Cleat Geeks

Olympic Golf Losing Luster, One Player at a Time

Meet Jaco Van Zyl. The South African has decided to withdraw from golf’s remaining two major championships to focus his attention on the Olympics, and the first Olympic golf tournament in a century, being played Aug. 11-14 as part of the Rio Games.

JacoVanZylVan Zyl, however, is the exception. In fact, he’s way on the other end of the spectrum. Many of golf’s biggest stars are skipping the Olympics, citing all sorts of reasons.

From No. 1-ranked player Jason Day“Zika virus, it was a very difficult decision to make, obviously from representing your country, but also having to put family first and make sure that’s a priority over anything else, more so than golf and the Olympics. I just can’t put my family through that, especially with the future children we’re looking at having.”

Rory McIlroy, one of golf’s biggest stars, dropped out officially last month. He said, “It’s an unfortunate situation that we find ourselves in. I’d say if the Olympic Games were in most other cities or most other countries in the world this year, you wouldn’t find as many people not wanting to go and participate.”

South Africa’s top three players, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel also are not going to Rio.

There are more than just these players on the list. Day’s fellow Australians Adam Scott and Marc Leishman are out. So is the top Japanese player, Hideki Matsuyama and Fijian Vijay Singh, a veteran who still has enough game to compete. PGA Tour veteran Brendon de Jonge would have been Zimbabwe’s only representative but he’s skipping to play events around the Olympic date so his PGA Tour status stays solid.

JordanSpiethAnd the list of dropouts likely hasn’t ended yet, even though the official 60-player qualifying field was announced Monday. The last name to drop was American star Jordan Spieth, who had been wavering in some of his Olympic comments before officially dropping Monday over “health concerns.”

And U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson declared Saturday that he’s out, citing the Zika virus as his concern for playing. That means the world’s No. 2 player is out, joining Nos. 1, 3 and 4.

It won’t be a barren field, as interestingly, the rest of the American contingent has so far been immune to the dropout disease. For now, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar are projected to be the U.S. representatives in the 60-man field, . Sergio Garcia is excited about representing Spain. Henrik Stenson and David Lingmerth give Sweden a solid one-two punch.

But many other strong golfing countries, like Australia and Ireland, will be sending far less than their best.
Many golfers are citing the Zika virus, while others worry about the disorganization surrounding the Olympics this year. And that’s clearly been a problem in many ways as Rio tries to get ready to host the biggest sporting event in the world.

But there’s the untold story, of playing simply for national pride and not the thousands, even millions of dollars for which players compete. The Olympics has caused a headache in scheduling, as it’s taking place the week the PGA Championship normally sits in, forcing that major championship to be moved forward in the schedule and a number of other events to have to be shuffled.

And instead of playing for big bucks, there are three prizes – a gold, silver and bronze medal. Fourth place gets you nothing, and 60th place pays the same amount in currency as first.

It’s been inconvenient schedule-wise, to be sure, and for players who have to juggle a lot in playing all over the world and constantly keep their games in top form, it seems that the inconvenience of playing has overshadowed the pull of playing for national pride for several.

It’s hit in some other sports, particularly the U.S. men’s basketball team, where many of the top stars are staying home.

But at least in golf there’s a dedicated player like Jaco Van Zyl.

“I expect that there will be a camp that will criticize me for withdrawing from the majors, but I feel very passionate about golf’s debut at the Olympics,” he said. “Rory said in a recent press conference that we play four ’Olympics’ a year because major titles are what we play for, but I don’t agree.”

Perhaps that’s why he hasn’t won any. But he will maybe have the last laugh on all of us if he leaves Brazil with a gold medal next month.

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