Players give insight in to Olympic withdrawals

June 30, 2016

With a baker’s dozen of players — now including the first woman, South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace — announcing that they’re skipping golf’s return to the Olympics, broader sport is wondering why golfers are more afraid of Zika than other athletes.

After all, most of those golfers have cited the mosquito-transmitted virus as the reason keeping them from traveling to Brazil.

However, there’s a growing sense that Zika, while it may be a common reason, isn’t the only reason, or even the primary reason, why players aren’t willing to go to Rio. Two of those players who are taking a pass gave us a window this week into some of the psychology behind their decisions.

Rory McIlroy, who announced last week that he won’t enter the 60-man Olympic tournament, said Wednesday at the French Open that golfers simply aren’t drawn to the Games in the same way other athletes are. Golf hasn’t been in the Olympic program in 112 years, so, until 2009, when golf was admitted by the International Olympic Committee for ’16 and ’20, an Olympic medal wasn’t on any golfer’s radar.

“Most other athletes dream their whole lives of competing in the Olympics, winning an Olympic gold. And we haven’t. We dream of winning claret jugs and winning green jackets,” McIlroy said.

He added, “With all the negative press the game has received over the past week or so, I don’t think it’ll have any long-lasting effects, but it’s been a bit of a difficult time for golf.”

Then there’s Adam Scott, one of the first players to decline to participate. He’s long been critical of the concept of golf in the Olympics, well before Zika became even a remote threat. Scott reiterated that the format of the Olympic golf tournaments — the standard, 72-hole stroke play pros see most weeks — isn’t compelling for that stage.

“I think they should change the format, for sure,” Scott said Wednesday ahead of the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “Just having another 72-hole golf tournament with a weaker-than-most field doesn’t really pique my interest.”

Scott also touched on two other issues: that the tournament should have been for amateurs and that golf’s schedulers, particularly on the men’s side, shoehorned Olympic golf into the docket instead of clearing the calendar for it.

“All the other sports have now somewhat fit in, and all their other events are programmed and based around the Olympics, whether it’s scheduling or qualification, all these kind of things, and ours is not,” said the Aussie. “It’s just kind of shoved in there at a very critical time for everything I’ve ever dreamed of winning, too.”

And that goes back to the argument that an Olympic medal doesn’t matter now and won’t ever matter. Only majors will, in his most-likely-right view. Then add in that there’s no purse (of course), keeping up with the World Anti-Doping Agency-led drug testing and the instability in Brazil’s economy and government, as well the massive crime problem, and, well, Zika isn’t the only issue.