At Augusta National during Masters week, it was announced that the men and women gold medalists in golf at the upcoming Olympics in Rio will earn exemption into the world’s major championships in 2017. Making the announcement were (left-to-right in photo) Masters Tournament Chairman Billy Payne, Royal & Ancient CEO Martin Slumbers, PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua and USGA Executive Director Mike Davis.
An Interview With:
CRAIG HEATLEY: Good afternoon, everybody. My name is Craig Heatley, and it’s my honor to introduce the four gentlemen on the stage this afternoon.
Firstly, the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters Tournament, Mr. Billy Payne. Next, the Chief Executive of the R&A, Mr. Martin Slumbers. Next to him, the Chief Executive of The PGA of America, Mr. Pete Bevacqua and to my right, the Executive Director of the United States Golf Association, Mr. Mike Davis.
Following opening remarks by each of these gentlemen, we will be allowing time for questions. Mr. Chairman?
BILLY PAYNE: Thank you very much, Craig, and good afternoon, everybody, and welcome back everybody to Augusta National. I’m honored to be joined today by my friends from the R&A, The PGA of America and the USGA.
As a thank you note, together we lead our respective organizations and we collaborate on many initiatives designed to showcase and to grow the great game of golf. And as we represent so many of the championships in our sport, we thought it would be important and timely to come together today in a total and unanimous support for Olympic golf.
We believe our game’s visibility will be dramatically elevated by the global platform that only the Olympics offer. New audiences from all over the world, some for the very first time ever, will be exposed to our great sport and come to know and appreciate the amazing athletes and heros in golf. From this greater visibility, we believe will evolve greater participation in our game, and it will be a certain beneficiary.
As most of you know, I have personally experienced of the magnificence of the Olympic Games, and I salute and I thank the International Olympic Committee for including golf in its program.
So I’m very pleased to announce that the Gold Medal Winner of the men’s competition in the Olympic Games will receive an invitation to the following year’s Masters Tournament. And my colleagues have even better news relating to the Olympics. Martin?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: Billy, thank you. It was at Royal Birkdale in 2008 that some of the leading organizations in our sport announced golf’s bid to return to the Olympic Games. I would like to recognize the efforts of my predecessor and President of the International Golf Federation, Peter Dawson, who along with many others was instrumental in achieving our collective aim of seeing golf rejoin sports greatest showpiece, the Olympic Games.
All of us at the R&A are looking forward to seeing our great players join the finest athletes in the world, and it undoubtedly provides an unparalleled opportunity to grow golf globally. I’m delighted to confirm that the winner of the gold medal in the men’s Olympic golf competition will receive a one year exemption to The Open starting in 2017.
Additionally, we have recently announced that the R&A has reached an agreement to merge with the Ladies’ Golf Union, who are responsible for the Women’s British Open. I’m also delighted to, therefore, be in the position on behalf of our colleagues at the Ladies’ Golf Union to announce that the winner of the gold medal in the women’s Olympic golf competition will be offered the same exemption starting with the 2017 Ricoh Women’s British Open.
PETE BEVACQUA: Martin, thank you, and Chairman Payne, thank you for having us here today.
I think it’s a great day for golf, certainly a great day for Olympic golf to be aligned to show the support of all of these organizations, but certainly I’m up here to speak on behalf of our 28,000 PGA of America members. And we are lucky enough that we get to see how prideful people are when they play for their country every two years in The Ryder Cup. And to think we’ll see that excitement in the Olympic Games, I think it’s certainly wonderful for golf and wonderful for the potential growth of the game.
So it’s my pleasure to state that The PGA of America, we, too, will be offering an exemption starting in 2017 with both the PGA Championship and the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, and we’re very excited about that.
MIKE DAVIS: Pete, thank you. In similar fashion, and on behalf of the United States Golf Association, I’m delighted to also announce that the gold medal winner at this year’s Olympics in Rio, the men’s event, will receive a full exemption in the 2017 United States Open Championship, and also, the gold medalist in the women’s competition will receive the same in the 2017 United States Women’s Open Championship.
And if I could take an additional minute, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan couldn’t be with us today because they just finished up the year’s first women’s major yesterday out in California, but he sent along some good news, too.
And you’ve heard from Martin, Pete and myself respectively about the women’s championships that we’re involved with in getting that exemption, but Mike passed along the good news that in addition to the three majors already mentioned, that the 2016 Evian Championship, which is actually played after Rio in September, the gold medalist will receive a spot in that field. And then next year’s ANA Inspiration that’s played last week, but it will be next in 2017, will also receive an exemption into that.
