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Published: Saturday, 8/11/2012

Olympics to help golf's global reach

Sport to be reintroduced at Rio Games


Karine Icher perked up, then broke into a grin when she was asked about the prospect of playing golf in the 2016 Summer Olympics.

"Finally!" the 33-year-old from France said Friday, after she completed the second round of the 27th Jamie Farr Toledo Classic at Highland Meadows Golf Club. "Finally, we are in the Olympics. We should be in the Olympics [for] a long, long time."

Four years from this week, the world's top men's and women's golfers will be competing in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. With the 2016 Summer Olympics, golf will return to the Games for the first time since 1904, when the St. Louis Olympics hosted golf.

"I hope it's going to inspire a lot of young girls around the world," said Icher, who shot a 66 during Thursday's opening round and a 69 on Friday to make the cut for today.

Three years ago, the International Olympic Committee approved golf as a medal sport for Rio (Aug. 5-24, 2016) and for the 2020 games, whose site will be announced next year. The IOC will decide in 2017 if it will keep golf as an Olympic sport.

Yet the prospect of playing golf in the Olympics already has hit a snag. Construction of the Brazilian golf course that will host Olympic play is expected to begin in October, but the land for the course is at the center of a legal dispute between two developers who want control of the land.

In May, the Associated Press reported that a decision on the dispute from Brazil's Higher Court of Justice could take anywhere from months to years to be handed down. A judge could order a stoppage in construction if the dispute is not settled.

Also, a format has not been selected for the tournament, either a team competition or a 72-hole individual competition, but the BBC reported Friday that Peter Dawson, chief executive of the R&A, an international governing body of golf, recently hinted that organizers might consider a team format.

Still, if and when Olympic golf comes to fruition, it will be yet another international competition for the already global LPGA.

Consider the leaders after Friday at the Farr.

Hee-Won Han was one of six players from South Korea in the top 10 after the second day of the Farr Classic. Japan's Mika Mizayato, Icher, Sweden's Pernella Lindberg and Spain's Beatriz Recari made up the remainder of the top 10.

Han is also one of 42 players from South Korea currently playing on the LPGA tour, a number that could bode well for her country's Olympic contingent.

"That's a big thing," Han said. "That's kind of like lots of different countries playing. That's why we have lots of chances to get a gold medal for Korea. Lots of young girls are playing pretty good. That's why I'm happy to be watching 2016."

One South Korean wasn't ready to handicap her chances for making the Olympics in 2016.

"I try, but I need more experience," said Chella Choi, who leads the field after shooting 66 on Thursday and a 67 on Friday. "I try."

Brazil may seem like a long time down the road -- a lot can change in four years for many people -- but Icher believes the odds are in her favor when it comes to representing her country in international competition.

"We don't have a lot of players from France, but it's a good chance for me to be able to compete," said Icher, who is one of four women from France currently on the LPGA Tour. "And it's very, very good for golf, especially for the women's game."

Contact Rachel Lenzi at: rlenzi@theblade.com, 419-724-6510 or on Twitter @RLenziBlade.

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