• Alistair Tait

Olympic golf still far from ideal for some


It’s that time of the golf calendar again, when the world’s top men start demurring about golf in the Olympics. Webb Simpson has started the ball rolling.


Seems the Olympic ideal is not such a big deal for the 2012 U.S. Open champion. When asked his thoughts on playing in the Tokyo Games ahead of this week’s Players Championship, the world number 10 replied:

“Oh, that's a tough one. I think it would be an honour to represent the country. Nothing against the Olympics, but I'm personally more interested in trying to win majors, the Players Championship, the FedEx Cup than be a medallist in the Olympics. Part of it is exciting for me, but the thought of going halfway around the world for that time frame in that part of our season is really tough for me to swallow.
“I haven't made any kind of mental decisions yet, but it would be a hard one for me to go to, knowing what's at stake here on the PGA Tour.”

And so it starts. Will others follow?


Getting the world’s top men to play in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro was like trying to find willing playing companions for Patrick Reed. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen were just some of the names who passed on playing in the 2016 Games, citing everything from scheduling, security, the Zika virus, to washing their hair as excuses.


McIlroy went further than most in downplaying golf’s importance to the Olympics when he claimed at the 2016 Open Championship he probably wouldn’t be watching the golf tournament, but only “events like track and field, swimming, diving – the stuff that matters.”


Ouch!


To be fair to McIlroy, he did recant. He watched the golf competition, and even sent a congratulatory note to gold medal winner Justin Rose. Two years ago, McIlroy said he’d changed his mind and would play in Tokyo:

“I think with where golf is, with it being part of the Olympic movement, I think if I had to look back on my career and not played in one (Olympics), I probably would have regretted it,” McIlroy said.

Presumably McIlroy still intends to play following the postponement of the 2020 Games.


The top women put the men to shame five years ago. Practically all of them turned up to try for a once in a lifetime chance to win an Olympic medal. Why wouldn’t they?


Golf in the Games is set to begin 11 days after the Open Championship, and 18 days before the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs. So it’s not as if those who travel “halfway around the world” will still be suffering from jet lag when they tee it up at Liberty National Golf Club for the Northern Trust Open, the first tournament of the FedEx playoffs.


Besides, it’s not as if these guys are sitting in 33f trying to decide whether to have the chicken or the beef. Simpson isn’t in the same league financially as McIlroy or Johnson, but with over $42 million in career earnings and probably double, triple that in extra endorsement fees, the seven-time PGA Tour winner can probably splash out on a private jet and still not put a dent in his bank account.


Golf’s future in the Games could be put in peril if we get a repeat of 2016 and the top players bail. Why does it matter that they play? To help grow the game in nations with no tradition of golf. Talk to officials in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and many other non-golfing nations, as I did in Rio (covering the Olympic Games is one of the greatest experiences of my career) and they’ll tell you they can now get funding for golf precisely because it has become an Olympic sport. They can now start to develop their own Rory McIlroys, Dustin Johnsons, Webb Simpsons, Lydia Kos, Georgia Halls, Nelly Kordas.


Ask 2016 Olympic Gold medal winner Rose what winning that medal means to his career, and he’ll probably talk for hours about the pride he felt standing on the podium as his national anthem was played. Ditto for silver medalist Henrik Stenson. In fact, pride was what motivated Matt Kuchar to grind his way to a bronze medal in Rio.


Hopefully Simpson’s is just a lone voice and others don’t join the chorus.


The Players Championship? Over an Olympic Gold Medal? Seriously?


#JustSaying: “I've never been so happy with a third-place finish in my life! I’m bursting with pride?” Matt Kutcher on winning an Olympic bronze medal

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