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Olympic golf closer to reality

Golf cleared its first big hurdle last week when an IOC report recommended adding the sport to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

Because the IOC refuses to increase the number of Olympic sports above the current level of 28, golf can only be admitted if another sport is dropped. Baseball, softball and the modern pentathlon are on the chopping block.

A larger hurdle could be an International Olympic Committee directive that a sport is added only if it attracts the best athletes.

If Tiger Woods isn't interested, does golf have a chance?

"We have discussed this with the IOC," U.S. Golf Association executive director David Fay said last week before leaving for Switzerland to meet with IOC president Jaques Rogge. "They understand that golfers are independent contractors, and no one makes a decision for a player other than the player.

"Who knows what will happen in 2008? Tiger Woods might be racing yachts. You can't make an assumption six years out."

Fay and Royal & Ancient secretary Peter Dawson are joint leaders of the World Amateur Golf Council, which the IOC recognizes as the official golf federation.

Fay said the proposal endorsed by the IOC program commission was for two tournaments (men and women) featuring 72 holes of stroke play with 50 players in each field.

The players would be selected primarily from the world ranking, and no country could send more than two players. Because that might exhaust the list quickly, Fay said he envisioned the WAGC selecting wild-card entries from countries not known as golf powers.

Woods, meanwhile, has not said whether he would play.

When the idea came up two years ago during the PGA Championship, he said the Olympics would not be a priority because golf already has four major championships. Later that year during a stop in London, Woods said he would like to see golf in the Olympics.

"It's impossible to make a judgment for '08," said his agent, Mark Steinberg of IMG. "The schedule is very crowded right now, and crowded with other events that can be considered at this point de facto Olympics for golf, such as the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup."

Another issue facing golf is scheduling, since the Olympics likely would fall between the British Open and the PGA Championship.

Golf's fate in the Olympics will be decided by the IOC assembly meeting in Mexico in November. Cutting sports requires a majority vote of more than 120 members, while a two-thirds vote is required for adding sports.


SLOW PLAY POLICY:@ Ryder Cup captains Curtis Strange and Sam Torrance are doing what they can to pick up the pace - and reduce the gamesmanship - at this year's matches.

Having already agreed to no longer allow practice putting at the conclusion of each hole, the captains last week set the first "slow play" policy in the Ryder Cup.

"If you start getting timed, it will apply to everyone in the group," Strange said. "You have to keep pace."

Players will be allowed two bad times. The third violation will be loss of the hole.

Strange said John Paramor, chief referee of the European tour, will be in charge of timing the players and issuing the warnings. That shouldn't be a problem since there are only four matches per session each of the first two days.

Strange said the policy was Paramor's idea, and he and Torrance embraced it.

"The only thing I said to John was, 'If you start this, you better have the guts to enforce it,"' Strange said. "The key is to keep them moving along. Let's play golf."

One of the more memorable examples from the last Ryder Cup was Padraig Harrington walking 150 yards up to the 17th green to check out the hole location.


RANKINGS GAME:@ The American Express Championship in Ireland looked to be an ideal way for the U.S. Ryder Cup team to prepare a week before the matches.

But as many as three Americans might not even qualify for the World Golf Championship event for the top 50 in the world ranking and top 30 on the PGA Tour money list.

The cutoff is next Monday. Hal Sutton will not be eligible, and Stewart Cink dropped to No. 51 in this week's ranking. Paul Azinger is No. 49 and could be bumped.

Another player on the bubble, with no Ryder Cup implications, is Jeff Sluman. He thought he was in at the NEC Invitational in Sahalee, only to slip out of the top 50 the week of the tournament. This week, Sluman dropped from No. 49 to No. 53, and he's about $50,000 short of the top 30 on the money list.


SCHEDULES:@ PGA Tour officials had hoped to be able to announce the 2003 schedule after its policy board meeting this week in Toronto, but with some sponsorship issues still unsettled, that could be pushed back again.

"The absolute deadline would be our policy board meeting in mid-November," said Duke Butler, vice president of tournament business affairs.

The tour likely will release its 2003 schedule incrementally, which is what the LPGA Tour has done the last couple of years.

One sticking point remains Labor Day. Butler said the PGA Tour already has sold the media rights to ABC Sports for a tournament that ends next year on Labor Day. Among cities on the short list are Seattle and Boston.

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