Jul
11
2016
THAT BITES: Zika scares Spieth out of Olympics
By Stephanie Wei under Olympics

It was only a matter of time when it comes down to it — once one star drops out, it’s not a massive surprise when his peers end up following suit and doing the same. Well, at least it was rather predictable with regard to the top-ranked male golfers in the world and their decision to take a pass on competing in next month’s Olympics in Rio.

During the International Golf Federation press conference Monday at Royal Troon, where the Open Championship is being held this week, President Peter Dawson announced that Jordan Spieth, the world no. 3 and two-time major champion, withdrew from the participating in golf’s return to the Olympics, citing the Zika virus as part of the reason.

With Spieth out, the top four golfers in the world Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy will all be absent in Rio. The reason given by them was related to the Zika scare.

“(Spieth) called us earlier today just before this press conference, and he’s going to be addressing his reasons for choosing not to participate tomorrow in his press conference,” said Ty Votaw, Vice President of the IGF. “But in the phone call, it was out of concern for the health issues that we’ve been talking about.”

Spieth had been enthusiastic about playing in the Olympics until he was asked about it at the U.S. Open when he started voicing some concerns with security. He struggled with the decision and will likely elaborate on his reasons in his press conference at Troon on Tuesday.

Team USA will now be represented by Bubba Watson (who will be the top-ranked player participating at no. 5), Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar.

Over a dozen players decided to skip out on participating in the Olympics — which is making its return to the games for the first time since 1904 — due to unease over Zika, security and scheduling and lack of five-star hotels.

Australian Adam Scott announced months ago that he would not be participating due to schedule conflict. Fellow countryman Marc Leishman also withdrew his name from consideration due to health concerns. The top three South African players Braden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel also decided not to participate. Japan’s top player Hideki Matsuyama recently announced he was pulling out, as well.

Following McIlroy’s withdrawal, Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry followed suit and declared they would not be playing, either.

Victor Dubuisson of France and K.T. Kim of South Korea were late withdrawals, according to the IGF.

In other words, golf’s return to the Olympics on the men’s side is turning out to be a complete disaster.

“It’s certainly disappointing that we’ve had so many withdrawals on the men’s side,” said Dawson. “I think I should say now that I don’t think it’s appropriate for us to discuss individual cases, especially as they’re generally decisions have been taken on health grounds.

“Speaking collectively though, there is no doubt that the number of withdrawals hasn’t shed golf in the best light. Hasn’t shown golf in the best light, and we have to accept that. 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.”

Sure, perhaps there has been a bit of an overreaction, but I also don’t think it’s fair for anyone of us to criticize the players who are genuinely concerned with the potential — however slim the chances are — of contracting Zika and then putting the health of their future children at risk. I’m not going to judge anyone for choosing to play it safe, especially since it’s my understanding that much less is known about how the virus impacts men and how long it stays in their systems.

There definitely has been plenty of speculation that the golfers have used Zika as a convenient excuse, and perhaps that’s the case for some, but I know it isn’t for all of them.

“I have no knowledge that people are using Zika as an excuse,” Dawson said. “I think there is a genuine concern about this, not just amongst the players but among their families, their wives and their girlfriends and so on. And I think it’s genuine.”

Exactly.

As for the top players who are participating, Danny Willett and Justin Rose will represent Great Britain. Henrik Stenson and David Lingmerth will play for Sweden. Sergio Garcia and Rafa Cabrera-Bello will compete for Spain. (The full list of qualifiers for both men and women is at the bottom of the post.)

Though the IGF was very clearly disappointed, they tried to look on the bright side as eight of the top 15 golfers in the world will be competing. (But only nine of the top 30…) Still, it’s rough when your top four stars aren’t there and their absence might be a damning setback to the future of golf in the Olympics. While it is guaranteed to be part of the 2020 games in Tokyo, the International Olympic Committee votes next year to decide whether it will remain part of the program going forward.

