Players avoiding Rio as if Olympic golf is bad idea


By Tim Dahlberg

AP Sports Columnist

The plane was ready, so that wasn’t the issue.

PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem had a free charter lined up for the best players in the world to jet down to Brazil, play 18, and head back home. The occasion was a test event for the new Olympic sport on a golf course built specifically for the games in August.

The problem was, no one wanted to go. Not on a charter, or even a fast boat.

Instead, a few local players will try out the course next week to make sure it is ready for golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time in 112 years. A couple of threesomes, with maybe some lunch thrown in afterward.

Who knows? They might even share some tips on the new course — completed in November after years of delays — with the stars of the game. That, of course, is assuming the stars decide to play for their countries when the Olympics finally roll around.

No real explanation was given why no one raised their hand to play, other than scheduling difficulties. Finchem said in January that arrangements had been made to fly the top players in for the test event, something mandated by the IOC for every sport.

It could be they just haven’t caught the Olympic spirit yet. The last time golf was in the Olympics was 1904, so there’s not the familiarity of playing for a gold medal as there is in competing for a green jacket.

Or maybe this whole golf in the Olympics thing was simply a bad idea to begin with.

It’s not like the Olympics, already bloated beyond belief, needed new sports. Baseball and softball have been begging the IOC to be let back in the games, only to be told there are only so many medals to go around.

Somehow, though, golf found a way to sneak in. There was something about the pitch made about the possibility growing the game in poorer countries that appealed to the rich folks who run the IOC, though it’s doubtful any of the millions of Brazilians who live in the slums called favelas will be teeing off on the Rio course anytime in the near future.

A bad idea indeed. So bad that it’s hard to figure out just how the powers of golf were able to grease the skids with IOC members to make it happen.

Forget that it makes little sense to take players who compete against each other nearly every week anyway and put them in a 72-hole stroke play format they play every week so they can win a few trinkets to hang around their necks. Forget that that the Ryder Cup and the Presidents Cup are already established international events with the kind if history and excitement that Olympic golf will never generate.

Forget that taking the top two male and female players from participating countries — some of whom won’t be close to cracking the top 100 in the world — will make the field weaker than the John Deere Classic.

It’s already clear the players aren’t exactly rallying around the five-ring Olympic flag. They’ve got better things to do in upcoming months, preparing for the traditional four major championships and, for some, the Ryder Cup in early October.

You certainly can’t blame them for not going to the test event. The top ones are in Florida this week, where they’re playing Donald Trump’s course at Doral with a $1.62 million first prize at stake. Good chance the Donald himself will helicopter in over the weekend to pay his respects, and next week there’s another $6.1 million for players to share at the Valspar Championship.

Sure beats playing for $5 skins and fighting off Zika-laden mosquitoes in Brazil.

The refusal of any players to go to Brazil for the test event does more than reflect a widespread ambivalence toward the Olympics. It’s a statement that chasing dollars on the PGA Tour is far more important than chasing Olympic gold.

That may change as the Olympics draw closer. But for now, playing for Olympic gold seems more like an abstract concept than anything else.

With good reason, perhaps. It has, after all, been 112 years since it’s been done.

By Tim Dahlberg

AP Sports Columnist

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