communists digitally enhanced fireworks and doctored crowd shots, you wonder why they didn't merely add a few false teeth toward the real voice. Golf has been called a lot of names. Slow, boring, elitist, but never fake.

You could argue that golf, the cleanest and most honest sport, doesn't belong in the Olympic sewer, period.'

Still, when you're over there, groveling for votes as were our esteemed golf leaders, that shouldn't matter. Nor should the pre-Olympic warning of the IOC's medical commissioner, Arne Ljungqvist, about the prevailing culture of "systematic doping" and "planned cheating." You won't hear those words around Louisville, but when you cling to an Olympic fetish, you have to compromise your values. Golf's self-appointed ambassadors in Beijing babble on about spreading the word, which seems odd inasmuch as the host government is notoriously repressive. Even with the world watching, China received 77 applications for protests during its so-called coming out party. None was approved. Now, if you were there representing golf, and on the outside looking in, how could you not want to be part of that?

Golf's movers and shakers say they want to reach out to all races and all ages through the Olympics. And in its own sick way, China also believes in equal opportunity. Did you hear about the two elderly women who resisted when their homes were seized for Summer Games redevelopment? They were sent off to "re-education through labor," whatever that means. At the other end of the scale were those Chinese girl gymnasts. They were supposed to be at least 16, and instead looked like diaper dandies, but in the toxic wink-wink Olympic atmosphere, you dare not raise a fuss, or else. If I write unfavorably about the Ryder Cup or Kentucky, I doubt that the government will censor dispatches or magically make me disappear. For some reason, journalists visiting the new, open and enlightened China kept having problems with the Internet. Can't imagine why.

You read reams of gooey stuff about how Beijing was just great. Apparently, if the press buses are on time, all is well. You also see insipid columns about golf's Olympic dream and suspect we've all been seduced by TV. NBC gerrymandered schedules to meet prime-time needs because if it weren't for NBC, the Olympics would be track and field at the county fair. To the IOC, TV rights always trump human rights. NBC also will handle the Ryder Cup, deftly as usual, but tee times will be normal, and don't expect any judging scandals or tearful docudramas about how Phil Mickelson was strapped to railroad tracks by a lunatic third-grade teacher, only to be rescued by a woman who turned out to be the former synchronized swimming partner of Lefty's teacher, whose husband went to jail for drowning their dog in the family pool. On Christmas Day, no less.

Golf doesn't lend itself to such snappy Olympic sagas. You could argue that golf, the cleanest and most honest sport, doesn't belong in the Olympic sewer, period. But it's always about money, even when it should be about ethics. Meanwhile, we're stuck with the Ryder Cup. At least the winning team in Louisville won't have to relinquish the trophy after being charged with "systematic doping" or "planned cheating." How quaint. Square guys hitting a round ball in a free country isn't the Olympics, but I guess we'll just have to live with it.