And Mike passed along some words I thought I’d pass along to you:
“MIKE WHAN: Having the male and female gold medalist exempt into major championship fields is not only great for the game worldwide, but shows our support for this year’s game in Rio and golf’s involvement in the future Games to come.”
So in closing, I know on behalf of all of us, we do want to thank Chairman Payne to provide us this venue. I think it’s exciting that all the nine majors have come together to support Olympics. I think we all realize what Olympics can do in growing the game worldwide, and for that, I think this was exciting news.
And with that, let me turn it over to Craig Heatley for any questions any of you might have.
Q. Chairman Payne, since you said that you believe that Olympic golf is going to grow the game worldwide, can you tell us if you have had the opportunity to determine what measures you would use in determining if that is actually the case, and what the time frame would be on that?
BILLY PAYNE: Yes, sir. I’m probably not the right one to ask because we are not the keeper of the statistics on that fact. But I would say, however, my experience both with golf and with the Olympics; that interest in golf begins with kids seeing heros, people they want to emulate and to copy. When golf is fun for people that they admire, heros, great athletes that they admire, they themselves want to participate. And there’s no bigger stage than the Olympic Games to make that point.
Martin, do you want to add to that?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: The only thing I’d add is my sort of only experience when the 2012 Olympics were in London. The excitement that was gained by young people who picked up different sports, I think will flow hopefully into golf, and that can only be good, particularly throughout Asia.
Q. Given that you run Open Championships and given there’s so much emphasis on the platform of all medalists, was any consideration given to the silver and bronze medalist in terms of exemptions into final qualifying?
MIKE DAVIS: Very good question. The answer is yes. When our respective organizations looked at, really an analysis of what we might do, if anything, for this, I think everybody looked at it independently.
I can speak for the USGA in that what we are going to do for both the silver and bronze medalists, and this is only at the U.S. Open, the Men’s Open, is that we will give an exemption through the first stage of qualifying, because there’s two stages, but we only have one stage for women because we have over 10,000 people trying to qualify for the men’s event and about 1,500 for the women.
But I think that the way I would probably put it, if you’re runner up this week in the Masters, you’re runner up in The Open Championship, you’re runner up in the PGA Championship, that does not get you into the U.S. Open Championship. I think that a win’s a win, and that’s how we do it.
Q. Have you considered extending that exemption to three or four years to cover for the lapse between the Olympic events?
MARTIN SLUMBERS: I think from our perspective, yes, we looked at, is it one year; is it for the whole four years. And we came down the side that the Olympics is a once every four year event and offering it for the following year is a worthy reflection of a great achievement.
Q. This is a question for whoever wants to tackle it. Some of the men’s players have expressed, they don’t see a gold medal as significant as maybe you guys do in the grand scheme of things. They are almost looking at it as something that’s making their schedule more onerous. What do you say to those players?
BILLY PAYNE: I’ll take a shot at that. My experience has been when looking at the joy and the happiness of kids competing all across the board in various Olympic endeavors, that there is nothing, nothing, more powerful than representing your country. And so I suspect that you will see that take over and totally capture the enthusiasm of the players for golf.
So I think what you feel now, and what you hear now, as some of these individuals themselves become part of the Olympics, probably change their mind.
Q. Realistically, a lot of the players who will probably win the two competitions would be exempt already. Are you looking at it as sort of if there was a Cinderella story, this would be a real icing on the cake for them?
PETE BEVACQUA: From our perspective, whether it’s someone that is in the top rankings of the world or someone who is that Cinderella story, in both ways it’s a positive. It’s a positive for golf, it’s a great story for golf and it’s certainly a positive for the PGA Championship, regardless of who comes out of that field, both on the men’s side and women’s side, who qualifies for the championship.
MIKE DAVIS: I think that’s right. We use the World Rankings as a big part of who gets into the U.S. Open Championship and the U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
And certainly, you think that at the Olympics, you’re going to have hopefully most of the top ranked players there. But clearly, given the way that qualification system is to the Olympics, where countries are limited on how many players they can have, so you could have some lower ranked players, relatively speaking.
So the idea is that, you know what, if you’re good enough to win that gold medal, and it only happens once every four years, we want you in our national championships.
Q. Obviously the majors are very important, but the one voice we didn’t hear from today is the PGA TOUR. Did you have discussions with the TOUR to find their biggest event, which obviously would be THE PLAYERS Championship, and discuss if they wanted to participate in this option?
MIKE DAVIS: I believe we were notified that the PGA TOUR would be putting out a statement at some point in the near future, so I think that we’ll let that statement speak for itself.
CRAIG HEATLEY: Thank you so much, everyone, for coming this afternoon.