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Arnold Palmer - widely regarded as one of the greatest golfers in history – says he is thrilled to see the sport in which he made his name return to the Olympic fold in Rio.
“I’m doubly excited and interested as we approach the historic and long-awaited return of golf to the Olympics,” the 86-year-old American said in a statement originally published on the Golf Channel. “I’ll be rooting for the USA, but pulling for the sport of golf.”
“As a kid, I could dream about being an Olympian like Jesse Owens or Johnny Weissmuller. I could also dream about being a great golfer like Bobby Jones or Byron Nelson,” adds the man who won seven major titles and was known as “the King”. “But the idea of being an Olympic golfer never occurred to me.
“The notion of golf in the Olympics - something that last happened a quarter-century before I was born - was completely alien. But that all changed in 2009 when the International Olympic Committee voted to include golf again.
Palmer believes that Olympic golf has the potential to become as important as the four majors that have traditionally dominated the golfing calendar.
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“Golf’s four major championships have long been viewed as our sport’s ultimate melting pots… But Olympic golf will be even more international.
“This year the men’s four major championships hosted players from a total of 30 countries; the four women’s majors contested so far have included players from 34 countries. But this month, the fields in the men’s and women’s golf competitions at the Olympics will feature golfers from 41 different countries.”
Palmer predicts that the Olympic platform will help to globalise interest in golf in a way that has previously been unimaginable.
“Imagine the billions of people — particularly sports-crazed kids — in places like India, Bangladesh, Brazil, China and Malaysia watching their own countrymen and women competing on the greatest stage in sports.
“The global interest that spotlight will spur is incalculable. I suspect that only months after Rio, soaring grassroots interest in golf will combine with better funding from governments to launch our sport into a truly global, truly gilded future.”
“In fact, we’re already seeing increased support. Since 2009, when golf was voted onto the Olympic slate, the number of national organisations supporting golf in their home countries has grown from 116 to 145.