Golf clears next-to-last Olympics hurdle

Digital billboards of Y.E. Yang showed up in his home country of South Korea following his PGA Championship win. An estimated 1 in 12 South Koreans play golf.

Digital billboards of Y.E. Yang showed up in his home country of South Korea following his PGA Championship win. An estimated 1 in 12 South Koreans play golf.

Global appeal, diversity and a game rooted in a culture of fair play.

Those three attributes powered golf’s bid to return to the Olympics.

And the prospect of having Tiger Woods compete didn’t hurt, either.

Golf is virtually guaranteed to become an Olympic sport for the 2016 Games after having won approval from the International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board on Aug. 13 in Berlin. The board’s recommendation will go before the full IOC session Oct. 9 in Copenhagen, Denmark, where final approval is expected.

Golf and rugby sevens took precedence in the Executive Board’s secret ballot over softball, baseball, squash, karate and roller sports.

“The decision came down to which two would add the most value,” IOC president Jacques Rogge said. “Golf and rugby will be a great addition to the Games. They have global appeal, a geographically diverse lineup of top iconic athletes and an ethic that stresses fair play.”

Tiger Woods, who will be 40 when the 2016 Games are held in a city to be determined, has said that he would like to play. That factor strengthened golf’s bid, Rogge said.

“Who is one of the major icons of the world? Tiger Woods,” Rogge said. “This is a very important sport.”

Yet golf wasn’t a lock for inclusion. While rugby sevens sailed through the voting, golf faced a tougher route. Golf polled only one vote in the first two rounds of secret balloting and nearly was eliminated. However, with tactical voting from rugby supporters, golf gained the majority of votes in the fourth round.

The vote culminates a 16-month effort in which golf’s worldwide leaders presented a unified front and lobbied for their sport. They emphasized golf’s growing global popularity, top players’ interest in the Games and how golf’s values mirror Olympic ideals. On the men’s side, Woods, Phil Mickelson, K.J. Choi, Ernie Els, Camilo Villegas and Sergio Garcia have said they would play. Among top women, Lorena Ochoa and Suzann Pettersen are interested.

“We believe we presented a very compelling case,” said Ty Votaw, executive director of the International Golf Federation’s Olympic Committee that spearheaded the bid. “We look forward to October.”

Added R&A chief executive Peter Dawson: “We will be celebrating a little, but it’s not yet decided. . . . However, my gut feeling is that it would be very hard to see IOC members going against the wishes of the Executive Board. But we are not complacent. We will be sending IOC members the proposal we made to the Executive Board, which highlights golf’s credentials, and we hope the members agree with us.”

Golf’s leaders say Olympic participation would spur the game’s growth. They contend that it would renew interest in mature golf markets and stoke interest in emerging markets, such as China.

Golf was last played in the Olympics in 1904 when Canadian George Lyon won the gold medal in St. Louis. It also was played in Paris in 1900.

Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Madrid and Tokyo are the finalists to host the 2016 Games.

Olympic golf would be certain to draw top competitors worldwide.

“Japanese people love golf, and no matter where (the Olympics) is going to be held, it will be followed greatly,” LPGA player Ai Miyazato said.

“Personally, I’ve had many chances to represent my country as a junior golfer, but doing so in the Olympics would definitely be one of the highlights of my career.”

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