At the end of the day, there are only four tournaments that really matter to the players. While an Olympic medal would be nice, it just doesn’t have the cache that a major title does. These golfers didn’t grow up dreaming of winning a golf medal, unlike other sports, where the Olympics in the pinnacle and they spend four years training for it. At the same time, there’s the opportunity for the current stars to make it into an event that does indeed matter and to influence the generations to come.

Germany’s Martin Kaymer is one of the few who has been more than supportive of the Olympics and even said he’d prefer to win a medal over a major.

“I’ll take the major next year, the gold medal this year,” said Kaymer when asked which he’d prefer to win in January. “In my career I’ve only maybe twice, hopefully three times, a chance to win a gold medal. The majors, I will have a lot more. I have time to win one of those again.

“So this year I would definitely take the gold medal. I think that if I go, I would like to have the maximum out of it.

“If I can win or if I can compete and at least have a chance, and go to other sports, watch them and see how much heart they put into it, I think that is what the Olympic Games are all about, and that’s why I think it would be amazing to be successful there.”

 


 

Good news is none of the top-ranked women bailed and they have been very enthusiastic about going to Rio and competing for a medal. 13 of the top 15 women in the Rolex Rankings are playing and the only reason two of them aren’t is because of the four-player maximum per country. Nine of the top 20 women in the world rankings are South Korean.

New Zealand’s Lydio Ko (who was born in South Korea) and Canada’s Brooke Henderson are the headliners for the women’s field.

The American women will be represented by Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller.


 

The competition will be a 72-hole stroke play event with no team component. Yep, it’s wholly an individual contest (which unfortunately kind of takes some of the intrigue and fun out of it, but I’m sure they’ll tweak it going forward — well, that is if golf even remains in the games past 2020).

Here’s a breakdown from the IGF press release on the qualifying process and the massive impact Olympic golf is having on growing the game!

With no fewer than 40 countries included in the Final Rankings across the men’s and women’s competitions, to be played at Reserva de Marapendi Golf Course between August 11 and 20, the composition of the Olympic fields will highlight the broad global diversity of the sport in Rio de Janeiro.

Already, the ‘Olympic effect’ can be witnessed by the increase in the number of National Federations under the umbrella of the International Golf Federation (IGF), which has grown from just over 100 to an all-time high of 147, with opportunities arising for increased support to grow the game.

The Olympic golf competitions, beginning with the men from August 11-14 followed by the women from August 17-20, will have a potential global audience of around 3.6 billion, representing the ultimate shop-window for the sport and having the capacity to reach a brand new audience, especially among the younger generation across all the continents.

Qualification began on July 14, 2014 and concluded yesterday (Sunday, July 10). The full list of qualifiers confirms the names of the 120 players – 60 male and 60 female – who are now eligible to be entered by their respective National Olympic Committees (NOCs) in accordance with the qualification criteria.

The IGF will send confirmation of the quota places to the NOCs no later than 17.00 Eastern US time tomorrow (Tuesday, July 12). The NOCs will then confirm use of allocated quota places to the IGF who, in turn, will reallocate all unused quota places before the Rio 2016 Sport Entries Deadline on July 18.

The IGF will publish a further list of 60 names for both the men’s and women’s events on Monday, July 18, which will provide ratification of all the competitors who will comprise the respective fields at the Olympic Games.

The Final Rankings underline the diversity of the fields who will tee off in Olympic competition next month for the first time in over a century, with a total of 40 countries being represented across both the men’s and women’s events.

Additionally, every continent is represented in the Rankings, affording golf a unique opportunity to grow the game in unexposed territories and to achieve greater visibility with the potential television audience during the Games in Rio.  Across the two individual competitions, Africa has eight eligible players; Asia 29; Australasia & Oceania eight; Europe 52; North America 11; South America 12.


 

Final Olympic Men’s Rankings

Final Olympic Women’s Rankings