When the decision was made in 2009 to bring golf back to the Olympics for the first time since 1904, it was anticipated that adding the game into the mix of the most revered sports event would give golf a much needed boost in worldwide recognition and participation. However, on the eve of the Olympic Games in Rio, the debut of golf on this prominent stage appeared tarnished even before the 60 male and 60 female participants teed it up on the new Olympic Golf Course.
Over the past several months, male golfers have been dropping out of the Olympics faster than the greens were running at the U.S. Open at Oakmont. At least 21 eligible golfers will be absent, including the top four players in the world: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy. This has taken more than a little luster off the competition.
Players have identified the threat of the Zika virus as the primary reason for their exodus from the Games, but that might afford a convenient excuse. Security concerns, scheduling concerns, and other health concerns about the Rio environs surely factored in. Stacy Lewis was more blunt in opining that the men simply make too much money to care about the Olympics.
But perhaps the biggest reason for the lack of top male players in Rio is that, unlike other sports such as swimming and track and field, the Olympics does not represent the ultimate achievement in golf. McIlroy observed: “Most other athletes dream their whole lives of winning an Olympic gold and we haven’t. We dream of winning claret jugs and green jackets.”
Gary Player suggested that professional golfers should not be part of the Olympics. “They should replace us with amateurs who would hold it at high esteem to represent their countries with great joy.”
The format of the competition – a 72-hole stroke play event — has also drawn criticism. A match play, team competition might have been more interesting. Adam Scott commented: “Just having another 72-hole golf tournament with a weaker-than-most field doesn’t really pique my interest.”
Unlike the men, however, women golfers are embracing the Olympics. Only two women have withdrawn, and all of the top golfers will compete at Rio. Lewis epitomizes this attitude: “I want to be a part of the Olympics. It is the biggest thing out there.” Christine Kim said that “it’s going to be one of the biggest things to happen to women’s golf.” Some cynics have speculated that if the women made as much money as the men, their allegiance to the Olympics would wane.
Nevertheless, some of the women who will compete at Rio are concerned that the exodus of so many top men will threaten the status of golf as an Olympic sport in the future. The Olympics are committed only through 2020. Lewis commented: “Their decisions affect us. It’s just really disappointing.”
So the jury is out on whether the debut of golf at the Olympics will bolster the sport or prove to be short-lived. But it won’t be a good sign if the winners are swatting away mosquitoes on the medal platforms.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?