Olympic debate overshadows the Open build-up

Olympic debate overshadows the Open build-up
Rory McIlroy at yesterday's practice at Royal Troon. Pic: PA

Preparations for the 145th Open Championship starting tomorrow have been completely overshadowed by the debate over the sport's place at the Olympics.

Four-time major winner Rory McIlroy shot from the hip when he said, among other things, all he was interested in was winning and it was not his responsibility to "grow the game" on the wider world stage.

The Northern Irishman withdrew from the Olympics last month over fears about Zika, a mosquito-borne virus which has been linked to defects in newborn babies and Guillain-Barre, a rare neurological syndrome which causes temporary paralysis in adults, but has subsequently elaborated on other issues which do not make the event a priority for him.

But world number three Jordan Spieth, the most recent player to pull out of the Games in Rio de Janeiro, struck a more conciliatory tone.

"This was harder than trying to decide what university to go to; whether to turn professional and leave school," said the American, who cited non-specific "health concerns" for his decision.

Darren Clarke at yesterday's practice at Royal Troon. Pic: PA
Darren Clarke at yesterday's practice at Royal Troon. Pic: PA

"This was something I very much struggled with.

"I'm a huge believer in Olympic golf and hope to play in four or five in the future if I have the opportunity.

"This year I just had to try and weigh a risk that doesn't present itself every year."

McIlroy, who a fortnight ago said the Olympics was not the pinnacle of the sport so he had no problem skipping the Games, was more outspoken.

"I don't feel like I've let the game down at all," he said.

"I didn't get into golf to try and grow the game, I got into golf to win championships and win majors.

"I'll probably watch the Olympics, probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving - the stuff that matters."

In a double-pronged critique McIlroy also said golf had to change its drug testing policy in order to be accepted at a multi-sport event like the Olympics.

"On average I probably get tested four to five times a year, which is very little compared to the rest of the Olympic sports," said the 27-year-old, who claims he has been tested only about four times this year.

"If golf wants to stay in the Olympics and wants to be seen as a mainstream sport as such it has to get in line with the rest of the sports that test more rigorously."

Spieth and McIlroy, golf's two highest-profile stars, will expect to be in contention for the Claret Jug at Royal Troon come Sunday.

However, they spent significantly more time talking about anything else but that.

But when they did speak about the forthcoming championship it was with a determination to get back to winning ways in majors.

McIlroy missed last year's Open at St Andrews with an ankle problem so is technically looking for back-to-back Claret Jugs having won at Hoylake in 2014.

"I guess it's the start of a new chapter for me in the Open Championship," he added.

"It was very disappointing to miss last year but I'm determined not to miss any more for the foreseeable future."

Spieth missed out on the play-off 12 months ago by a single shot and had to watch Zach Johnson pick up his second major victory.

"I crave to have that trophy in my possession at some point," he said.

"The first chance I had a chance to win it was at the Old Course at St Andrews and that was a unique opportunity.

"I hope I can have a chance at that course again but I hope I have the Claret Jug in my possession before that time.

"We're here to try to win this week."

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