By Michael Vlismas
With the Rio Olympic Games now less than a year away, the world’s professional golfers are starting to focus more closely on golf’s return to the Olympic stage for the first time in over a century. And on the Sunshine Tour, the interest is also growing.
The recent announcement that Gary Player will captain the South African Olympic team has heightened the expectation.
And there are several South African professionals with foreign ancestry who are strongly considering playing under another flag for the once-in-a-lifetime chance to call themselves an Olympian.
Andrew Georgiou has already done this, going back to his family’s Cypriot heritage. “When I heard that golf was back in the Olympics it got me really excited,” he said at this week’s Vodacom Origins of Golf presented by Samsung tournament at San Lameer Country Club.
According to the International Golf Federation (IGF), the Olympic golf field will be restricted to 60 players for each of the men’s and women’s competitions. Players will be selected according to the official world golf rankings. The top 15 in the world will be eligible, with a maximum of four players from a given country. Beyond the top 15, there will be a maximum of two players from each country that does not already have two or more players within the top 15, and selected according to their world ranking.
Georgiou is currently too far down the world rankings to qualify for South Africa, but he is within a very realistic chance of representing Cyprus.
“I’d love to represent South Africa but it’s just not feasible. So if I can play in the Olympics by representing another country that’s part of my family heritage, then I’ll fly the Cyprus flag with pride.”
According to Georgiou, there are a few players on the Sunshine Tour considering doing the same, including one-time Zimbabwean Dean Burmester as well as Peter Karmis, who has Greek heritage.
It’s a move that refutes the argument by those who feel golf will have no appeal at an Olympic level because professional golfers will always view the four Majors as more important than the Olympic Games.
“I think the Olympics is just as big as the Majors,” said Georgiou. “As golfers we’re individuals representing ourselves every week. To now be able to represent a country is pretty special. As an amateur I used to love representing South Africa and pulling on my Springbok blazer. So I think anybody who says the Olympics won’t be important to golfers just doesn’t understand what it means to a sportsman in general.”
Adilson da Silva, who has played on the Sunshine Tour for years and lived in South Africa most of his life but who is hoping to represent Brazil at the Olympics, agrees.
“For me it would be amazing to represent Brazil in the Olympics. The Olympics is massive and to be a part of that will be a huge highlight in my golf career. A lot of golfers on the tours are starting to talk about it.”