Golfers grow up dreaming of wearing green jackets on their backs, not gold medals around their necks.
Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy are the top four ranked golfers on the planet – and none of them will be representing their countries this August when golf makes it’s underwhelming return to the Olympics.
The seemingly non-stop withdrawal of elite talent from the event has watered down the field to near-submerging levels, with many of the world’s best choosing to pass up on the summer games for a plethra of reasons.
It appears that men’s golf will not be hosting nearly the spread of stars that the IGF and IOC were anticipating – and with barely a handful of recognizable names choosing to attend what is supposed to be the world’s premier athletic spectacle, it won’t even be in the same stratosphere.
The threat of the Zika Virus has been cited by many golfers, on top of numerous athletes from various other sports, as the primary reason for choosing to skip the trip to Brazil In August. This year’s US Open champion and current world number-two, Dustin Johnson, released a statement explaining his decision to withdraw from the American team:
“This was not an easy decision for me, but my concerns about the Zika Virus cannot be ignored. Paulina and I plan to have more children in the near future, and I feel it would be irresponsible to put myself, her, or our family at risk. I believe I am making the right decision for me and most importantly, my family.”
The risk of contracting a relatively unknown and life-threatening virus is a highly frightening prospect for anybody. Add in the pressure of competing at the highest level of your sport while hopes of your country ride on your back, and it’s too much for most to handle. Understandably prioritizing the health and futures of their families, several other golfers and athletes have pulled chute on Rio for the same reason as Johnson.
That risk of exposure from a simple mosquito bite is especially great for those competing in sports like golf. Primarily played near forests and long grass while surrounded by water and sand, the game is literally staged directly within and atop of habitats where mosquito’s thrive – leaving many golfers feeling they would be foolishly putting themselves directly in harms way by choosing to compete.
Health and family are always the priorities of any moral person, and tied into that equation more often then not is money and security. This is especially clear when speaking of any driven athlete at the peak of their profession – both skillfully and financially.
IF IT WON’T MAKE DOLLARS THAN IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE
Cash is still king when it comes to pro golf, and in this case, the money doesn’t match the madness.
Unlike amateur athletes who makeup the majority of competitors at the Olympics, golf (along with a few other sports) have decided to go the professional route. Hoping to attract eyeballs of new audiences from around the world to the biggest stars in their sport, leagues like the NHL and NBA have increased the value of their world-wide brand and exposure to the masses by sending their athletes to the games.
Golf is trying to follow the same model, but the contrast in league structures make for a vastly different challenge. The NBA and NHL are team sports and also ‘team leagues’. Revenue sharing is at the foundation of their economic structures, so when the league does well – as do the players. On the PGA tour, if you don’t earn, you burn.
Golfer’s make their living primarily through prize money and endorsement deals, with most of the world’s top pro’s earning multi-millions per year in sponsorships alone. At the amateur level for relatively unknown athletes, there is a huge potential reward in the form of a big-money endorsements for performing well at the Olympics (see, Michael Phelps).
With hundreds of the worlds best players already locked up on multiple long-term sponsorship deals and endorsements, the potential monetary reward that can be gained as a result of a good performance on a stage such as the Olympics just simply isn’t there for golfers like it is for most other athletes.
The 2016 Olympic tournament is scheduled for August 11-14th, the same weekend as the John Deere Classic, right after the final two majors, and just before the start of the FedEx Cup playoffs.
The champion of the FedEx Cup will net a paycheque north of $10-million dollars , and a top-10 finish in a major can earn millions in prize money and endorsements.
The purse offered by the JDC, which is conflicting with the Olympic tournament this year, is set at a cool $4.8-million.
With insanely lucrative prize money up for grabs on the tour, and the IOC offering a purse of exactly zero dollars – it’s easy to understand why the stress of competing in an Olympic tournament that they haven’t grown up caring about would be very low on their priorities list.
NO OLYMPIC CULTURE, BUT THE GOLF BOYS ALWAYS REPRESENT
Most competing in this summer’s games, across all sports, will be there not for money, but for the pride of representing their country and the prestige of competing in the world’s most prominent sporting event.
For PGA pros, who’s own grandfathers haven’t even seen an Olympic golf competition in their lifetime (the last tournament was in 1904), there is absolutely no lustre or appeal to competing in the games. It is not engrained as part of their sport culture and they did not grow up believing an Olympic gold medal is something they should value as a career achievement.
The British Open, The Masters, The US Open. Those are prestigious jewels in the golf community and the most coveted prizes a professional will ever pursue. When you are raised on the links and in a culture where winning majors is placed on the highest pedestal of all, you don’t care about medals and you certainly won’t risk your chance of winning a major for a tournament that didn’t exist until this year.
Golf pros don’t need the Olympics as a platform to represent their country like many other athletes do. Every time they hit the links for a PGA tour event, they are representing their nation through branding on and off the course.
Digital leaderboards used during television broadcasts more often than not have visuals of the players home-country’s flag directly beside their name. When announced at the beginning of each tournament to the live audience, their home country is a prominent part of the player’s introduction, and often a large flag is stitched to their golf bag -hanging with pride as they represent their home nation with every swing they take.
Top players also have the opportunity every year to represent their country on an international scale larger in the golf world than the Olympics will ever be – The Ryder and President’s Cups. Alternating every year between the United States and venues across Europe, these prestigious tournaments offer the best from the United States and around the world an opportunity to compete on Golf’s biggest stage battling for golf’s most coveted team trophy.
While there has been no Olympic golf the past 112 years, there has been the Ryder cup. Established in 1927, this Biennial team event (which alternates annually with the Presidents Cup) is held is very high regard by top pros in the game and fans across the sport.
Pinning up the USA against Europe and the rest of the world over decades of fierce competition has harboured a rivalry between golf fans and players around the world that is an enjoyable for for us to watch as it is for them to show.
Because of the prestige of this event engrained in the swings of aspiring golfers from the earliest age, the Olympics will never stand a chance of capturing the hearts of the international links community like the Ryder Cup does. The Games of the Olympiad lost it’s chance to compete when it disappeared from the golf landscape entirely for more than a century.
Whether the reason for withdrawing is health, money, or not-giving-a-shit related, these top pros have spoken and their message is loud and clear. They don’t care about medals and they don’t care about the Olympics. Who can blame them?
– – –
For more on this check out our Catch-22 podcast:
Follow author: @kylecants