As Rio 2016 Approaches, Some Tennis Lessons for US Golf

Golf may benefit by looking at tennis via
Most professional and amateur golfers, as well as casual and advid fans, are delighted to see the sport return to the Olympics.

The 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro will welcome golfers for the first time in over a century, and inclusion is predicted to have a major impact on the game's reach, particularly in places where the sport has not previously had the opportunity to grow.

However, for the US, and other countries where the game is "mature", there's a lesson to be learned on the potential downside of Olympic inclusion.  It comes from the world of professional tennis, a world where an American male hasn't won a Grand Slam since 2003, and where for a period earlier this, year there wasn't a single American ranking in the world's top 10.  Some say the US tennis decline can, at least in part, be traced back to 1984, the year tennis became an Olympic Sport. 

"When it [tennis] became an Olympic sport, other countries got on the bandwagon, and smaller countries began developing players." That's how Angel Lopez, director of tennis operations at the San Diego Tennis & Racquet Club put it, and with that in mind it's easy to imagine that by the end of this decade the World Golf Ranking may feature fewer US players.

These young golfers in China get get elite instruction from Cindy Reid
Commitment to early and ambitious player development is clearly key when it comes to creating competitive athletes, and in an attempt to attract more young players to the game... and eventually hook the best of them... the USTA has invested more than $8 million this year on 10 and Under Tennis an initiative that includes smaller courts and less "bouncy" balls.  The idea is to encourage an entry level version of the game that will allow more children to start learning and playing from a younger age... and enable them to build confidence and avoid bad habits.

US Golf would seem to be in a perfect position to introduce an entry level version for it's beginners.  There are numerous organizations focused on bringing young players into the game, The First Tee, the USGA's Junior Links and the LPGA's Girl's Golf however thus far there seems to have been little interest in the establishment of a shorter format. 

US Kid's Golf has developed an excellent program with their Family Course Setup, that has the backing of the PGA of America and a partnership with Pinehurst.  It's the type of initiative that could really help to grow the game from the ground up should more courses, particularly public courses, decide to implement it.

2016 will come quickly... so will the end of the decade. Golf should start taking a cue from tennis right now.