A blurb on the 2016 Summer Games website makes a promise that won’t be kept.
“In Rio,” it reads, “the world’s best golfers will be part of the Olympic Games for the first time in more than a century, and the lure of a gold medal is sure to attract the sport’s biggest names.”
The lure of a gold medal did not attract Jason Day, ranked No. 1 in the world. It did not attract Dustin Johnson (No. 2), Jordan Speith (No. 3) or Rory McIlroy (No. 4).
Concerns related to the Zika virus are one reason the four biggest names in golf have declined to compete in Rio de Janeiro, but not the only reason and clearly not the most significant reason. If ever the Zika virus makes its way to, say, northeast Georgia during the first week of April, the four biggest names in golf still will be teeing off in the Masters, more worried about Amen Corner than the danger of a mosquito bite.
McIlroy spoke with typical candor the other day on resisting the “lure” of a gold medal: He said he won’t even follow golf in Rio, preferring to watch “events like track and field, swimming, diving — the stuff that matters.”
McIlroy’s implication that Olympic golf is irrelevant was spot on. The Summer Games represent the pinnacle for athletes who run and jump and swim and dive. They wait four years to showcase their skills before an international TV audience that doesn’t give a rip about any other version of a world championship.
For professional golfers, winning a tournament at the Olympic Club holds more prestige than winning a tournament at the Olympic Games.
“It’s about the four majors, and I think that’s the way it should be,” said Adam Scott, another Top 10 holdout, on the eve of the British Open — an event that preceded the 1896 revival of the Olympic Games by a mere 46 years.
The International Olympic Committee’s presumption of pro golfers salivating over the chance to win a gold medal is consistent with the IOC’s arrogance. Although it has no fondness for America — Chicago, with an efficient mass-transit system and dozens of venues in place, didn’t survive the first-round cut during a bidding process ultimately awarded to a dump in Brazil — the IOC relies on TV revenue from the U.S. to keep its bloated operation afloat.
When IOC voters approved the reinstatement of golf as an Olympic competition, on Oct. 9, 2009, Tiger Woods still was at the top of his game, six weeks removed from the Thanksgiving weekend domestic incident that generated his downfall from sports legend into a comedy-club punch line.
Squash, a fascinating but obscure sport with minimal appeal for casual fans, was on the table during that 2009 vote. Squash’s chances of inclusion in 2016 were as doomed as Chicago’s bid to host the Summer Games. The IOC figured that Woods, among the planet’s most recognized faces, would spike TV ratings with his superstar aura. The decision to squash squash and embrace golf was a no-brainer.
It didn’t matter that no prize money would be at stake, and world-golf rankings wouldn’t be affected. The Olympics were beckoning, and what right-minded, red-blooded competitor says no to the Olympics?
Turns out the four best players in the world said no. I hope the IOC takes that as a slap in the face, but I’m wishing the slap could be more like a knockout punch that puts the snobby, corrupt organization to sleep for a while.
Speaking of knockout punches: Tom Mustin, who runs the Tacoma Boxing Club and served as coach for the U.S. boxing team at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney, fears the IOC has become enamored with the idea of bringing marquee-light professionals into the ring.
Amateurs fighters lack the name recognition to drive up TV ratings that corporate sponsors covet, so what good are they to the IOC? No better, it seems, than the minor league players who competed in baseball, phased out from the Olympics because the IOC wanted Major League Baseball to follow the National Hockey League’s cue of suspending operations in the middle of every fourth season so that the best could take on the best.
And enough with perceiving those pro golfers who are skipping the Olympics as unpatriotic mopes whose sole motive in life is to make as much money as they can. There are no financial benefits to securing a place on a Ryder Cup team, yet Ryder Cup status is regarded as a priceless honor.
It’s something about golf tradition, which the Ryder Cup has and the Summer Olympics doesn’t.
There’s potential for golf as an Olympic sport, but only if the volume knob is turned to the left. Tone things down, put it in the hands of amateurs who’d regard participation in a Summer Games tournament as the thrill of a lifetime.
Two rounds of stroke play, narrowing the field to 64, followed by match play, the ultimate head-game confrontation. I’d watch something like this.
So would Rory McIlroy.