While it was a statement I suspected was coming for some time, there is no doubt that yesterday’s decision by Rory McIlroy to pull out of the Olympic Games has greatly undermined the efforts of the world’s golfing organisations to re-introduce golf into the games after a 112-year absence.
On the surface, Ireland has now lost a legitimate gold medal candidate but so too has the Olympics as it could easily have justified its decision to bring golf back into the games by the level of exposure McIlroy would have brought with him to the games.
Instead it now seems that the full ramifications of his decision will only be felt long after the games have come and gone.
In his official statement yesterday, McIlroy clearly addressed the reason for his withdrawal from the Olympics, stating his personal concerns about the Zika virus, and presumably its direct correlation to potential brain defects in newborn babies, were not something that he could countenance, stressing that his own health and that of his future family came before everything else.
In this instance, his value on “everything else” is more important than that of competing in the Olympic games.
It is a controversial decision but one he has every right to make.
That said, it also begs the question as to whether or not McIlroy would have made the same decision if he was talking about competing in a major championship?
After all there are medications and precautions he can take for the Zika virus and with proper care, there is also a defined period that the virus can only stay in your body?
While there are many, both inside and outside golf, who will vehemently criticise him for choosing not to travel, the reality is that the Olympics does not mean as much to McIlroy as it would perhaps to an amateur athlete who sees the opportunity to represent their country on one of the world’s greatest stages as the pinnacle of their career.
McIlroy has done all of that already, both as an amateur and as a professional.
In fact, if you really want to get a true measure of the status of the Olympics, within the professional game, then you need look no further than the PGA Tour, the R&A, PGA of America, all of whom have lauded the benefits of golf in the Olympics without making the players already hectic playing schedule any easier.
McIlroy is no fool and he clearly understands his career, in time, will be judged not by his participation in the games or for that matter an Olympic gold medal, but by the amount of major championships he wins. Victory in the Olympics therefore would be icing on the cake.
It would mean nothing more than another bauble on an already glittering career resume.
Such are the demands on professional golfers nowadays, especially those of the status of McIlroy, they must make these hard decisions.
They must prioritise themselves at all times.
This week it is the Olympics that has lost out but we must remember that in recent weeks so too has the World Golf Championship in Ohio, with McIlroy opting instead to play in the French Open.
And so if McIlroy has every right to determine his own fate, then yesterday’s decision means he can look at making some changes to what is already a hectic summer and autumn schedule - one that still includes the two remaining majors, the Open Championship (July 14-17) and the PGA Championship (Aug 4-7), the FedEx Cup series as well as the Ryder Cup (Sept. 30-Oct. 7).
That said, McIlroy’s decision not to participate in the Olympics is a significant blow to golf’s ambition to provide the necessary type of worldwide spectacle and impact, which it needs to do to remain part of the Olympic movement.
While the show will go on, his absence has now given those naysayers the sort of chance they have sought to reignite the debate about whether or not golf truly deserves to be part of the Olympic movement, now and in future.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved