Jordan Spieth poses with the green jacket after winning the 2015 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 12, 2015 in Augusta, Ga.
As if becoming the first Olympic gold medalists in golf in more than a century wasn’t enough incentive for the athletes who take to the links in Rio this August, the pot just got sweeter: The Olympic champions will be granted a one-year exemption into the sport’s major championships.
For the men’s champion, that means automatic entry into the Masters, U.S. Open, Open Championship and the U.S. PGA Championship in 2017. The women’s champion will receive a pass for the 2016 Evian Championship, as well as the ANA Inspiration, the Women’s PGA Championship, the U.S. Women’s Open and the Women’s British Open in 2017.
“We believe our game’s visibility will be dramatically elevated by the global platform that only the Olympics offer,” said Billy Payne, chairman of Augusta National Golf Club, at a press conference on the eve of the Masters.
As the former president and chief executive officer of the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games, Payne understands the potential impact the exposure generated by Olympic participation can have on a sport.
“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 heroes in golf,” he said. “From this great visibility, we believe, will evolve great participation in our game, and it will be a certain beneficiary.”
USGA Executive Director Mike Davis sees the inclusion of the Olympic champion as a natural extension of the current system.
“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,” he said, “and certainly you think that at the Olympics you’re going to have hopefully most of the top-ranked players there. So the idea is that if you’re good enough to win that gold medal, and it happens once every four years, we want you in our national championships.”
Golf has been included on the Olympic program only twice: at the Paris 1900 Olympic Games and again at the St. Louis 1904 Olympic Games. Americans Charlie Sands and Margaret Abbott won the men’s and women’s golds, respectively, in Paris, while Canadian George Lyon won the 1904 men’s tournament (women’s golf was not held in St. Louis). A total of seven American golfers hold Olympic medals, including Sands’ and Abbott’s gold. Chandler Egan was the silver medalist in 1904, while Burt McKinnie and Francis Newton were bronze medalists that year. Abbott led a U.S. sweep on the women’s side in 1900, joined by Pauline Whittier (silver) and Daria Pratt (bronze).