Muirfield Golf Club
Muirfield Golf Club

 

The oldest golf club in the world, Muirfield Golf Club, located in Scotland, the birthplace of golf, recently decided to provide women the opportunity to have equal membership with male members. It took 273 years, but as Virginia Slims once proclaimed, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

This change in policy came after the famed golf club was denied the chance to host the British Open golf championship because of its membership rules. Other clubs like R&A, The Royal St George’s and Royal Troon in Scotland, Augusta National in the USA, and most recently the Royal Adelaide Golf Club in Australia have changed their membership policies to allow for full membership to women.

But the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, not far from Tokyo, has stuck to its guns despite significant pressure to offer equal membership rights to women. Currently, female members of the Kasumigaseki C. C. are not considered full members, and are not allowed to play on Sundays. Ordinarily, this particular policy would go unnoticed if not for the fact that Kasumigaseki C. C. was selected to be the Olympic venue for golf during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike fired the first salvo in January when she said she felt “very uncomfortable that women cannot become full members in the 21st century.”

More recently, International Olympic Committee Vice President, John Coates, said that “Image-wise, our position is clear. We will only go to a club that has non-discrimination.”

Coates went on to reveal that discussions with the Kasumigaseki Country Club have been positive, and that “It’s heading in the right direction for them to have a nondiscriminatory membership procedure. It would appear that we should be able to have this result by the end of June.”

So will Kasumigaseki Country Club end up par for the course, or will they shank their last drive and lose out on this golden opportunity at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics?

 

UPDATE: On March 20, 2017, the 15 board members of the Kasumigaseki Golf Club, all men, voted unanimously to overturn restrictions on full membership for women.

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Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe City, Japan. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

“The enjoyment of the rights and freedoms set forth in this Olympic Charter shall be secured without discrimination of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” – Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter

Principle 6 was challenged by Russia in the lead up to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics when:

  • a Russian judge would not allow construction of a Pride House, which is where athletes who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can gather during an Olympic Games, and
  • a law was passed that banned “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors, which was perceived to outlaw any reference to LGBT.

The associated homophobic violence in Russia and the uproar in media outside of Russia left the IOC wondering what they could do to give teeth to Principle 6. But it’s likely they only really started considering the seriousness of the situation when a group of over 50 current and former Olympians banded together to start a campaign asking the Russian government to reconsider the law on “gay propaganda”. They called this campaign, the Principle 6 Campaign.

The IOC got the message. According to The Guardian, the IOC established a new clause to the host city contract. So when a city bids for an Olympic Games, their bid mush show they are complying with this clause: “Any form of discrimination with regard to a country or a person on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic movement.”

Perhaps unfortunately, the host city contract did not have these “teeth” in 2007 when Sochi won the bid for 2014. But any city wanting to bid in the future have to show their country is not blatantly exercising discrimination.

Japan is not a country that blatantly discriminates. While it is considered one of the most meritocratic countries in the world, there are times when non-Japanese have various cultural or legal issues, or females wonder whether they are getting treated fairly. But it is subtle and discussion today is more common and open on the issues and how to improve them.

Which brings us to golf.

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Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike, has asked the proposed course for the golf tournament at the 2020 Olympics, Kasumigaseki Country Club, to admit women members Credit: Aflo/REX/Shutterstock

For the first time in history, Tokyo has a female governor, Yuriko Koike. In addition to taking a microscope to the ballooning Tokyo2020 budget, she poked the ribs of an organization that does not allow women to enjoy full membership – the Kasumigaseki Country Club. Under ordinary circumstances, it is unlikely that a governor would want to take on a private association over female membership as a top ten priority. But Japan will be hosting the 2020 Summer Games, and Kasumigaeki CC is slated to be the venue for golf. Suddenly, the country club became an easy target.

Why?

Because the governor can exercise what is known in Japan as “gai-atsu”, or the tactic of

drone-shot-surfing
Expect incredible drone shots of surfing at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

One of my favorite toys as a kid was Verti-bird, a Mattel product from 1973 in which you operated a mini-helicopter to stop the bad guys. You had to control the helicopter’s lift and descent as well as speed, but it was connected to a wire so its flight was limited to a circular route.

But it was very cool!

Today, drones are the modern-day Verti-bird. This is a very weak comparison because drones today are in the middle of cutting-edge advancements in logistics, the military, security, news and sports coverage.

I remember talking with a photographer who covered the sailing events at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and he mentioned that it is hard for people unfamiliar with yacht competitions to show interest because of how hard it is to capture these competitions visually. Perhaps drones will change that.

