Remember the Zika virus?
That was the virus that had many people, including athletes, concerned about attending the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Some athletes even used the Zika virus as a reason – or an excuse – for not attending those Games.
Move forward five years, after a one-year postponement for the Summer Olympics in Tokyo because of the coronavirus, and there are still athletes who are finding reasons to not participate in the Games. And once again, men’s golf is one of the sports where some top players are bailing out.
Golfers who turned down their chance to play in the Tokyo Olympics later this month are Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer. All four are major championship winners, and all four would have been given pretty good chances to win a medal in Tokyo. But all four found reasons not to accept their invitations to the Olympics. Adam Scott, another major winner, announced weeks ago he would opt out of the Games.
With golf entering its second year back in the Summer Olympics, the idea that five of the bigger names in the game are skipping the Olympics is disappointing. Their absence begs the question that was true five years ago in Brazil: Do the top golfers care about the Olympics, an event that didn’t seem to care about golf for more than a century and which adds an international competition to a year where the calendar is already pretty packed?
It’s not just golfers skipping the Olympics
To be fair, those five golfers are just five of the 60 original players who qualified for men’s golf in the Olympics. So that’s less than 10 percent of the original field that declined to participate. In other words, 55 of the original 60 golfers, including some of the biggest names in the golf world, will play in Tokyo. And there were no problems in replacing the golfers who declined to play.
As was true in Brazil, the men are the golfers who are backing away from their Olympic chance, not the women who play in a separate four-day competition. In fact the four American women who qualified for the Games will all play, and LPGA social media was flooded with photos of players like Jessica Korda and Danielle Kang draped in an American flag to celebrate their Olympic berths.
And it’s also important to note that the top two U.S. women’s tennis players eligible for the Tokyo Games and the top four U.S. men’s tennis players who earned berths into the Games also declined their invitations. So it is not fair to target just men golfers for a lack of Olympic love.
The reasons for skipping the Olympics this year may have something to do with the COVID-19 pandemic, and certainly the Tokyo events will be different with mostly local residents being allowed to watch the events in person. But the reason stated most by the five players was just how heavy the schedule in the pandemic year has been. When the British Open is played later this month but before the Olympics, golfers will have played six major championships since last August, with the rescheduled Ryder Cup coming in September after the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Garcia said he would love to represent Spain in the Olympics, but wants to focus on the Ryder Cup instead. Johnson, who didn’t play in the 2016 Games, announced two months ago when he was the No. 1 player in the world rankings that he wasn’t going to the Olympics. Oosthuizen didn’t play in the 2016 Games and is saying much the same thing this year, that scheduling issues are keeping the South African star out of the Tokyo event. Scott said he preferred to return to Australia and spend time with his family after a busy summer in the United States.
So you start to see a pretty obvious pattern — that some golfers who didn’t play in 2016 won’t play in 2021, and for some of the same reasons. The Olympics aren’t that important in the eyes of those golfers, or at least not important enough to disrupt their professional schedule.
Olympics golf will be played this month, and six golfers will walk away with medals of gold, silver or bronze, just like players such as Justin Rose and Inbee Park did in 2016. But golf will have to realize that unlike the 100-yard backstroke or the high jump or the balance beam, the Olympics will never be the end all for some golfers.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer, he can be reached at email@example.com or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_Bohannan.