zika excuse

Rio 2016 Olympic Golf

With the 2016 Olympic Games on the horizon, a group of prospective participants are giving the whole business a snub.

Golf is returning as an Olympic game after being away since the word sticks was an accurate description for the equipment being used. And many of the top professional players in the world have announced they will not attend. Most are citing the fear of the Zika virus and family concerns, and some are probably happy they have this as a built in excuse.

Some pundits and holy men of sport, and golf, have decried the notion that the top players in the world are disinclined to play is a black mark on the sport and the reemergence of golf as an Olympic game will be a disaster and could result in the sport being terminated faster than it was reinstated. The notion is, this isn’t good for golf, certainly not good for the Olympics, and shame upon those who don’t view the opportunity of winning an Olympic gold medal as having great merit. Naturally the pundits and holy men are wrong.

There is no doubt the line between professional and amateur has long been blurred when it comes to the Olympics, but the idea of amateurism in the games is still part of the spirit of the competition. We have athletes who are considered amateurs but make a lot of money from sponsorships and other endorsements. And we have professional basketball and tennis players that are regular fixtures at the Olympics, yet I doubt any of them would trade an NBA championship or Wimbledon title for an Olympic gold medal, especially if they didn’t have one of those titles.

While winning an Olympic gold medal in any sport is an achievement, the fact remains that a professional golfer had much rather win the U.S. Open or the British Open than a pile of gold medals. Giving up a tournament that pays serious money and lifetime prestige, or gerrymandering their schedule to fit the Olympics in, is not what a lot of professional golfers see as advancing their careers.

This should not be considered a knock on those professionals but rather a rational decision on where they believe the importance of their sport lies.

But this is all fixable before the 2020 games should the Olympic organizers want to make golf into a real Olympic sport.

Eliminate the idea of allowing professionals from any level to play. Have ever country that wants to send a participate have a qualifying, same as they do in gymnastics, swimming and track and field.

This would open the Olympics to amateurs all over the world. Certainly any number of college golfers would relish the idea of playing for an Olympic gold medal, and for them it would be an achievement and perhaps a stepping stone to a professional career but not something to do as a passing fancy. And it would not just be college golfers.

There are very good amateur players all over the world, people who may have dreamed of making a living playing golf and perhaps didn’t have the opportunity because life got in the way, but who might decide to put down the hammer or laptop and try to qualify for the Olympics as a once in a lifetime goal. The idea of a 40-year-old insurance salesman from Idaho or a young man working on a sheep farm in Australia having the opportunity to compete on the world stage and win a gold medal would invigorate the sport.

The desire to compete would be real, as would the competition, and the results would demonstrate the drive to win an Olympic gold medal as an achievement and not an afterthought in a professional career, are what the Olympics should promote and encourage.

This is not likely to happen, of course, because the people who run the Olympics are rivaled in corruption and incompetence only by the NCAA, and exceeded only by those who run world soccer.

Golf as an Olympic sport is justified, and could be a showcase for amateur talent all over the world, but it will never succeed if the Olympic organizers pin their hopes on the biggest names in the sport deciding to play because it’s something to do.

And next time they may not have the Zika virus as an excuse.

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Ric Latarski

Ric Latarski has written for a variety of publications in the Atlanta area, was a stringer for Time Magazine, did commentary for Georgia Public Radio and wrote the guidebook, Atlanta: 101 Great Choices. He now writes fiction and recently completed his first novel.