No Road to Rio for Rory McIlroy

So, R-Mac says it as it is.  Yes, it was blunt.  Some of it was rather unwise.  But most of it was true.  Golf has no place in the Olympics.

Rory McIlroy, along with all true sports fans, will be watching “the stuff that matters” at the Olympics.  Like the running, and the swimming, the fencing and the throwing, the shooting, the canoeing, the tumbling and the rowing.  Proper, traditional Olympic sports where winning an Olympic medal is the pinnacle of achievement.  That should be the only criteria for inclusion.

Golf is in the Olympics because its powers that be want to grow its ‘brand’.  But why is it acceptable for a sport such as golf, which stages prestigious tournaments around the world and hands out millions in prize money to its top players, to use the Olympic Games as a marketing tool to grow its brand?  The Olympics are supposed to be a global sporting competition that celebrate athletic endeavour, not a marketing convention.

Yes, the top male golfers may have found an extremely convenient excuse in the threat of the Zika virus, but their en masse withdrawal reflects their tacit disapproval of golf’s participation in the Games, even if Adam Scott was the only one forthright enough to say it outright.  Predictably, the players have been condemned as selfish and accused of not playing because there is no money involved – which may or may not be true – but that accusation is rather ironic given the cynical money making exercise the Olympics have become.  Surely if the players were so greedy, they would be rushing to participate and increase their global profile so they could make more money out of it even if they weren’t directly paid for competing, not staying away like there was a potential virus going around.

Of course, there might be another, more prosaic explanation: the Olympics are a scheduling nightmare for the players.  The Games are in the way of golf’s own Olympics – the Majors.  The Majors are what matter in golf.  Golfers do not dream of winning Olympic gold; they dream of cradling the Claret Jug and wearing the Green Jacket.

The biggest of them, The Open, starts this week, and the US PGA will follow straight after, because it had to be bumped forward from its traditional August slot to accommodate the Olympics in the same month.  So basically, the players are being forced to play two Majors (did I mention they are the tournaments that actually matter in golf?) back to back in the space of two weeks.  And hot on the heels of the Olympics comes the Ryder Cup in September.  Plus, there are other events taking place on the Tour.  No wonder the players want to avoid the Olympics.  How the devil are they supposed to fit it all in?  Particularly without compromising the quality of their performance?

Obviously nobody within golf’s governing body, the IGF, had the foresight to realise what a scheduling headache they would be letting themselves in for every four years when they were desperately lobbing the IOC for inclusion in the Olympics.  A quick glance at the golfing calendar would have revealed that the Olympics fall bang in the middle of the last two Majors of the season.  This is in contrast to tennis, where there is a longer gap between Grand Slams, giving the players ample time to indulge in the Olympic experience, and it perhaps explains their unstinting support for the Olympics.  But for golf, the IGF face the prospect of having to change their golfing calendar every fourth year, to accommodate the Olympics.  Cue quadrennially unhappy golfers.

Golfers are entitled to prioritise the Majors and the Tour because those are the events that define a golfer’s career and legacy.  And yes, the money comes in handy too.  We have all got to make a living.  Instead of castigating the players for not being interested in competing at an event which is of no relevance to their sport, the critics should direct their opprobrium at golf’s governing body for their short-sightedness in pursuit of brand growth.

Golf doesn’t need to be in the Olympics to grow the game; golf’s greatest marketing tool is its own players.  What the sport needs is for its top players, such as Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, to play great, entertaining golf, win Majors, and create a barnstorming rivalry in the way of the ‘big four’ in tennis.  And the best place for them to showcase their talents isn’t in the exotic tropics of Rio, but at golf’s spiritual home in bonny, blustery Scotland, where its most prestigious tournament, The Open, is taking place this week.

As the saying goes, there’s no place like home.

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