With 30 days to go before golf returns to the Olympics after its 112-year absence, IGF president and former R&A chief executive Peter Dawson spoke yesterday of disappointment and hurt at the number of withdrawals from the men’s competition that mean just 15 of the world’s top 50-ranked players will tee it up in Brazil.
World number three Jordan Spieth added his name to the list of absentees yesterday, meaning neither he nor numbers one Jason Day, two Dustin Johnston and four Rory McIlroy will spearhead the sport’s re-integration to the Olympic family.
Many have cited health concerns over the recent outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil and the rest of South America while defending Open champion Zach Johnson, who will not be one of the USA’s four competitors in Rio, had issues with the tournament’s disruption of the regular PGA Tour schedule and it’s meaningfulness to the world’s best golfers.
“No offence to the Olympics but I’d rather be on the Ryder Cup team personally,” Johnson said yesterday. “As an American golfer, I have that opportunity and that’s what I would rather. I’d rather be on the Ryder Cup team and try to help our nation out there. But that’s just me.” With Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell also withdrawing alongaside McIlroy, Ireland will be represented by world no.148 Harrington and 290 Seamus Power, currently plying his trade on the Web.com Tour before an expected promotion to the PGA Tour in 2017. Amateur world number two Leona Maguire will be Ireland’s sole representative in the women’s event.
Three-time major champion Harrington, one of the ambassadors fronting golf’s bid for inclusion in the IOC family in 2009, will grab his opportunity with both hands and speaking at Troon yesterday ahead of this week’s Open Championship, he pondered the prospect of adding a gold medal to his major successes: “It would be massive. I don’t know that winning a fourth major would make a massive difference to my career, but winning Olympic gold does. The main withdrawals come from countries that being an Olympic champion is not a big deal in. The Dutch guys didn’t pull out, the Danish guys didn’t pull out, the Koreans didn’t pull out. None of the countries where winning an Olympic gold is a massive deal pulled out.
“It’s gone right down that line. If you win an Olympic gold and you’re from Holland, it’s an awfully big deal.” Speaking at an IGF press conference at Royal Troon, Dawson said: “There is no doubt the number of withdrawals hasn’t shed golf in the best light. Hasn’t shown golf in the best light, and we have to accept that. But we do understand why these individual decisions have been taken.
“Personally, I think there’s been something of an overreaction to the Zika situation, but that’s for individuals to determine, and there’s certainly a great deal of concern about this issue inside the game of golf, no doubt about that.” He added: “I think it’s worth remembering as well the withdrawals we’ve experienced have primarily come from Australia, Ireland, South Africa and the US.”