OLYMPICS-GOLF:Golf will be great for the Games - LPGA
By Peter Rutherford
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The "borderless" nature of women's golf makes it an ideal fit for the Olympic Games and its return to the official programme in Rio 2016 will help strengthen investment and interest in the sport, LPGA Commission Mike Whan has told Reuters.
Whan, speaking in Singapore ahead of the HSBC Women's Champions tournament, said that while day-to-day life on the Tour was all about the individual, the concept of playing for country was one the LPGA, players and fans thoroughly embraced.
"From my perspective, the Olympics is going to give women's golf a global media platform and coverage that we just don't get on a regular basis," Whan told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday at Singapore's Tanah Merah Country Club.
"The guys get it a lot. They get global media coverage that's incredibly massive but we only get it three or four times a year," added Whan, who took over as commissioner in 2010.
"Hopefully golf will also be good for the Olympics. I feel like we have a responsibility because the Olympics is an incredible global showcase so we are feeling the pressure to do it right."
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted in 2009 to bring golf back to the Games for the first time since 1904. Rugby, which was last played at an Olympic level in 1924, is also making a return in Rio, in the Sevens format.
The decision to include golf has not been met with universal praise, with some critics suggesting the pursuit of an Olympic gold medal will always take a back seat to winning a major.
And while others suggest existing team competitions such as the Ryder and Solheim Cups could lose some of their lustre, Whan believed having an Olympic gold medal to play for every four years would serve to motivate youngsters.
"At the end of the day, our mission is to empower and inspire women through the game of golf," the 47-year-old said, adding that investment in the game got an immediate boost after the IOC's decision.
"If you're 12 and you're a great golfer, it doesn't matter which country you are from you can have that dream. Golf is a truly borderless sport and that's why it lends itself to the Olympics so well."
Whan said that while the nationality of a player was usually an afterthought on Tour, there were incredible outpourings of national pride when the LPGA went to countries such as Taiwan, where current world number one Yani Tseng comes from.
"When we go play in Taiwan they're so proud of Yani. It's the same thing when we go to places like Korea, Australia ... The fans take pride in following players from their country. We don't want to suppress that, we want to celebrate it."
Tseng, who won in Thailand last week, said the prospect of winning a gold medal appealed to her.
"It's very exciting, I was very happy to hear that golf is back in the Olympics, she said.
"It'll be very good for golf, and it would be my honour to play for my county."
(Editing by Ossian Shine)
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