AKRON, Ohio -- It’s getting easier by the week to win a gold medal in men’s golf at the Olympics. Jason Day, the no. 1 ranked golfer in the world, and Ireland’s Shane Lowry, the defending Bridgestone Invitational champion and U.S. Open runner-up, announced Tuesday that they will not be competing.
Both cited concerns over the Zika virus.
So far, the Olympics are missing three golfers ranked among the world’s top 10: Day (1), Rory McIlroy (4), and Adam Scott (8). A handful of other top names have bagged it, too, including Louis Oosthuizen; Charl Schwartzel; Graeme McDowell and Vijay Singh.
Australia and South Africa lead The Olympic Withdrawal Challenge with three each. Day’s departure means the Australian Olympic lineup is Scott Hend, ranked 35th, and Marcus Fraser, ranked 80th. For now, anyway.
The ongoing departures sparked a critical comment last week by an IOC official who questioned whether golf should be in the Olympics if its top players don’t compete—that was before Day’s dropout. After getting back into the Olympics after a 112-year absence, it is looking as if golf might be out after 2020.
It’s not that golfers aren’t supporting Olympic golf. They are supporting their families and their personal health. The Zika virus is such a real threat that more than a hundred physicians signed off on a letter to the World Health Organization saying that the games should be canceled or moved for safety reasons and to avoid spreading Zika worldwide.
If the Olympics were somewhere else, almost anywhere else where Zika wasn’t an issue, these guys would play.
But there’s more to the trepidation than just the mosquitoes lurking in the grass, the trees and the swampy areas around the course where golfers will spend eight to ten hours a day.
Brazil recently impeached its president and there is still political unrest, born of a slumping economy. Rio’s state government declared a “public calamity” last week and said that emergency actions (like millions more from the International Olympic Committee to pay for, well, everything) were needed to prevent a “total collapse in public safety, health, education, transport and environmental management.”
If you think Rio sounds like Detroit’s financial Armageddon only on a bigger scale, you may be right.
For Day and Lowry, however, it wasn’t about public safety, it was about personal health. Specifically, Zika.
Day’s wife, Ellie, told him months ago that she didn’t want him to go. You know the universal truth: wives rule. So Day was probably always doubtful for Rio. He and Ellie already have two children and hope to have more. So it was a personal health choice, an easy one, even though choosing not to represent Australia, his home country, was a difficult one.
Day didn’t announce his decision last week because he didn’t want to take attention away from the Quicken Loans National tournament, hosted by his pal, Tiger Woods.
“Unfortunately with what's going on in Rio with the Zika virus, there's a small chance it could happen, and I just can't put my family through that,” Day said. “My wife wants four kids, I want two, but she has the last say in that. My priority is family first.
“I also understand what an honor it is to represent your country and try to win a gold medal. That's why it was so hard for me to pull, because golf hasn't been in the Olympics for 112 years and to be one of Australia's first to represent golf in the Olympics would be an honor. I don't know if, with Rory and myself pulling out, that will trigger anyone else going. It's their decision.”
Lowry recently got married and said it was “with a heavy heart” that he made the decision to withdraw “but I have received firm medical advice that I should not to travel to Rio this summer.”
Day and Lowry said they each planned to play in the World Cup tournament later this year in Australia.
The withdrawals, which probably aren’t over yet, will be a talking point until the competition starts in Rio. Then, it won’t be about who’s missing, the attention will be on who’s winning.
“There won’t be an asterisk,” Day said. “You win a gold medal, you win a gold medal. Will there be an asterisk in Akron this week because Rory and the Europeans didn’t play? You win a tournament based on the competition you played against and it’s great, regardless.”