As painful as it has been to witness the exodus of golf stars from the Rio Olympics, there really are two ways of looking at the whole thing.
Obviously, as a competition, the absence of players like Jason Day and Rory McIlroy will devalue it. The lustre of the gold medal will appear that much dimmer even if someone like Jordan Spieth wins it, and even he is having second thoughts.
So, reintroduced in the quadrennial games after 112 years, is golf already a flop? That’s one way of looking at it, but only from the perspective of the International Olympic Committee and telecast partners NBC.
There are detractors who will say that golfers are not trying their best to be there. Unlike track and field stars and swimmers, the Olympics is not the pinnacle for a golfer. It could become as important as a major in the future, but that will definitely take some time. But things are not that bad from golf’s own point of view.
Olympics are not a career priority for golfers so inclusion probably not the best idea regardless of Zika fears. https://t.co/cSUbiTUazg— Michael Johnson (@MJGold) June 29, 2016
The main reason the International Golf Federation (IGF) wanted to become a part of the five-ringed extravaganza was to have an opportunity to develop the sport in parts of the world where it is not popular. Let’s face it, countries like the USA, Australia, South Africa and Ireland do not matter in the larger scheme of golf in the Olympics.
What would make a difference, is if guys like Anirban Lahiri of India, Wu Ashun of China and Miguel Tabuena of Philippines refuse to play. These are the countries that are going to benefit the most from the Olympic connection.
Back home in India, golf used to receive absolutely zero support from the government. However, now that it is part of the Olympics, there will be financial support for the Indian Golf Union, foreign coaching programmes for youngsters and funds to upgrade facilities and buy equipment.
This kind of largesse is not extended to non-Olympic sports. It’s almost a similar scenario in China and several other Asian and African nations.
And historically, the absence of a few stars hasn’t hampered other sports in the past.
When tennis returned to Olympics in 1988, three of the top male stars at the time – Mats Wilander, Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl – as well as the top-ranked doubles pairing of American Robert Leach and Jim Pugh, did not show up at Seoul, even though there was no fear of epidemic then.
This year, two of the greatest basketball players of modern times – LeBron James and Steph Curry – are not going as well. But basketball won’t suffer. And in football, we have seen various limitations put on the teams eventually selected, apparently because FIFA does not want Olympic football to rival its own World Cup.
Adam Scott, who WD'd from Rio, says Olympic golf would "grow the game" more if amateurs were playing instead of pros.— Will Gray (@WillGrayGC) June 29, 2016
Despite the withdrawals, the field for men’s golf remains strong. Spieth is still undecided about his participation, but reigning US Open champion Dustin Johnson and twice Masters champion Bubba Watson are looking forward to the new challenge.
World No. 5 Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, reigning Masters champion Danny Willett and former US Open champion Justin Rose are also planning to make the trip.
On the women’s side, the only player to drop out is South African Lee-Anne Pace. I am sure it will be a case of Citius, Altius, Fortius for golf in the Olympics eventually with, or without, the world’s top players.
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