Rory McIlroy Skipping the Rio Olympics Would Likely Spell the End of Olympic Golf

By Michael Shamburger

Several big name golfers have withdrawn their names for Olympic consideration. They include: Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Marc Leishman, Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez. Sure that’s extremely disappointing, and I wrote about the possible reasons an Olympic medal isn’t considered the top or one of the top honors in the sport, but with the spread of the Zika virus, golfers have another easy way to avoid the games.

Now, one of the big three is monitoring the spread of the virus and even though he’s received Zika injections, should he withdraw his name for consideration you can probably kiss Olympic golf good bye.

Rory McIlroy, who is coming off of a stellar win at the Irish Open, told the BBC that he’s considering not playing this year in the Rio Olympics solely because of the Zika virus.

"“Right now, I’m ready to go but I don’t want anything to affect that,” he said. Asked if there was a chance he might not go to Rio, McIlroy, replied: “Yeah.” But he added: “Right now I am going and looking forward to it.”"

Sound the alarms!

That’s not good for Olympic organizers who added the sport this year in hopes of attracting the top athletes in the game, and while it would make things easier on those who do choose to go to not have one of the big three names at the tournament, it is damning evidence that unlike other sports where a gold medal is the pinnacle of the sport, golfers aren’t willing to risk getting the Zika virus when the reward isn’t something like a green jacket, Claret Jug, or Wanamaker Trophy.

In Sports Illustrated’s anonymous golfer poll, 71% of players said they’d prefer a PGA Championship over a gold medal and 62% said they would rather win the Players Championship.

"“As it gets closer, I am relishing the thought of going down there and competing for gold,” McIlroy added. “But I have been reading a lot of reports about Zika and there have been some articles coming out saying that it might be worse than they’re saying and I have to monitor that situation. “I am actually going to get my injections on Wednesday – at least I will be immunized for whatever… if I do get bitten by a mosquito down there.”"

Masters champion Danny Willett echoed McIlroy’s concerns.

"Via ESPN: “We are monitoring it,” Willett told a press conference ahead of the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. “We’ve had an e-mail from the WHO [World Health Organisation] and we are keeping on top of it. “It’s not great, is it? There’s going to be 500,000 people watching the Olympics and you have 11,000 athletes right in the heart of where it’s at. “If it turns out that it would be a massive threat to myself or to Nic [his wife Nicole] or to the little man, then I probably wouldn’t go. Family comes first. But as it stands at the minute, I think everything should be okay. “We’re down to go and hopefully they can give us some proper guidelines as to how to keep it at bay and keep it under control so that it doesn’t ruin what could be potentially a fantastic Olympics.”"

While McIlroy and Willet may WANT to play for a gold medal in one of the only chances they may ever have to win one in a sport where they are top athletes, the risk does not appear to out-weigh the reward. Should either choose to skip this year and wait to play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it would be understandable, but if McIlroy does skip, the Olympic committee will definitely notice that the participation rate among the top names in the sport will be low. A vote on whether or not to include the sport beyond the 2020 Olympics will take place prior to the Tokyo games, and if the number of top golfers in attendance in Rio is low, there’s a very good chance that golf will not be a part of the 2024 games.

Once again, this is a clear sign that golfers don’t view a gold medal with as much admiration as they do other major tournaments. And once again, I don’t blame them.

[Eye On Golf]