Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Sports

Without top golfers, future of Olympic golf looks bleak

The ethos of the world's most famed athletic competition is known as the Olympic movement, which in the men's golf community is best signified by the stampede of top players dashing away from the 2016 Rio Games.

The best male golfers are not just skipping the first Olympic golf tournament in 112 years; at least one, Rory McIlroy, on Tuesday kicked dirt on it.

Every day yields another blow to the cause of golf in the Olympics and what it was meant to accomplish. Tuesday was only the latest, most-cutting rebuke.

It began as the day that the top-ranked American, Jordan Spieth, would explain his decision, revealed Monday, to skip the Olympics, an event he once eagerly promoted. Spieth did his best to clarify his position despite a mystifying unwillingness to be specific.

But then McIlroy addressed the media and stomped on Olympic golf anew. McIlroy, who last month announced that he would forgo the Olympics because of concerns over the Zika virus, was asked about Spieth's decision and whether elite golfers were letting down the game. McIlroy unloaded.

"I don't think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for him," McIlroy said. "I don't feel like I've let the game down at all."

Restoring golf to the Olympics was intended to grow the game, especially globally.

McIlroy did not see the connection.

"I didn't get into golf to try to grow the game," he said. "I got into golf to win championships and win major championships."

McIlroy, ranked No. 4 in the world, was just getting started. A few minutes earlier, Spieth had said it was going to be agonizing for him to watch the Olympic tournament from home. McIlroy said he was probably going to watch the Olympics, but maybe not the golf. Asked which events he would watch, McIlroy said, "Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving — the stuff that matters."

The dagger fired at the Olympic ideal was unmistakable. That it took place less than 48 hours before the 145th British Open was yet another setback for golf.

To be fair, in the past, even when McIlroy had said he would go to Rio, he had expressed an uneasiness about calling himself a future Olympian. In his view, Olympians were athletes who had worked tirelessly and often in anonymity — runners, swimmers and divers — to qualify for the event that was the pinnacle of their sport. McIlroy never pretended to view the Olympics the same way, and neither did most golfers.

One player who had shown some affinity toward the Olympics had been Spieth. It jibed with his all-American image, and it certainly helped him land endorsements from the likes of Coca-Cola, the Olympic sponsor for whom Spieth, the world's third-ranked golfer, is now a global ambassador.

Understanding all that, on Tuesday, Spieth, 22, anticipated the inquisition that came his way. He replied to every question respectfully and handled the situation with startling aplomb. He just did not have enough complete answers.

"This was something I very much struggled with," said Spieth.

And yes, Spieth said he would watch the Olympic golf tournament.

"I'll make it a goal to be at Tokyo in 2020," he said of the next Olympics.

He added that he hoped to play in four or five Olympics representing the United States. But with so many of the world's best men's golfers snubbing the game's reintroduction to the Olympics, it is more than possible that golf will not be welcomed back in four years.

When it comes to Olympic golf in his lifetime, Spieth may be missing his only chance. — New York Times

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