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Olympic Golf: Rooting for the Red, White and Who?

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It all started so well. Like building a new house, the blueprints were perfect. Well known builder… check. Money… check. Piece of land… check. Interest… check. Then as they started building, it all went wrong, sinking like a bad foundation.

Way back in October of 2009, the International Olympics Committee (IOC) announced with great fan fare golf would return to the Olympics at Rio for the first time since Canadian George Lyon won in 1904. At the time (2009 not 1904), Padraig Harrington went as far as to tell PGATour.com:

“I do believe in time the Olympic gold will become the most important event in golf, and I don’t believe it will take that long.”

Well, someone forgot to tell the rest of the players because players have been dropping like flies.

Vijay Singh, someone with no issue taking on the PGA Tour and its governing body, announced in April of 2016 he would not play for Fiji. A week later, Adam Scott said he had a busy summer schedule and personal commitments, which would not allow him to play.

Since those two, a proverbial who’s who of players have announced they will not attend. Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Braden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry, Charl Schwartzel, Marc Leishman, Graeme McDowell, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Hideki Matsuyama, Brendon de Jonge, Andy Sullivan and Tim Wilkinson have all bowed out. That’s a leader board any major championship would be happy with on a Sunday afternoon.

Of those not playing, the excuses have run the gambit from family (Day and others), schedule (Scott and others) and Zika, which has been the most prevailing.

With regard to the schedule, the chance to win gold comes at an inopportune time. The event will take place August 11-14, which is just two weeks after the PGA Championship and the week before the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship. There’s no doubt the Wyndham is a popular event. It attracts a top field, but we aren’t talking about the Quad Cities Open. This is the Olympics; it’s a once-every-four-year chance. Given the way the Tour has gone the last couple years, it may be a once in a lifetime chance. There is no telling who will be the best players four years from now.

Not to mention these guys aren’t flying United. They can hop on a private jet and fall asleep in Rio and wake up in Charlotte ready to go.

Now we come to the touchier subjects: family and Zika.

Mind you, family is just a code word for Zika, and it is seemingly a legitimate concern. Who is going to argue with a player putting family first? It is an easy out, maybe even a smart decision. No one is going to deny Zika is a risk. The photographs of Brazilian mothers holding a newborn child with microcephaly are sad and scary. But is health a real concern or just a convenient reason to get out of playing?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), yes, athletes are at risk of being infected by the Zika virus from infected mosquitoes, the same as any other Brazilian citizen. However, WHO has stated Zika usually only causes minor symptoms, with most persons not having any symptoms at all. The Center for Disease Control has said Zika should not cause any problems for women wanting to get pregnant after it has passed through the blood stream. They have recommended waiting for at least six months after the first symptoms to start trying to have a child just to be safe.

It’s up to the player to decide if waiting six months to have a child is worth a possible gold medal; only they can answer that. Not to get all Dr. Ruth but, if a player really needs to have a kid within the next six months, can’t they freeze a sample before heading for Rio? Plus if it is such a concern, why hasn’t Lydia Ko, Lexi Thompson, Inbee Park, or other top LPGA players backed out?

Other athletes have more concerns than Zika, and will be more exposed to contracting Zika than golfers will. Dead bodies are washing up on the shore where the beach volleyball games will be played — that’s right, dead bodies. The USA rowers are all wearing science fiction body suits to keep bacteria in the water from touching their skin. Just this week we learned the waters sailing events will take place in have super bacteria resistant to medicine.

“Every time you get some water in your face, it feels like there’s some alien enemy entering your body,” a German sailor told CNN.

Think he’s withdrawing? Nope. Let that sink in. Sailors, without million dollar salaries or endorsements, are willingly going to risk becoming infected with a bacteria medicine can’t help just for a shot at a medal.

Think about it: if the beach volleyball teams can play in bikinis and board shorts, can’t golfers take precautions? How about long sleeves and bug spray? Heck, use it to get sponsorship deal with Off!

The Red, White and Blue hasn’t been immune either. Just last night Dustin Johnson backed out citing family reasons, after previously stating he would play. And there could be more losses to follow; Jordan Spieth just last week said he is still gathering information and Rickie Fowler has been non-committal. It would be no shock if those two members of the #SB2K16 were waiting for another American to withdraw so they could, too.

And back to that list, poor Gary Player, captain of the South African contingent, has gone from having Oosthuizen and Schwartzel and a legitimate chance of gold to suggesting that he may have to play for South Africa in the Olympics.

So exasperated with the process, he went on Morning Drive recently and reiterated his belief amateurs should play instead of pros because they would appreciate it more.

And while amateurs would certainly appreciate it more (at this point, it would be hard not too), it’s not reality. People aren’t tuning in, and the PGA Tour, IOC and Brazil haven’t spent millions of dollars to find the next George Lyon. Fans and organizers want star power. Just like Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson brought to Barcelona in 1992. Without those types of names, enjoy the golf this year, because after 2020, it may be another 112 years before we see it again.

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Seth is an avid golfer playing year round in Florida.

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