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
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