Vousden’s views

Thought for the Day
The only place where success comes before work is in the dictionary

Olympic seal of approval
Although you may not have seen much of it, the Men’s Olympic golf competition had almost everything. A worthy winner in Xander Shauffele, a runner-up who shot a blistering last round 61, ten-under par, and a seven-man playoff for the bronze medal, eventually won by a rank outsider.

Rory Sabbatini, a man born in South Africa who has American citizenship and also holds a British passport but who represents Slovakia, initially stole the headlines when he came from seven strokes back to post the clubhouse lead. He married his second wife, Slovakian Martina Stofanikova, and in December 2018 became eligible to represent his newly adopted country, saying at the time that his motivation was to inspire Slovak youth, rather than be eligible to compete in the Olympics. Everyone believed him.

Despite his heroics, and a few hiccups in the last round from the eventual winner, Shauffele, a man with his own mixed pedigree, hung on for the gold medal. His German-born father Stefan was in a car hit by a drunk driver in 1986, an accident in which he lost the sight of an eye that destroyed his ambition to represent his country in the Olympic decathlon. Xander’s mother Ping Yi grew up in Japan and his maternal grandparents live in Tokyo, so his was a popular win both at home and abroad.

And then there was the mammoth playoff for third place and a bronze medal, contested by three major winners – Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Hideki Matsuyama – along with Paul Casey, Sebastian Munoz of Columbia, Chile’s Mito Pereira and C.T. Pan from Chinese-Taipei. To the delight of all neutrals, it was Pan who came through at the fourth extra hole, having fired an impressive 63 in regulation play. What more could you want from a golf competition?

Well… There are continued mutterings and complaints about the hackneyed, over-familiar 72-hole strokeplay format and it does seem odd, when every other Olympic event I can think of (apart from those that require a panel of judges) is essentially knockout, or matchplay in format. One of the innovations I have thoroughly enjoyed, in both the swimming pool and on the athletics track, has been mixed events, in which men and women compete on the same side. Something similar could be added to golf. However, it’s only the second time that our favourite game has been represented at the Olympics in modern times so any criticism has to be tempered by that knowledge.

The other recurring feature of golf in the Olympics is the number of men (and it is overwhelmingly men) who qualify but refuse to attend. Dustin Johnson has done it twice, and although he and others had pretty pathetic excuses in 2016, it is difficult to criticise he and other no-shows this time in the face of covid-19 and the risks involved in both international travel and mixing in large groups.

Hopefully, in future those who earn the right to take place will take note of comments from Rory McIlroy (who opted out himself in 2016), and Justin Thomas. Both competed this year and professed themselves delighted at the experience, with Rory in particular enthusing about the opportunity to watch other sports and mix with other athletes. He said: ‘I think I need to do a better job of just giving things a chance, experiencing things, not writing them off at first glance… I was proven wrong at the Ryder Cup, I’ve been proven wrong this week and I’m happy to say that.’

Thomas said: ‘It was cooler than I thought it was. I’m more proud of being here than I thought I would be. I thought I would be proud, but the first like day or two I immediately found out that this is like the coolest thing I’ve ever been part of.’

It sounds sincere and heartfelt – inarticulate, perhaps but we shouldn’t judge him too harshly for that – he is American.

One other performance we shouldn’t let slip pass without comment is that of Annika Sorenstam in the US Senior Women’s Open. She has been retired from competitive golf for 13 years and had two children in that time – she lapped the field and won by eight strokes.

Footnote: Please don’t think I’m being sexist by not mentioning the women’s Olympic golf but at the time of writing it hasn’t begun. Spare a thought, though, for Paula Reto, who was supposed to represent South Africa. In the last week of July she tested positive for covid-19 and had to withdraw, both from the Evian Championship after three rounds, and from Tokyo. In the following week she was tested a further four times and each one was negative, so she missed out on a women’s major golf tournament, and the Olympics, because of a bad test.

Quote of the Week
I’ve never tried so hard to finish third.
Rory McIlroy

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