Olympic golf problems are complex; Harrington defends Lowry
Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro

Zika is just one factor keeping players away from Rio. 

Security concerns, transport problems, the insane summer schedule and a basic lack of excitement about what an Olympic medal might mean to an elite golfer are the other major factors being overshadowed by the minimal threat posed by the virus.

When Rory McIlroy said last week he was unavailable for selection, he cited the risk of contracting the Zika virus as a small threat he was unwilling to take.

Yesterday he added a new layer of meaning to that decision by speaking about security and the bald fact that the majors are more important to him right now.

He said: “I mean, look, what can I say? I feel like I have four Olympic Games a year. I have my four majors. They're the things that are most important to me. I weighed up the risks, I weighed up the reward, and I just felt like the reward at the end of it wasn't worth the risk of going down there. Whether it be Zika, whether it be security concerns, I just said, ‘You know what, I'm happy with my four Olympics a year – my four majors."

Jason Day pulled out citing Zika fears but also admitted that he never dreamed of Olympic gold.

While the sport is guaranteed a spot in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where many believe participation issues will be largely minimized, the vote on golf’s Olympic future will take place next year

“Golf has never been on anyone’s radar in the Olympics,” Day said. “I never grew up thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to represent my country in the Olympics,’ because there was never an opportunity to.”

World No 2 Jordan Spieth said there was more at stake that the virus and he was still studying his options.

“Right now, I’m uncertain,” Spieth said. “Always been excited about the possibility, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going.”

Elaborating, he said: “Just the security threats that Brazil and Rio have. I’ve heard some stories on both sides. Transportation is a big security issue down there, how to get from one place to another with the different kind of violence that we don’t see here.”

There has been speculation in Ireland that McIlroy’s decision to pull out was related to being obliged to wear official OCI issue New Balance clothing and sunglasses when he's paid $20m a year by Nike (his shoes and clubs were exempt) was not a factor.

McGinley said: “A lot of work that went into Rory’s participation in the Olympics at a number of different levels from his decision initially to declare for Ireland to the Nike /New Balance thing, to the logistics of getting Rory down there, to the legitimate security issues that we would have had with one of the superstars of the game, to the role that golf  was going to play in the Olympics. 

“They were all issues that I was dealing with and we jumped all those hurdles. His decision was only taken around the time of the US Open where he reversed his view on Zika and decided that although it was a very small risk, it wasn’t a risk he was willing to take.

“I can assure you, Rory was very, very committed to representing Ireland. As I said earlier, we all have to respect  that it is a decision that he took for his own personal reasons and in my opinion I honestly believe it was for no other reason that what he said.”

Age, it appears, is the major factor that’s preventing the 20-something from taking a chance with Zika.

Unlike many other Olympic sports, where the virus has not been a factor for a younger age group, golf’s older age profile means that many of the players know they will have future chances to win gold medals in Japan in 2020  compared to other athletes from who Rio is the last chance the may get to achieve their dream

Bubba Watson and his wife Angie have two adopted children, for instance.

“If I was the other way and I was planning on having more kids, I would not go,” Watson said. “But I’m not. I’m in a situation where that’s not happening, so my decision was a lot easier.”

Whether Spieth goes or not, he knows golf’s Olympic return could be short lived.

“No matter what I do, it’s already – there’s already been enough players (withdrawing) that I think it’ll definitely have an impact,” Spieth said. “Pending some crazy, great finish or whatever, I think there’s a significantly lower likelihood now of it staying in the Olympics than there was six months ago.”

Padraig Harrington defended the decisions of McIlroy, Lowry and McDowell to withdraw and explained why male golfers were so reluctant to take a chance on Rio.

“We’re a different breed of sports people because our career is so long and our age profile is so different,” Harrington told Sky Sports News HQ. "Golfers have a long career.

"Most of these guys pulling out would like to play this year, but they know that they'll have a chance in four years' time. That’s different for a lot of other athletes, who will only get one chance at the Olympics.

"I can understand players aren't going to take a risk this given year, but let's face it if it was our only chance to ever play the Olympics, I think a lot more of the guys would have taken that chance.

"They realise there are possibilities in the future, but someone like me who is coming towards the twilight of their career is going to take every chance I can to get to make the Olympics. This might be my one and only chance

“Tennis was badly received when it first came into the Olympics and for some people it won’t be a big priority, but for me the games are a big priority. It’s a significant thing in any sportsman's career.

"I've won three majors and there's very little that could be added to that. Even if I won a fourth major, it isn't majorly different to three. If I'm an Olympic athlete and I was being presented in China at the age of 70, then I guarantee the Olympic golf would be top of the list.

"There are golfers who underestimate it now, but they won't do so in 20 or 50 years' time. The four majors we have now have taken a long period of time for some of them to become majors, but our games changes and evolves, so just like tennis it will take time."

As for Lowry decision, the 44-year old was understanding.

“I think it could have been expected,” he told Liam Kelly in the Irish Independent. "He's just married and the possibility of starting a family means there are more things to be taken into account rather than the individual in this case. He has to put his family first.

"I know there has been a lot of criticism, but most of the golfers are married either with families, or with families on the way, whereas 99pc of the athletes going to the Games will be single.

"The Olympics comes every four years for an athlete. For them, it’s the be-all and end-all, whereas we'll have had 16 Majors in the time between the last Games and this one

“You've also got to understand, a lot of athletes just get one go at the Olympics, but you've got to look at the age profile of the golfers.

"Shane will have another chance in four years' time. It's not like it's a once in a lifetime opportunity.

"The reality is that nearly all these golfers that are pulling out are married. When you’re married, there is more than just one person to be considered."

Speaking to Newstalk’s Off the Ball about the withdrawals of McIlroy, Lowry and McDowell, Harrington added: “It’s very good news for me. Bad news for Irish golf.

"Nobody would want to play for their country more than Shane Lowry. No-one would like to go to the Olympics more than Shane... You can't question Shane's loyalty."