Tee off at Games?

WILLIAMSBURG

The LPGA Tour played to form Thursday at Kingsmill, which translates to a veritable Embassy Row leaderboard.

Mexico, Australia by way of Great Britain, Finland and South Korea. Japan, Norway, the United States and Texas — the Lone Star State is threatening to secede, after all.

This is how an Olympic golf tournament would look. And that is precisely what the LPGA and other golf circuits worldwide, men and women, envision for the 2016 Games.

"That's one of my goals," Seon Hwa Lee of South Korea said after her 4-under-par 67 in the opening round of the Michelob Ultra Open. "It would be such an honor."

Whether the historically corrupt International Olympic Committee — aren't Jack Abramoff and Huey Long honorary members? — approves golf's application probably hinges on gratis tee times for IOC types at Augusta National and St. Andrew's. A few gold-plated putters and 19th-hole coupons probably wouldn't hurt the cause either.

Regardless, the sport's advocates should not inflate the benefits of Olympic inclusion.

Additional funding for grass-roots programs? Absolutely. Governments traditionally support Olympic sports more generously.

A grand television event — the Golf Channel doesn't count as grand — to celebrate and promote the game? Not so much.

Just ask tennis.

To the masses, tennis matters at the majors. We watch Wimbledon for serve-and-volley and the U.S. Open for obnoxious New Yorkers. We watch the French and Aussie Opens to see who can endure the clay and heat, respectively.

Olympic tennis? The sport returned to the Games in 1988, and headliners such as Rafael Nadal, Venus Williams, Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf have won gold. But the buzz has been minimal.

Not to disparage tennis, tennis players, or tennis devotees. They could reprise Borg-McEnroe or Evert-Navratilova at the Olympics and it wouldn't matter.

There's only so much oxygen during the Summer Games, and a vast majority is reserved for gymnastics, track and swimming, sports that get next-to-no love during non-Olympic years — Michael Phelps' party habits excepted.

Golf wouldn't crack that trio either, and don't even think about floating Tiger Woods. He'll be 40 come the 2016 Games, an age at which all bets for jocks are off.

The Olympics last staged golf in 1904 at St. Louis. Only men competed, and Canadian George Lyon (Mike Weir's distant relative?) prevailed.

An outfit called the International Golf Federation proposes adding men's and women's individual tournaments for 2016. The IGF foresees 60-player fields for each, with the format (stroke or match play) to be determined.

To front the lobbying effort, the IGF appointed defending Michelob champion Annika Sorenstam and Jack Nicklaus as its "global ambassadors." They'll attend golf's presentation to the IOC Executive Board next month and await its verdict, expected in October.

"All the tours are supporting us now," Sorenstam said last month during an appearance at Kingsmill. "Over the last 10-15 years it's been hit and miss. But now we have every tour you can think of behind us. As a golf fan, a player and somebody who cares about it, I think it would be wonderful for the next generation to get a chance to represent their own country in golf."

Sorenstam, 38 and expecting her first child, is a more unlikely 2016 Olympian than Woods. But many competing at Kingsmill fit the profile.

First-round leader Lorena Ochoa (7-under 64), the world's top-ranked player, is 26 and an icon in her native Mexico. Like Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh, she appears in videos promoting golf's effort.

"I'm not sure that's going to be my time," Ochoa said Thursday of 2016. "But (the effort) is very important."

Lindsey Wright, 29, trails Ochoa by one stroke after a bogey-free round. Born in England, raised Down Under and educated at Pepperdine, she embodies golf's international flavor.

"I think it's exciting, if it happens," Wright said of the Olympic bid.

Her take: Golf in the Games would mean more money for youth programs in the country that hosted the 2000 Olympics and already is smitten with Hall of Famers Karrie Webb and Greg Norman.

Also among those at 68 or better Thursday: American Kris Tamulis and Texan Angela Stanford. Also Finland's Minea Blomqvist, Japan's Shiho Oyama and Norway's Suzann Pettersen.

Again, hardly surprising for such a diverse tour at a venue that has produced champions from Korea (Grace Park and Se Ri Pak), Australia (Webb), the U.S. (Cristie Kerr), Norway (Pettersen) and Sweden (Sorenstam).

"We are not just talking about a golf tournament here," Sorenstam said of Olympic competition. "We are talking about the impact this has on the world and the game of golf."

David Teel can be reached at 247-4636 or by e-mail at dteel@dailypress.com. For more from Teel read his blog at dailypress.com/teeltime.

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