Fox Sports made a commitment last year to provide broadcasts of golf and super cross using perspectives provided by drones. This has been made possible by adjustments to Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) guidelines in the US, which now allows the use of drones for commercial use.

Because drones, when controlled by a skilled technician, can provide unique angles, particularly from above a stadium or an athlete, or close ups of athletes who are far from areas where cameramen or spectators watch.

Drones can currently move at speeds of 64 kph (40 mph). They can venture as far as 1.2 kilometers (.75 miles) away from the controller, which is a pretty wide berth. And battery life for a drone is about 20 minutes. These specs are true as of this writing, but I’m sure it’s already an outdated reality as this technology will advance rapidly.

Yes, there are fears that a drone will plop out of the sky and interfere with an athlete’s performance. People will point to the drone falling just behind a skiier at the Sochi Olympics. But the benefit, in terms of the birds-eye-view images and up-close perspectives in sports where such access was not possible, will outweigh the risk.

Expect to see incredibly creative use of drones at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

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Chen Shih-hsin of “Chinese Taipei”

At the 2004 Athens Olympics, Chen Shih-hsin won Taiwan’s first ever gold medal. But as the taekwando lightweight stood on the podium after accepting her medal, neither the national anthem she listened to, nor the flag she saw rising were Taiwanese. They were symbols of a compromise Taiwan accepted when the IOC agreed to have Taiwan compete under the name “Chinese Taipei”, recognition that the People’s Republic of China was the only lawful representative of China.

National flags and anthems can be problematic at times because of the emotion they evoke.

We learned of another example recently.

One of the golfers in the world, Rory McIlroy, decided to forego with the Rio Olympics in August, stating that his concerns over the zika virus were enough to keep him home. McIlroy was not alone in that decision, but it was only recently learned that the mosquito-borne virus was not his chief issue. He stated recently in an interview with the Sunday Independent that the IOC told him that if he decided to attend the Rio Games he would have to decide under which flag he would compete: the flag of Great Britain or of Ireland.

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Rory McIlroy

McIlroy is from Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, but not part of Great Britain. I won’t go into the politics of this area, primarily because I don’t understand it well enough to try. But McIlroy felt the decision to participate in the Olympics was a decision to openly declare allegiance to a particular sovereignty, something he felt uncomfortable with.

“Not everyone is driven by nationalism and patriotism,” he told the Independent. “All of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am. Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to piss off the most?” he said.

“I started to resent it and I do. I resent the Olympics Games because of the position it put me in, that’s my feelings towards it, and whether that’s right or wrong, it’s how I feel.”

Apparently, McIlroy explained his feelings in a series of texts to his friend and gold medalist of the Rio Olympic golf competition, Justin Rose.

Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way. I don’t know the words to either of them; I don’t feel a connection to either flag; I don’t want it to be about flags; I’ve tried to stay away from that.

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Mildred “Babe” Didrikson at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics

Role models are essential, particularly to groups under-represented.

In the first half of the 20th century, women around the industrialized world were told that exerting themselves too much in sports would not only be unlady-like, it might be bad for their health.

In America, one woman refuted those assumptions, brashly.

Babe Didrikson was the female version of Jim Thorpe. Whatever sport she took up, she did very well, often better than most others, female or male. She was an exceptional diver, bowler, baseball player and roller skater. Out of high school, she was the star on the Employers’ Casualty Insurance Company of Dallas women’s basketball team.

At the national track and field championships in 1932, the one that would determine participation in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, Didrikson won an amazing six events – the broad jump, the shot put, the javelin, the 80-meter hurdles, the baseball throw, as well as tying for first in the high jump – all in a three-hour period. Her individual total points of 30 was greater than the next best team score of 22 points, accumulated by 22 athletes.

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At the 1932 Olympics, Didrikson would win two gold medals and a silver and become one of the sensations of the Los Angeles Games.

And she was just getting started.

Packing star power, Didrikson was able to get paid in ways that other female athletes could only dream of: singing and playing the harmonica on vaudeville, doing so while hitting plastic golf balls into the delirious audience…making thousands of dollars per month, a king’s ransom in those days.

In 1934, Didrikson began to play golf seriously, and went on to become the best female golfer in the world, wining 82 golf tournaments as an amateur and a professional. For one stretch in 1946 and 1947, she won 14 straight gold tournaments. Her influence was so great that she co-founded the LPGA – the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

But she was a pioneer, so she had to do so under challenging conditions. People around her and the press in particular would call her gender in to question, openly telling her to stay home. “It would be much better if she and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring,” one sports columnist wrote in the New York World-Telegram.

