As Jordan Spieth becomes latest top golfer to snub Olympics, stars are blasted for their lack of support

Sport risks losing its hard-won place at Games as top four men give it a miss

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 July, 2016, 11:37am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 July, 2016, 10:46am

Golf waited 112 years to get back into the Olympics. The top four players in the world are waiting a bit longer.

Jordan Spieth delivered the final blow Monday when he told the International Golf Federation he would not be going to Rio next month, leaving the sport without its four highest-ranked players who have captured six of the last eight majors.

IGF President Peter Dawson said Spieth cited his concern over “health issues” for withdrawing.

All have indicated support for 2020 in Tokyo.

Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy previously withdrew, all citing the Zika virus. Day and Johnson have said they plan on having more children, while McIlroy is engaged and said he would soon be starting a family.

Eighteen eligible men, based on Monday’s world ranking, withdrew from the Olympics. The women only had one player withdraw, Lee Anne Pace of South Africa, due to Zika concerns.

The men will have eight of the top 15 in the world in Rio. The women will have the top nine in the world; Ha-Na Jang at No. 10 is not eligible because South Korea already reached its maximum of four players.

“There is no doubt that the number of withdrawals hasn’t shed golf in the best light, and we have to accept that,” Dawson said. “But we do understand why these individual decisions have been taken. Personally, I think there’s been something of an overreaction to the Zika situation, but that’s for individuals to determine, and there’s certainly a great deal of concern about this issue inside the game of golf, no doubt about that.”

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Golf pulled out all the stops to get back into the Olympics, presenting on video the support from some of the best players in the world at the time when it was voted onto the program in 2009.

Spieth was among the most enthusiastic until about a month ago when he joined others in expressing concern about Zika, security and other issues facing the Rio Games. He was said to be torn about playing until deciding Monday morning not to go.

Losing the top four could be a big setback for men’s golf and its bid to stay in the Olympics. It is assured of being part of the Tokyo Games in 2020, but the International Olympic Committee votes next year on whether golf and other events stay beyond that.

Dawson said he felt certain the IOC would consider all things Rio when it meets next year.

“We’re always concerned, but we’re working damned hard to put our best foot forward,” he said. “We have a lot of professional people in golf, and you can guarantee the sport will be shown in its best light.”

IGF executive director Anthony Scanlon said the withdrawal of 17 of the game’s leading male players could impact on golf becoming a permanent fixture at the Olympics post 2020.

“In the Rio Games there are 306 events and the IOC will be reviewing each of those 306 events individually and then making a decision as to what events remain in the programme for Tokyo and beyond,” said Scanlon.

“They’ve also made a strategic decision to allow organising committees to add extra events to that.”

Scanlon supported Dawson’s ‘overreaction’ remarks stressing it is winter in Brazil at present and the threat of the Zika virus is diminished.

“Within the golf course itself, we do have water and we’re surrounded by that, but certainly the risk has diminished,” said Scanlon.

“That risk is there, and that’s a decision for each of the players to assess, and some have assessed it as a risk too high.”

The men have 15 of the top 50 in the world, with the lowest-ranked player at No. 321 (Gavin Kyle Green of Malaysia). The women have 24 of the top 50 in the world, with the lowest-ranked player at No. 446 (Cathryn Bristow of New Zealand).

“It’s certainly disappointing that we’ve had so many withdrawals on the men’s side, and wonderful that all of the women have been very supportive,” Dawson said. “What I’m hoping is that when we come to play in Tokyo in 2020 that the top players do support Olympic golf. ... It’s the biggest grow-the-game opportunity available, and we need grow-the-game opportunities.

“And I can’t think of a better way for players to give back to the game, frankly, than to support Olympic golf.”

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse