Some golfers not feeling the Olympic spirit

World number one Jason Day has confirmed that he will be turning out at the Olympics, but not all golfers are embracing the sport’s return to the Games…

What athlete wouldn’t kill for the chance to win an Olympic gold medal? South African Louis Oosthuizen and Australian Adam Scott, to name a few.

The major-winning duo have made waves by declaring themselves unavailable for golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio in August, as has Fijian Vijay Singh.

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Gary Player, who will captain South Africa’s first Olympic golf team in Rio, echoed the thoughts of many when he expressed his disappointment at their decision.

Announcing that another South African, Charl Schwartzel, had also withdrawn, Player said he couldn’t fathom the decision of the country’s top players to opt out.

“I would have given anything to play in the Olympics,” said the nine-time major champion.

The situation certainly isn’t dire. After all, the world’s top three – Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy – will be in Rio, as will the overwhelming majority of the world’s best players.

But when even a few big names pass on the opportunity, it calls into question the status and stature of the event in question.

Scott and Oosthuizen both cited scheduling issues, but the reality is their decision does come down to a matter of priorities.

Golf at the Olympics arrives just two weeks after the most important eight-week stretch of the season, when the U.S. Open, Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and the PGA Championship will be played.

Then the players have just one week before the start of the lucrative season-ending FedEx Cup on the PGA Tour, which is itself followed by the Ryder Cup. And let’s not forget the European Tour’s Finals series not long after.

With so many important events on the schedule, some players are opting to focus on what they consider to be the real pinnacle of their profession – the events they grew up watching and wanting to win – and, of course, the events that pay their bills.

With an absence of over 100 years to overcome, not all players feel a connection to golf as an Olympic sport, and the likes of Scott, Oosthuizen, Schwartzel and Singh (there may be more withdrawals to come) don’t seem to think they need the Olympics.

Scott’s countryman Jason Day has committed to the event, but said he doesn’t blame anyone for not following suit.

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“You can’t really get angry at golfers for saying that they’re going to pull out of the Olympics,” he said.

“It’s never been on our radar to ever win a gold medal.”

But can the sport afford to turn its back on the exposure the Games will provide?

In America, audiences have been waning in the absence of Tiger Woods as a force in the game. With Woods looking increasingly unlikely to ever return to his former glories, the sport has to start plotting a course without him.

Embracing the Olympics is seen as one way of helping to usher in a new era, a chance for golf to join the greater sporting landscape and to attract new fans.

Let’s not forget that it will also provide the women’s game with some much needed extra exposure.

Certainly none of this can hurt the sport, and there is a feeling that golf is going to need all the help it can get in the post Tiger Woods era.

By all accounts, players like Scott and Oosthuizen are fantastic ambassadors for the game of golf and credits to their respective nations, but do these players need to consider the bigger picture, and do they even have any responsibility to do so?

Are there more high-profile withdrawals to come?

And once the dust has settled, how will players who did take part feel about the impact it had on their schedules?

Some of these questions will be answered, and no doubt more will be asked, in the weeks and months to come.

Michael Schmitt

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