What is surprising, according to this New York Times article, is that the great Mildred “Babe” Didrikson, who was named “Woman Athlete of the Half Century” in 1950, is little known today, her museum in Beaumont, Texas, rarely visited.

While girls who like sports today have a growing number of female role models in the 21st century, one of the greatest took the world by storm some 70 to 80 years ago. And this Babe is worth a look.

Fu Yuanhui
Far left, China’s Fu Yuanhui, bronze medalist in the 100-meter backstroke
When you think of Brazil, you think of samba, you think of Carnivàle, you think of joy. And the Rio Olympics had its share of joyful moments.

Here are a few of my favorite examples:

Fu Yuanhui: The Chinese may have had an off-par Olympics in terms of medal haul, at least to them, but Chinese swimmer, Fu Yuanhui, became an overnight sensation. While the Chinese expect gold from every one of their athletes, the Chinese and the rest of the world fell in love with the 20-year-old bronze medalist in the 100-meter backstroke. There were few more expressive, more unfiltered, more joyful than the young woman from Hangzhou. Watch the clip for a few examples of why Fu Yuanhui lit up the Twitterverse with delight.

Justin Rose: The golfer on Team GB was outspoken in his criticism of other professional golfers foregoing the Olympic re-boot of golf after over a century. Justin Rose won gold in men’s golf, stating “It’s right up there with anything I’ve achieved in the game.” Rose won on skill and determination. But on the 189-yard par-3 fourth hole in the first round of the tournament, Rose walked into a bit of luck with his 7-iron, nailing the first ever Olympic hole in one. Watch the video to see Rose’s pleasant surprise.

David Katoatau: If you have never heard of the Republic of Kiribati, you may be excused. This nation of 33 atolls and reef islands spread out over 3.5 million square kilometers lies on the equator in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. On one of those islands resides David Katoatau, who came in 15th at the 2008 Beijing Games in the 85kg weight class, and 17th at the 2012 London Olympic Games in the 94kg weight class. At the Rio Olympics, Katoatau managed only 14th in the 105kg weight class, but came in first in the Olympic dance competition. In his last failed attempt in Rio, Katoatau fell over, rolled on his back, flipped himself up, hugged the weights, and started the most joyful funky dance you’d ever see from a weightlifter.

Monica Puig: If you weren’t following tennis in the Olympics closely and tuned on the television for the women’s finals, you would be wondering, Who is Monica Puig? Even casual fans of tennis would likely have recognized Australian Open champion, Angelique Kerber, but you could be excused if you didn’t know the unseeded Puig. 

However, every time Puig won, her home country of Puerto Rico began to rumble and roar. In an economic mess, Puerto Ricans have had little to cheer about in recent months. But as Puig continued her march to the medal round, an entire country stopped to watch. With monumental expectations on her shoulders, Puig did the unthinkable – she upset Kerber. Her medal was gold, her tears were of joy.

Monica Puig's tears of joy
Monica Puig cries tears of joy.
Brazil’s Soccer Team: When Neymar sent the winning penalty kick at the finals of the Olympic soccer championships, not only did Neymar collapse in tears of joy, the entire country of Brazil exploded in celebration.

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Maureen O’hara, John Sheffield, Johnny Weissmuller and Cheeta

Johnny Weissmuller won five gold medals in swimming over two Olympics in Paris (1924) and Amsterdam (1928). But Weissmuller became globally famous after he was recruited by Hollywood to act out on film the iconic Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ character, Tarzan.

In 1958, Weissmuller had essentially retired from acting and was enjoying the life of renowned Hollywood celebrity, and was playing at a celebrity golf tournament in one of the hotspots for American celebrities – Havana, Cuba. As this article from The Smithsonian explains, “by the 1950s Cuba was playing host to celebrities like Ava Gardner, Frank Sinatra and Ernest Hemingway. But the advent of cheap flights and hotel deals made the once-exclusive hotspot accessible to American masses. For around $50—a few hundred dollars today—tourists could purchase round-trip tickets from Miami, including hotel, food and entertainment. Big-name acts, beach resorts, bordellos and buffets were all within reach.”

Havana 1950s
Havana, Cuba in the 1950s

The Smithsonian goes on to explain that “the sugar boom that had fueled much of Cuba’s economic life was waning, and by the mid-’50s it was clear that expectations had exceeded results. With no reliable economic replacement in sight, Cubans began to feel the squeeze. Poverty, particularly in the provinces, increased.” It was very Americanization of Cuba and the diminishing economic prospects in this impoverished Caribbean nation that was an offense to a growing band of revolutionaries, headed by Fidel Castro.

