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George S. Lyon of Ontario won the gold medal in golf at the 1904 St. Louis Games. (The Canadian Press)
George S. Lyon of Ontario won the gold medal in golf at the 1904 St. Louis Games. (The Canadian Press)

Canada preps for run-up to 2016 Games Add to ...

ANCASTER, ONT. - Golf Canada has lofty aspirations when the sport returns to the Olympics in 2016.The governing body wants to defend the Olympic title won by Canadian George S. Lyon in St. Louis in 1904 – the last time golf was played at the Games.

“What’s wrong with aspiring to win the gold medal at the Olympics in 2016?” said Scott Simmons, executive director of Golf Canada.

The 2016 Olympic field will consist of 60 male and 60 female players, with spots earned by world rankings. The top 15 from each gender qualifies, but each country will field a maximum of four players, only two if they are ranked Nos. 16 and lower.

Because of this, players ranked as low as No. 250 could qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Games.

At the moment, that would put Lorie Kane (194) and Alena Sharp (240) on the Canadian team, along with David Hearn (210) and Graham DeLaet (233).

Canada has some young players that hope to rise up in the ranks by 2016. One is Eugene Wong, who took part in the Canada Summer Games in Newfoundland four years ago. He’s aiming directly at making the 2016 Olympic team.

“I’ll just play lots and lots of golf,” Wong said this week at the RBC Canadian Open.

Jeff Thompson, Golf Canada chief sport development officer, says merely qualifying inside the top 250 isn’t good enough if medals are the objective. Golf Canada research found that over the past 10 years, male players who finished within the top three places at majors such as the Open Championship, ranked within the top 40 in the world.

“Our goal will be to try to move players inside the top 50, to give them a legitimate chance to win a medal,” Simmons said.

It will take money and resources for programs and support.

Golf Canada’s difficulty lies in that golf hasn’t been an Olympic sport in more than 100 years. Sport Canada financing is based on participation and excellence of its elite athletes, Simmons said.

Most of Golf Canada’s budget from Sport Canada is based on the idea that roughly 20 per cent of Canadians (between three million and four million) play golf. But Golf Canada gets almost nothing for its Olympic excellence level.

Simmons said Canada will present its case for financing to the Own the Podium funding program later this year.

In the past, Golf Canada’s focus has been on supporting its amateur athletes, but with the inclusion in the Games, it must now broaden its scope to include pros, Thompson said.

Meanwhile, Golf Canada has narrowed its focus to three facilities that are candidates to stage golf at the 2015 Pan American Games in the Greater Toronto Area.

The site will be announced at the end of August.

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