Rio 2016: For reluctant golf stars, Zika virus provides escape route

  • Robin Bose, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jul 11, 2016 17:03 IST
Rory Mcllroy tees off during the first round of The Memorial Tournament. (AFP Photo)

After the spate of high-profile withdrawals, teeing up at Rio, with the threat of the Zika virus in mind, can be likened to tackling a dogleg (a hole that bends at some point along its length) on the golf course.

If one were to go with Jack Nicklaus, the strategy would be: “Play close to trouble off the tee and get a better angle into the green, and you’ll be rewarded for pulling off a tough shot.” For an Olympic aspirant, the prize would be returning with a slice of history, if not a medal. After all, the sport is making a return after 112 years.

For those unwilling because of the perceived threat, it would be a safer drive away from trouble. This would mean a tougher approach shot, but that’ll hardly cause anxiety for this group.

Anirban Lahiri put it in perspective. “A lot of golfers never aspired for the Olympics as it never existed for them. The Olympics may be the pinnacle of sport in certain disciplines, but not in golf.”

The world No 62 will be partnering SSP Chawrasia at the Games, and for the duo a medal means the world. “For an Indian, an Olympic medal would be ultimate glory, but not for an American or Chinese,” he said.

Anirban’s views echo what former world No 1 Rory McIlroy had to say in defence of his pullout. The Northern Irishman fails to understand the pursuit for ultimate glory every four years. For him and many others the desire for major trophies is kindled four times a year.

“Most other athletes dream their whole lives of winning an Olympic gold, but we haven’t. We dream of winning (British Open) Claret Jugs and (Masters) green jackets. I have four Olympic Games a year, that’s my pinnacle,” said McIlroy.

If glory at the Augusta National Golf Club (venue of The Masters) is a driving force, it needs to be asked if McIlroy would have teed off had bubonic plague broken out in Georgia. The answer is obvious.

A look at the withdrawals might give the impression that it’s the top echelon that’s chickened out --- Dustin Johnson the latest to join No 1 Jason Day, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Hideki Matsuyama and Branden Grace among others, but that’s hardly the case.

Sergio Garcia, currently ranked 12th in the world, will be there. “I know there r some dangers but representing Spain, trying to make golf grow & becoming an Olympian r too important so I’ll be at @Olympics,” he tweeted.

Zaco van Zyl, enthused after his more illustrious South African compatriots Grace, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen pulled out, has decided to give the British Open and PGA Championship a miss to be fresh for Rio.

In the midst to get right what the players feel is the best for them, it needs to be kept in mind that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) votes next year on whether to keep golf beyond the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, who has made the US team, feels golf stands a fair chance. “The IOC has to look at this and go, ‘don’t penalise golf because of a weird situation’,” he said.

Others like Colin Montgomerie are unsure. “Am I worried about golf’s future in the Olympics, very much so. First time we’re back in the Olympics since 1904 and we don’t show up.

“The IOC will have a good look and think, ‘hang on a minute, what’s happened here? We’ve suddenly had to find around 300 new rooms, and we’ve had to build a golf course. That goes into multi millions, and they don’t show up.’ If I were in-charge of the IOC, I’d have a second look.”

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