According to the son of Johnny Weissmuller, Johnny Weissmuller Jr, in his book, My Father, Tarzan, the Olympian was headed to the golf tournament when he and his friends were stopped by Castro’s guerrilla troops. Foreigners were susceptible to being kidnapped by the Revolutionaries, so Weissmuller was at significant risk when his car was stopped and his guards disarmed. According to the now legendary story, Weissmuller decided to identify himself in the clearest manner possible – by beating his chest with his fists and letting rip his trademark Tarzan yell.

Suddenly the guerrillas realized they were in the midst of Hollywood royalty. They dropped their guns, shouted “”Es Tarzan! Es Tarzan de la Jungla! Bienvenido!”, shook the Ape-man’s hand, and got his autograph. Not only did Weissmuller make it to the golf tournament, he got a revolutionary escort to a golf course, the symbol of American capitalism.

Dan McLaughlin
Dan McLaughlin

Malcolm Gladwell said so in his enlightening book, Outliers, so it must be true. “The idea that excellence at performing a complex task requires a critical minimum level of practice surfaces again and again in studies of expertise. In fact, researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: ten thousand hours.”

So inspired was Dan McLaughlin, a commercial photographer from Portland, Oregon, he decided to quit his profession and commit to learning how to play golf by practicing for 10,000 hours to see if he could become a professional golfer. This from a man whose golf experience up till then consisted of two visits to a driving range as a child.

So on June 27, 2009, McLaughlin began his journey, and tracked it on his site, The Dan Plan. And in 2012, when McLaughlin was the 2,500 hour mark, Golf.com writer, Alan Bastable met McLaughlin, and was impressed with his progress. McLaughlin had a 10 handicap, and according to Bastable, was energetic, enthusiastic and committed. At that stage, the plan was to hit 10,000 hours of practice in 2016, by which time he hoped to be a pro golfer.

Dan McLaughlin 2

Fast forward to November, 2015, and McLaughlin finds himself stuck on pause. Bastable caught up with McLaughlin to find the golfer recovering from back injuries with rest, as well as working hard to improve his financial situation. While the press and corporate sponsors are intrigued by this Quiotic dream, they are not showering him with as much attention as he would like. But more damaging has been the injuries to his back, which has McLaughlin contemplating surgery.

As McLaughlin said in this November post in his blog, he wrote about his frustration in dealing with his injury. “My back has been improving steadily and there was one week where I was able to play three rounds of golf with minimal pain. Then there are days where I swing a club once and it feels like I have reverted 3 or 4 weeks in my recovery. It’s not a half full – half empty situation, it’s more as if the cup has sprung a small leak and water is flowing in haphazardly.”

McLaughlin has hit the hard wall of reality. And one hopes that he is able to recover from his back ailments and resume his journey because his original reason for starting this journey resonates with me. Here’s how McLaughlin explained it in this interview with Bastable:

I’m interested in seeing whether somebody could do it, and how far they can go. In our culture, we’re kind of fascinated by the idea…not quite manifest destiny, but the ability to transform, and how far one can go, is it talent or hard work, and which trumps the other, and how much human potential we all have.

The Sports Gene Book Cover 2013I suppose McLaughlin’s premise is that in the nature vs nurture debate, nurture (or deliberate practice in this case) can “trump” nature, or the genes that assign specific physical attributes to you. Here’s what David Epstein wrote in his fascinating book, The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, about why that thinking appeals to so many people:

The “practice only” narrative to explain Tiger Woods has an obvious attraction: it appeals to our hope that anything is possible with the right environment, and that children are lumps of clay with infinite athletic malleability. In short, it has the strongest possible self-help angle and it preserves more free will than any alternative explanation.

And yet, Epstein explains that the 10,000-hour idea is more rule of thumb than rule.

…one man’s 3,000-hours rule was another man’s 25,000-and-counting-hours rule. The renowned 10,000-hours violin study only reports the average number of hours of practice. It does not repot the range of hours required for the attainment of expertise, so it is impossible to tell whether any individual in the study actually became an elite violinist in 10,000 hours, or whether that was just an average of disparate individual differences.

In other words, 10,000 hours is an average, and there must be other reasons to explain why some people achieve mastery faster than others, or why two people raised in similar

Adam Scott
Adam Scott of Australia

Golf is returning to the Olympic stage in 2016, the first time since the third Olympics in 1904.

And yet, some big names in the game are declining their invitations: 3-time majors winner Vijay Singh of Fiji, World # 7 Adam Scott of Australia, and World #12 Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa.

