Rory McIlroy’s swipe at golf in the Olympics may have raised hackles within the International Golf Federation but its president Peter Dawson at least heard more conciliatory words yesterday from another prominent Rio absentee.
World number three and double major champion Jordan Spieth struck a more statesmanlike tone than McIlroy yesterday, the American preceding his Irish adversary in media centre at Troon to explain his reasons for deciding not to compete at next month’s Games when golf returns to the Olympic fold for the first time since 1904.
McIlroy would later give a refreshingly honest if not diplomatic assessment of his feelings about golf at the Games, suggesting the sport did not matter as an Olympic event compared to track and field, swimming and diving, and it was never his ambition to help grow the game when he started playing it.
Yet Spieth, at pains to explain that skipping the Olympics was not specifically due to concerns over the Zika virus, described his decision as “probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make”.
The 22-year-old, whose home state of Texas is one of 34 in the US to also have reported cases of Zika, on Tuesday became the fourth of the top-four ranked players in the world to withdraw their participation from golf’s re-entry to the Games, leaving the men’s 60-man field missing 35 of the world’s top 50 players. Ireland’s representatives will be its fourth and fifth-ranked players following the withdrawals of McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry, leaving Pádraig Harrington and Seamus Power to fly the flag for men’s golf.
The absence of both Dustin Johnson and Spieth leaves world numbers five and seven Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler as the chief US hopes with Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar also now qualifying.
“There’s been numerous withdrawals of great players,” Spieth said. “There’s been numerous commitments of great players. Health concerns were my reason.
“Listen, this was probably the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make in my life, at 22 years old. I can probably honestly say that. This was harder than trying to decide what university to go to. Whether to turn professional and leave school. This was something I very much struggled with. I bounced back and forth with, and ultimately a decision had to be made yesterday, and so I made it.
“Why was it so hard? Because I’m a huge believer in Olympic golf. I’m a huge believer in playing for your country, showing I absolutely look forward to summer and winter Olympics. It’s the most exciting sporting event for me to watch on TV and to have a chance to be a part of it is something I definitely look forward to trying to do.
“This year I just had to try and weigh a risk that doesn’t present itself every year, and just at the time that I had to make the decision, I just felt this was the right move for me.
“I don’t expect anybody to understand, but trust that I believe I’m making the right decision for myself for my future and for those around me.” Spieth said watching the Olympics from afar would be “very, very difficult” but he hoped to make his Games debut at Tokyo in 2020.
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