Olympic Golf: Jess Ennis-Hill's coach expects warm welcome
Toni Minichiello has been Jessica Ennis-Hill’s coach since she was just nine years old.
He was with her through the heartbreak of Beijing, the exhilaration of London and he will be with her in Rio as she hopes to make history by becoming the first British lady to retain an Olympic title, just two years after giving birth.
For Ennis-Hill and the thousands of other athletes, the Olympics are the peak of their sporting lives.
“Imagine if the Masters was once every four years,” said Minichiello, a graduate of the University of Sheffield. “It’s the pinnacle, and every kid who takes part in track and field dreams of getting to the Olympics.
“I’m not sure where the Olympics will sit with golfers, when you have already got four majors. They are the tradition of the sport and as a golfer they are what you dream of.”
“I don’t think there will be friction and I think it will be a different experience for them. They are sports fans after all, so I think they will enjoy it if they get out and get into the experience.”
The presence of so many athletes and fans means distractions will be everywhere for the golfers. From those wanting autographs and pictures, to the swimming teams who finish their events early and spend the rest of the Olympics having loud, booze-filled parties, the golfers will have to be careful. Yet at the same time, sampling that Olympic atmosphere will be a vital part of the experience.
“I spoke to the top tennis players about the difference of going to a multi-sport tournament and what they told me is that these multi-millionaires, who spend their entire life in their own bubble, they get star struck for the first time in years.
‘The mutual respect everyone has is incredible’
“It will be odd for these golfers because they are used to being the centre of attention, but here they will be another face in the crowd.
“To see little gymnasts stood in a dinner queue with Rory McIlroy, that will be a shock.”
Spieth has called the Olympics his ‘fifth Major’, so he’s taking it seriously enough and last year we learnt that means unwavering concentration from the young Texan. But for the other golfers, it will be an experience fraught with peril and opportunities for distraction. What is the best piece of advice that Minichiello can offer the golfers?
“Watch yourself in the food hall. The choice is quite huge and it’s quite easy to put on three or four kilos.
“You have to remain focussed as it’s so distracting because there’s so much going on, so much to participate in. But it would be a shame for the golfers not to sample the village life just a little bit.
“The appreciation of other people and the mutual respect everyone has is incredible, so try and enjoy the experience.
“You are going to have some tough choices, such as do you want to be part of the opening ceremony. That’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but you are going to be on your feet for four hours and that could be a real problem for the golfers?
“But they should definitely go to the closing ceremony, because that’s just a party. It would be a shame for golfers not to sample the village life just a little bit.”
For most of its modern existence, the overriding ideology of the Olympics was that they are competed by amateurs. That was until television arrived, and the IOC realised the Games were an untapped goldmine. The floodgates opened, and the presence of millionaire golfers in Rio shows just how far the Olympics have gone from their roots.
There’s also an acknowledgment that golf has been welcomed back for the media-coverage and revenue that generates, but Minichiello remains philosophical.
“Does amateur truly exist any more?” he said. “How amateur is the Olympics, especially in Britain because athletes are local authority funded?
“There have been sports that are trying to get in, like squash and they have been unsuccessful. It’s tough for the IOC to incorporate all the sports they want to.
“But let’s be honest, if you have got the top field players, you have better chance of signing better TV deals, which helps the IOC.
“The next Olympics is in Tokyo and they are mad about golf in Japan, so I think it’s very appropriate that golf is an Olympic sport again, so it’s coming home.”
The 2016 Olympics golf tournament will be played at Barra di Tijuca. The men’s event will take place from August 11-14, while the ladies will play August 17-20.
Karl Hansell was speaking to Tony Minichiello at the England Golf Coaching Conference, held at St George’s Park from December 16-14.