Olympic golf needs more than lure of gold to succeed

Delaney Mayfield

The Olympic host country adds a sport to the roster each year. This year, Brazil decided on golf as their addition to the Olympic Games. Twenty-one golfers have dropped out of the Olympics since their appointments. The current state of Brazil gave golfers an excuse to not attend the Olympics which has left the event lacking the competition that the Olympic usually allows for.

When the Olympics re-introduced golf after its 112-year absence,, they saw it as a way to grow the game internationally and, most importantly, bring economic benefits. The hopes were that by bringing golf to Brazil it would grow interest in the courses which could potentially bring in billions of dollars a year. The efforts made by the Brazilian government came a little too late, so on June 17, Brazil declared a “state of public calamity,” preventing Brazil from honoring their commitments to the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

The Zika virus has been the main concern of the Olympic golfers. The top four players in the world, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spiethall dropped out citing health risks. Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected mosquito species. The virus can cause fevers, rashes and joint pain and even death. There is no cure or treatment for the virus.

Golfers have voiced their concerns not just concerning themselves, but their families as well. Jason Day, currently ranked number one in the world, was one of the first to dropped out due to the virus. Day admitted he understood the risk to his family from the mosquito-borne virus was small, but didn’t want to risk it.

The golfers voiced that their decision was not an easy one. Jordan Spieth, a former UT attendee, asked himself whether being an Olympian was worth the possible health risks. He later compared the difficulty of his decision to his choice between attending UT or going pro.

Many players, including Day and Spieth, have said they will go the Olympics in Tokyo if they are chosen to play.

Critics reasoned their dropouts were because of the lack incentives for these professional player to attend the Olympics. Four-time Olympian runner Ryan Gregson argued that “if the Olympics was a fifth major in golf they’d all be there and there would be no talk about Zika virus from those guys.”

His argument can’t be ignored. The Olympic committee did nothing to set the game apart from any other tour these players attend in the summer. A 72-hole course is just like any other course on schedule without the history of The Open or The Masters. The way the Brazilian Olympic committee structured the game, there was no incentive other than an Olympic medal for these players. While an Olympic medal might sound like a dream for some, these players are taking in millions per tournament in the summer months. The Olympics seem like a pro bono tournament comparatively.

While the current dropouts have left the committee a little anxious, they have left the U.S. in a very favorable position. Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler are seated in first and third. But the Olympics are supposed to be the best of the best competing. After 21 players, including the top four, dropped out, the event became sub-par on the global scale of professional athletics.

The 2020 games will tell whether Brazil’s decisions regarding the event or the lack of incentive was the reason for the golfers’ refusal to play. The golf at Rio will not showcase the best players that golf has to offer and will not contribute to Brazil’s goal of economic growth.

Mayfield is an MIS junior from Tyler.