Nanjing Youth Olympics: Golf's inclusion in the games is a welcome sign

Zhongshan International Golf Club in Nanjing

Nanjing (China), Aug 14 (IANS) It has been more than 100 years since the world's top golfers have targeted a spot in the Olympic Games, but all will change with the sport being included in the 2016 Rio Games. In less than two years, the sport makes a long-awaited return to the Games in Rio and, as is starting to become a trend, the Youth Olympic Games (YOG) at Nanjing are leading the way.

In all, 64 male and female youth Olympians will tee-off at the Nanjing Zhongshan International Golf Club, reports Xinhua.

The synchronicity between Rio 2016 and Nanjing 2014 runs particularly deep in golf. The International Golf Federation (IGF), the sport's global governing body, has highlighted both China and South America as markets where the Olympic rings are most likely to stimulate growth.

Senior figures at the IGF must be sleeping well at the moment. Not only will Major winners Michelle Wie of the United States and Grace Park of South Korea be on hand in Nanjing to encourage and support the young golfers, but Phil Mickelson of the United States was spilling over with Olympic fervour at last week's US PGA Championship.

"Next year is the year I really want to focus in on," the five-time Major winner told Sky Sports after finishing second on Sunday. It's when we start our points for the Olympics, I'd like to get on that, that would be a great goal."

He is not alone. Golf's biggest names have been unequivocal in their support for the Games. Last year Mickelson gave an insight as to why.

"It is something that I never thought would happen. To be an Olympic athlete would be really cool, a lifetime experience," the 44-year-old said in an interview.

Rio 2016 organisers will take great heart from this kind of enthusiasm. From 1949 to 1984 golf was banned in China and considered too bourgeois. Since its reintroduction, more than 500 golf courses have sprung up, enthusing three million-plus golfers.

In 2014, there will be five European tour events on Chinese soil, including the final World Golf Championship of the year.

For China 1984, read Brazil 2014. There are currently just 10,000 people with a registered golf handicap in Brazil, and not a single public course for them to play on, although all this is set to change.

At the Nanjing 2014 Games, players from the Cook Islands, Panama, Guam and Swaziland are among those competing, and with 10 different nationalities represented in the top 20 of the men's World Amateur Golf Rankings (the system used to determine qualifiers for Nanjing), the game is clearly growing in popularity across the globe.

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