Tiffany Chan, not Rory McIlroy, is the type of player golf in the Olympics should be all about

While top men simply can’t be bothered – sorry, ‘are worried about Zika’ – women and amateurs are relishing chance to play on global stage

PUBLISHED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 3:34pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 2016, 6:00pm

Here’s a quote from a top golfer about possibly pulling out of the Olympics: “If I had ... it would have been a very selfish decision. It would have been an easy way out for me but I thought about the good of golf. This is the first time golf has been in the Olympics for a long time and if the best players aren’t there, supporting the event and competing in it, then what’s the point? I feel like I have a responsibility to grow the game.”

Have you guessed? That was Rory McIlroy in 2014, when the biggest controversy regarding his participation in the Olympics was whether he would represent Great Britain or Ireland. Some suggested he might pull out to avoid having to choose. He continued: “[Pulling out] was an option, but it was never an option that I would have taken.”

Here’s another quote from McIlroy, from this week after he, er, pulled out of the Olympics: “I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game,” he said. “I got into golf to win major championships.”

Finally an attack of honesty. When McIlroy pulled out on June 22 he blamed the Zika virus. “My family’s health comes before anything else.” Who can argue with that? Certainly not the rest of the world’s top four players, Jason Day, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, who all followed McIlroy’s lead in the following days, citing the same convenient Zika excuse.

While Spieth was still prevaricating and looking for sympathy on the eve of the British Open, McIlroy had finally had enough. It’s perhaps the first time anyone’s been honest about this Olympics tournament since it was announced in 2009. “It was seven years of trying to give the politically correct answer and finally I just cracked,” he admitted.

For most of the world’s best players, and many of the world’s quite-good-to-mediocre players, this is a pointless, unnecessary addition to an already cluttered calendar. Twenty-one have pulled out at the time of writing and the Strength of Field – a rankings-based measurement of a tournament’s quality – is considerably less than the John Deere Classic which takes place the same weekend, but has US$4.8 million in prize money compared to roughly US$0.0 million for the Olympics.

Golf already has four major championships, with millions at stake and massive TV audiences. The only people who really wanted golf in the Olympics were IOC fat cats hoping some of Tiger Woods’ fame and glamour would somehow rub off on them, and NBC, the IOC’s American TV paymasters.

“I’ll be watching the track and field, the swimming, diving – the stuff that matters,” McIlroy added. If only he and the others had been so honest from the start: “I can’t be bothered cramming yet another long-haul flight into my schedule – especially with no cash at stake.”

But no, it was all about those fears over Zika. Family first. Curiously, none of the top women golfers have pulled out, and all taking part seem extremely excited about doing so. Given that the main danger from Zika is to unborn children, and that the female golfers seem somewhat more likely than their male counterparts to become pregnant in coming months, it is puzzling indeed that they have not pulled out in droves. For the women, usually ignored, this is a chance to compete on a truly global stage. No wonder they have embraced it.

Furthermore, three amateur players made it into the 60-strong field: Leona Maguire of Ireland, Albane Valenzuela of Switzerland, and – of course – Hong Kong’s own Tiffany Chan Tsz-ching. They actually embody the so-called Olympic spirit, which was probably destroyed for good in 1992 when the IOC let the NBA’s millionaire pros demolish all-comers in the basketball competition.

Golf will be included at Japan 2020, but will probably be given the boot after that given the men’s apathy. There’s still a way, perhaps, that it could be saved – by tapping into some of the passion shown by the likes of Chan and make the men’s competition an all-amateur event. It could be the peak of up-and-coming stars’ careers before they hit the pro ranks. Only the biggest golf nerd can name the world amateur champion without recourse to Google, but recalling the Olympic gold medallist would be a different matter.

But of course, money and greed mean there’s about as much chance of that happening as me out-driving McIlroy (or Chan for that matter).