And it’s possible they won’t be the only ones. While Singh cited fear over contracting the zika virus in Brazil, Scott explained that adding the Olympics to the already congested PGA Tour will make for an exhausting schedule. According to this article, “the PGA Tour has had to cram the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational, British Open and PGA Championship into a five-week window because of the Olympics. And, two weeks after the Olympics end, the FedEx Cup playoffs begin. Two weeks after those are done, the Ryder Cup will be contested.”

In other words, ensuring they are in top condition for the tournaments that count are key to many of the top pro golfers.

Professional ice hockey players, perhaps many of them, may be having an opposite reaction. Ice hockey has been an Olympic sport since 1920, and countries like the United States, the Soviet Union and former members of that nation, and Canada have had epic battles in the Olympic Games over the decades.

Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

Professional ice hockey players, particularly those from the National Hockey League, were allowed to represent their national teams at the Olympics, starting from the Nagano Winter Games in 1998. But because the NHL and the owners of the team were worried about disruption to the NHL schedule as well as injuries, it was decided that the International Olympic Committee and the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) would foot the bill for transportation and insurance costs. For the Sochi Games in 2014, that was a combined USD$32 million!

The IOC, which provided USD$14 million of that bill for Sochi, just announced that they would not pay those costs to ensure the participation of NHL players at the PyeongChang Winter Games in 2018. Said Rene Fasel, president of the IIHF in this sportsnet article, “Our wish is to have the best players. [But the IOC] not covering the cost as they did at the last five Olympic Games puts us in a difficult financial situation.”

Immediately after this announcement, one of the NHL’s biggest stars, Alex Ovechkin, announced that he would join his Russian National Team for the PyeongChang Olympics regardless of the NHL’s decision. It’s likely that many of his colleagues in the NHL will have similar feelings.

Why the difference in reaction towards the Olympics? I’d have to speculate. But here are a couple of possible reasons:

  1. History: ice hockey and the Olympics have a long and emotional history. The Olympics are considered the pinnacle of achievement for many ice hockey players, even beyond the NHL Stanley Cup championship. Golf has practically no history in the Olympics.
  2. Rigors/Value of the Schedule: The Olympics happen at the time in the NHL schedule where teams are jockeying for playoff spots. But since the NHL controls the schedule, they can suspend the schedule for all teams, which makes it an even playing field for all teams. In the professional golf tour, as has been true with the professional tennis tour, those individuals who participate in the Olympics may lose out on opportunities to play in tournaments that will be more lucrative and perhaps perceived to be more important. When tennis returned to the Olympics in 1984, many of the best players did not compete.

Se Ri Pak

In the years Before Se Ri Pak, professional women’s golf in Korea was essentially non-existent. In the years After Se Ri Pak, women’s golf exploded.

Se Ri Pak, the 38-year old golfer from Daejeon, South Korea, recently announced her retirement. “I learned a lot and I’m trying to share all my skills and all these dreams,” she said. “So that’s where I plan to be the next step of my life. I just want to make dreams come true.”

Pak is already making dreams come true. In fact, one could say, she was the dream for young Koreans, and by extension young Asian women, in the game of golf. When golf returns to the Olympics since its last appearance in 1904, 60 of the best golfers in the world will compete, with a limit of the top four from each country. In the current 2016 Olympic rankings for female golfers, South Koreans make up an amazing four of the top 7 golfers who qualify for Rio. And if you look even closer, 9 of the top 15 are Asian.

“I remember watching [Pak] on TV,” said Christina Kim, a South Korean-American golfer. “She wasn’t blond or blue-eyed, and we were of the same blood…. You say to yourself, ‘If she can do it, why can’t I?'”

In the book, The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown, Daniel Coyle wrote about Kim, Korean golfers and Se Ri Pak, and called the explosion of talent in Korea an “ignition”. You could be dedicated to developing a skill by practicing consistently and earnestly. But you don’t burn for excellence. You don’t understand what it means to drive yourself to perfection. You never portray your desire as a willingness to die to be the very best.

Until a Hero emerges.

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In South Korea, Se Ri Pak emerged. When she hit the professional stage, Korean women were ignited! Coyle writes,

For South Korea’s golfers, it was the afternoon of May 18, 1998, when a twenty-year old named Se Ri Pak won the McDonald’s LPGA Championship and became a national icon. (As one Seoul newspaper put it, “‘Se Ri Pak is not the female Tiger Woods; Tiger Woods is the male Se Ri Pak.”) Before her, no South Korean had succeeded in golf. Flash-forward to ten years later, and Pak’s countrywomen had essentially colonized the LPGA Tour, with forty-five players who collectively won about one-third of the events.

As Coyle explains, ignition is “an awakening”, “lightning flashes of image and emotion”, “the set of signals and subconscious forces that create our identity; the moments that lead us to say that is who I want to be.”