Fresh off his first major victory, Dustin Johnson is facing a major decision.
As the world’s top golfers continue to withdraw from Olympic consideration, the newly-minted U.S. Open champion is still planning to compete in Rio when his sport returns to the Games for the first time in 112 years.
For now, anyway.
“The last time we talked about it he was full steam ahead,” Johnson’s agent, David Winkle, told GOLF.com. “There was a time a couple months back when he had some real concerns, but he seems to have moved beyond those and is comfortable with going. But, who knows? He could call me today and [withdraw].”
On Wednesday, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy became the highest-ranked golfer to withdraw from the competition, saying that “even though the risk of infection from the Zika virus is considered low, it is a risk nonetheless and a risk I am unwilling to take.” His countryman Graeme McDowell followed suit on Thursday.
The mosquito-borne Zika virus has reached epidemic proportions in Brazil, and there is a growing scientific consensus linking infection to severe birth defects when women contract Zika during pregnancy. The virus can also be sexually transmitted, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, the virus can remain in semen longer than in blood, “but we don’t know exactly how long Zika stays in semen.”
Winkle works for Hambric Sports Management, which represents more than a dozen Tour pros, including Brooks Koepka, who is currently the second reserve on the U.S. team. Winkle said that the withdrawal of top players like McIlroy could definitely pave the way for others to make the same decision.
“I think everyone is watching one another,” Winkle said. “I’ve always felt it’s kind of like dominoes: If intelligent thoughtful players make the decision not to go because of health concerns, that could influence other players to ask themselves whether they should be worried too.”
With McIlroy joining Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and others on the sidelines, the field could become so diluted of top talent that even players without health concerns might simply lose interest in the hardware.
“If the competition gets to the point where it’s kind of a non-competition where you’re winning a gold medal against a much weaker field, I think that can have an impact on some of the guys,” Winkle said. “I guess time will tell.”