A CON­VE­NIENT EX­CUSE

Our edi­tor-at-large be­lieves those who have pulled out of Rio are miss­ing a golden op­por­tu­nity, not just for them­selves but for the game as a whole

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ef­i­ni­tion of the Zika Virus: A mosquito­borne in­fec­tion first iden­ti­fied in Africa in 1947. For most peo­ple it re­sults in a mild flu-like re­ac­tion, but in a small mi­nor­ity it is be­lieved it can cause mi­cro­cephaly in an un­born child.

Al­ter­na­tive def­i­ni­tion: a get-out-of-jail-free card for any­one who doesn’t fancy go­ing to Brazil for (1) busi­ness (2) hol­i­day or (3) to at­tend the Olympics, ei­ther as par­tic­i­pant or spec­ta­tor.

No one should un­der­es­ti­mate the po­ten­tial ef­fects of Zika. Head size may be re­duced and brain dam­age may oc­cur. Cur­rently, there are ap­prox­i­mately 2,000 such chil­dren in Brazil out of a pop­u­la­tion of 209,603,105 (July 2016). But the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion rec­om­mends that no one should skip these Games be­cause of Zika. Chances of get­ting it are low (es­pe­cially at this time of year); chances of get­ting it if sim­ple pre­cau­tions are taken are, they say, very low.

So, while no one should un­der­play Zika, it is equally wrong to over­es­ti­mate the threat. Still, each of us must do what we feel is best for us. Right? Yes, of course. Ex­cept that we also have to build into this in­ter­nal de­bate our place in a big­ger pic­ture be­fore mak­ing a fi­nal ‘me’ de­ci­sion.

I didn’t par­tic­u­larly yearn for golf to join ten­nis and foot­ball (other sports with more sig­nif­i­cant oc­ca­sions to dream about) but I did en­dorse the fact that by be­com­ing a full-on Olympic sport – a po­si­tion not yet at­tained, re­mem­ber – the game would hugely ben­e­fit glob­ally from ex­po­sure to a new au­di­ence and, more per­ti­nently, by be­ing able to plug into new fund­ing.

It has been dis­ap­point­ing to the point of de­spair­ing, there­fore, to wit­ness so many of the cur­rent poster boys of the old game turn their backs on Brazil. There have been a va­ri­ety of rea­sons for the ab­sence of, among oth­ers, Ja­son Day, Dustin John­son, Jor­dan Spi­eth, Rory McIl­roy, Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Shane Lowry and Bran­den Grace.

Not all have quoted Zika – some have of­fered sched­ul­ing dif­fi­cul­ties as a rea­son. Sched­ul­ing dif­fi­cul­ties? Re­ally? These are men who hop on pri­vate jets like we clam­ber on trains and whose idea of a de­lay is wait­ing five min­utes on the tar­mac for the drinks cab­i­net to be re­plen­ished.

Mean­while, McIl­roy’s com­ments dur­ing The Open – “I’ll prob­a­bly watch the Olympics but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I watch. [I’ll watch] the stuff that

Dmat­ters” – must have had In­ter­na­tional Golf Fed­er­a­tion Pres­i­dent Peter Daw­son more than slightly ir­ri­tated. His wry com­ment that there had been “some­thing of an over­re­ac­tion. I take great heart from the fact that we haven’t yet lost a green­keeper” is al­ready a col­lec­tor’s item on eBay.

I mostly ad­mire McIl­roy but this was daft, al­most ar­ro­gant guff. I was present seven years ago in Ire­land when he dis­missed the Ry­der Cup as an “ex­hi­bi­tion match,” a com­ment I ex­cused as he was a naïve, young lad yet to grow up. No such ex­cuse this time I’m afraid.

I thought of this sort of thing as I played golf with Tom James re­cently to mark the sixth an­niver­sary of the On Course Foun­da­tion, which I’ve men­tioned be­fore in this space. It’s an ad­mirable or­gan­i­sa­tion that helps badly in­jured ser­vice­men to re­ha­bil­i­tate through golf. Tom plays in the Mid­lands off a 26 hand­i­cap at present, which is not half bad con­sid­er­ing his phys­i­cal chal­lenges.

In the same year that Rory gave us his ill-con­sid­ered anal­y­sis of the Ry­der Cup, a then 20-year-old Tom was head­ing out on pa­trol in Afghanistan. He never saw the IED hid­den in a tree that ripped off his right arm and re­duced his left hand to one fully op­er­at­ing fin­ger.

“It was the first day of a three-day pa­trol so at least the lads were happy that they could go straight back in with me,” he said. “Learn­ing to play golf has meant an aw­ful lot, al­though I still don’t like trees much.”

Since then, Tom has got a job in Civvy Street and met and mar­ried Kel­lie. In April, their son Fred­die ar­rived to join his three-year-old sis­ter Evie Mae. Would Tom go to Brazil if asked? Do you re­ally need the an­swer to that ques­tion?

I guar­an­tee that who­ever wins a Gold Medal for golf, it will mean as much to them as any­thing they have ever won. Even if it doesn’t come with a cheque at­tached.

To be fair, many play­ers get what this Olympic ca­per is about and how unique the ex­pe­ri­ence can be. Like Eng­land’s Danny Wil­lett, who can’t wait to take his green blazer to Rio and then sit and chat to the likes of Andy Mur­ray about the sub­tly de­mand­ing art of win­ning any­thing any­where. The oth­ers are miss­ing out on some­thing spe­cial and hurt­ing the game.

“It has been dis­ap­point­ing, to the point of de­spair­ing, to wit­ness so many poster boys of the old game turn their backs on Brazil”

Bill El­liott is Golf Monthly’s edi­tor-at-large and Golf Am­bas­sador for Prostate Can­cer UK

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