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Two Ways to Make Olympic Golf Even More Fun

Golf returned to the Olympics last summer after a 112-year absence. ‘ShackHouse’ has some suggestions to make sure it sticks this time.

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Last summer, after 112 years away, golf made its valiant return to the Olympics. British golfer Justin Rose took home the first gold medal awarded in the sport since 1904, and the event seemed to be a great overall success for the game and for the IOC. On the ShackHouse podcast, following Monday’s announcement that Los Angeles will host the 2028 Olympic Games, Geoff Shackelford and Joe House outlined two ways that the sport can stay relevant, exciting, and innovative at the made-for-television event.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

Shackelford: We’re going to have the 2028 Olympics Games [in Los Angeles]. And it’s a long way off, so we’re not really going to focus on that, but I am curious as a sports fan — the [International Olympic Committee], in trying to reinvent the games in certain ways to appeal to the kids, has introduced three-on-three basketball and a few other … younger, cooler, hipper, faster, shorter, whatever versions of some other sports. Meanwhile, of course, we are waiting anxiously for golf’s format reinvention for 2020, 2024 now, and maybe if golf is still in the games in 2028, what they will present. And I don’t have high hopes. I am not getting encouraging signs that they are [planning to innovate for 2028].

House: What?!

Shackelford: Yeah … I’d love to hear your thoughts on three-on-three basketball as it relates to the Olympics, and if you think golf should possibly offer something like that to the IOC? Or should it hold its ground and go with 60 players and stroke play and all that?

House: Of course I’ll start with golf, and I’ll start by chiding the powers that be. Hello! The point of the Olympics is eyes on the TV screen! I don’t know what principles you think you are advancing! This is a made-for-television event, and it celebrates competition among nations. So what about this crazy idea, golf governing bodies: How about coming up with a format that allows the players to compete as teams for their gosh-darned countries, the way that most of the rest of the Olympics is competed? I mean, is it really that complicated, Mr. Shackelford?

Shackelford: Golf doesn’t have any team events that anybody cares about, you know? That bring out any passion or enthusiasm. No, no, we don’t have that.

House: [Laughing] Exactly. I love it when Shack does his sarcasm thing. "We don’t have anything like a team event where people get super fired up, and it’s a highlight on the effing golf calendar." Look I’m not [going to curse], Shack, but come on. Come on, guys. Obviously I love the three-on-three competition. It’s exactly appropriate for the Olympics, and … I don’t know if you’ve been watching any of the Big 3, the three-on-three competition. … It’s a wonderful TV event. And all these [big-]name players, all these ex-NBAers [are] playing in it. [It’s] quite brilliant, very shrewd. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of it, and the format permits all kinds of interesting innovation. … Who knows how they’re going to play it in the Olympics, but that’s the point.

Shackelford: That was fascinating. They introduced the three-on-three in the Olympics without really many details, and the golf people’s point has always been, "Oh, the IOC wants to know all the details, they want to know examples of how this championship is played," talking about different formats, or, let’s say, a team event. And here goes the IOC, just rolling out this stuff without really working out the details because they know that … people are intrigued by them. And they have plenty of examples like beach volleyball and other sports to point to that have turned out to be fantastic Olympic sports. You know what the real problem [is], House, besides the team thing?

House: Tell me. Tell me.

Shackelford: The ultimate place for golf in the Olympics, really, is the long drive. I mean, it accomplishes all the things that the Olympics are about, and those are the real athletes. And by the way, I think long drive in the Olympics would be … a huge hit. I really do believe that. The problem is, the people who are charged with all this really don’t represent the golfers of the long-drive world. They represent the golfers of the pro tours. And as far as the IOC knows, that’s who they want to have there. And I get that. But I think that long drive would be a sensational Olympic sport.

House: That’s super cool. I had no idea you were going to suggest that. We always exchange notes in advance of these shows, [but] you just caught me a little flat-footed and mildly speechless. I absolutely adore that idea. But I would like both a team competition over a course as well as long drive. I think golf can accommodate both.

Shackelford: It can. It can.

House: And the particular skill set of the long drive is obviously akin to singular skills, especially—

Shackelford: Like a shot put.

House: Yes, yes, exactly. Or in the Winter Olympics, some of those skating events or ski events. You know the long jump, right?

Shackelford: The thing that would be really cool in the long drive is you would set it up in a place that has an interesting look to it. The landing area would not be just some field. You’d do it in a place that’s really cool. So, we’ll see. But I’m going to work on my concept: nine-hole matches, two-man teams, two-woman teams, playing for their countries, playing match play.