The self-centred and appalling behaviour of golf’s elite male players choosing to opt out of playing in the Olympics is nothing more than another example of putting oneself in front of seemingly irrelevant concerns as growing the game and representing one’s country (let’s file this one away come Ryder Cup time). To call it anything else is absurd. If that hurts their tender mercies, then they’ll just have to be offended and exposed for the frauds that they are. If it is, as at least one person has opined, related to drug testing, then that’s really all you need to know (Olympic drug testing protocols are stricter than those on the PGA, European, or LPGA Tours). None of these individuals should ever, under any circumstance, be permitted to represent their country in competition again.
On a positive, it’s great that Graham DeLaet is truly honoured and excited to represent his country (Mr. DeLaet’s rushing to assist the victims of the Fort McMurray fire are also noteworthy and laudable). I’m not fans of theirs, but my respect and appreciation to Patrick Reed and Bubba Watson for not opting out and choosing to go over to represent their country. I hope they have the opportunity to participate in the Opening Ceremony. It’s also positive to see that the women (who get 1/10th the publicity of their male counterparts despite conducting themselves flawlessly) have not had this raft of withdrawals, and are uniformly excited at the prospect of participating in the Olympics. Good on them.
For Dustin Johnson (who opted out via press release late on a Friday night; i.e. the Friday Night Dump), he could have conferred with his father in law (Wayne Gretzky) who knows more about Olympic heartache, glory and passion than he ever will. He was part of the first group of NHL players who went to Japan in 1998 (during the middle of the season) to play in the Olympics. For all his effort he came home with a 4th place finish after two heart-breaking losses (including a shootout loss in the semi-final to the Czech Republic when Gretzky was not picked as one of the shooters). Four years later he was the GM of the 2002 Canadian team that broke a 50-year spell of not winning gold at the Olympics. Here’s a taste of what this meant to him (during the Olympic tournament). Not a dollar of money was at stake. If you feel the need to run through a wall afterwards, it’s completely understandable.
When you consider the considerable effort and lobbying that went into getting golf re-introduced to the Olympic program (among others, Jack Nicklaus, Annika Sorenstam, Ty Votaw, Suzann Petterson, Peter Dawson, Padraig Harrington and Michelle Wie lent their voices and time to the campaign), it’s a scathing indictment on the state of the game that the top 4 men in the World Ranking have said “thanks but no thanks” to the Olympic experience because they will be the poorer for it in the long run. Not monetarily, but in terms of an experience. The men and women who medal won’t care, and the global audience will likely not care much either.
It’s sad because come Ryder Cup/President’s Cup time, if selected they will spew the inevitable pre-written lines about love of playing for country, but somehow, playing in the Olympics is too much of an ask, with the current concern being the Zika Virus and security. Except that we’re in the middle of summer and there are cases of Zika here in North America. And security has been a concern of every Olympics since that awful day in West Germany in 1972. Compare the indifference of golf to that the other new sport, rugby sevens (a 7-a-side version of rugby) has had zero players opt out (and yes, they’ll be playing their matches outdoors); in fact you’ve had scores of players from other codes try out for their country’s Olympic team. Nor are any of the soccer players opting out, including the American women. None of the women playing in their Olympic golf tournament have opted out either. Are they playing in some Zika-free zone that we’re unaware of? The vast majority of athletes are going over to do what Olympic athletes do. Despite the criminal enterprise that is the IOC, they will go over and compete to the best of their abilities (and if you go off of several stories, they blow off a lot of steam in the Olympic village with their fellow athletes).
Was Rio a good choice to host the Olympics? In a word, no (and sadly, like Athens and Montreal, they will experience crippling debt in the years to come). Staging an Olympics is, for the most part, an invitation for pending economic disaster unless you already have facilities and infrastructure built (Los Angeles 1984 remains the gold standard for a successful Olympics because they didn’t need to build facilities and anything that was built has been re-purposed). Neither was Sochi two years ago in Russia, but it didn’t stop athletes from going over and competing, including players from the NHL (and other professional leagues) who went over during the middle of their season to compete. The NHL players went over, stayed in the not-exactly-luxurious athlete’s village, and competed (sadly, the NHL players may not have the opportunity to participate in 2018 due to a disagreement between the NHL and the IIHF/IOC over player transportation costs and other issues).
I think of the sacrifices that so many athletes who will compete in Rio have made over the last four years (and those whose years of training were unsuccessful in making their country’s Olympic team), and I then compare that to the top 4 ranked men pulling out through press releases sent out by their management. I think of the athletes who will never win medals, and how their “moment” will be walking into the stadium during the Opening Ceremony; the joy on their faces at simply qualifying to be in the Olympics, and how these four individuals will never know that feeling, and seemingly not care (again, file away when they spew their bullshit about love of country come Ryder Cup/Presidents Cup time).
Yes, but there are also security concerns in Rio…right? Again- over 10,000 athletes seem willing to make the trip and compete (Michael Phelps is going and I’d argue his profile is just as high, if not higher, than the pampered foursome). The US basketball roster is pretty high profile as well, and yet- they’re willing to go over and represent their country.
The Olympics remains one of those events people watch en masse. It will be talked about on social media and the work place. I still remember the day after the Gold Medal Game of the 2010 Olympic hockey tournament (Canada beat the U.S. in overtime), and people I worked with who aren’t hockey fans and never watch hockey…well they watched. And loved it. And were heartbroken when Canada scored the overtime winner (sorry). Each Olympics has had similar stories. Given an opportunity to be part of something larger than themselves, these four have chosen the other path.
If you want an individual sport comparable, look no further than tennis which has many similarities to golf. I still remember watching the wild scenes in London when Andy Murray upset Roger Federer (below) to win the gold medal in 2012. To see how much it meant to him, even though he was a professional with millions of dollars in winnings and endorsements, was something I’ll never forget. Or to think of a young Jennifer Capriati break down with emotion in 1992 after upsetting Steffi Graf to win gold in Barcelona. They were primarily concerned with the success of their own careers, but they put that on hold and represented their country in the Olympics, and they, their sport, and the viewing public were the better for having witnessed it.
To hear Rory McIlroy today speak about not caring about growing the game, but only of winning major championships is particularly distasteful. The man is the antithesis of what a sportsman should be. I think about the efforts of men like Arnold Palmer and Gary Player have put forward to grow the game of golf, and how the professional tours owe men like these (and others) a debt that can only be repaid by paying it forward to the next generation. For McIlroy to go to the Euro 2016 soccer tournament as a fan, wear a shirt with George Best’s face on it (certainly the finest soccer player from Northern Ireland) and watch Northern Ireland (who played in a major tournament for the first time in 30 years) and after that, decide that going to the Olympics was too much for him is someone who clearly has his head somewhere that it doesn’t belong. He has the right to be a self-centred idiot, but you’ll pardon me if I choose not to celebrate this.
The players who have chosen to not participate have the right to do so, but this decision must come at a cost of a permanent disqualification from Ryder Cup, President’s Cup or future Olympic participation. They simply cannot be permitted to represent their country again in competition after this act of what can only be considered selfish cowardice. It gives me no pleasure in writing this, but it’s troubling when these professionals can’t be bothered to give up two weeks of their life to represent their country in the Olympics when thousands of athletes, given the same circumstances, have chosen to go to Rio and compete.