Rory McIlroy Resents The Olympic Games For ‘Political’ Choice

Rory McIlroy tees off at Hazeltine National during the 2016 Ryder Cup.

Rory McIlroy says he resented how the Olympics forced him to decide whether he would represent Ireland or Britain and that it reached a point that it “wasn’t worth the hassle” to compete in Rio de Janeiro.

In an interview with the Sunday Independent in Ireland, McIlroy explained why he was so critical of golf’s return to the Olympics during a press conference at last summer’s British Open.

McIlroy, the four-time major champion from Northern Ireland, cited concerns over the Zika virus as his reason not to go to Rio.

He told the Irish newspaper that when the International Olympic Committee announced in 2009 that golf would be part of the program for the first time since 2004, “all of a sudden it put me in a position where I had to question who I am.”

“Who am I? Where am I from? Where do my loyalties lie? Who am I going to play for? Who do I not want to (upset) the most?” McIlroy said. “I started to resent it. And I do. I resent the Olympic Games because of the position it put me in. That’s my feelings toward it. And whether that’s right or wrong, that’s how I feel.”

McIlroy said he sent a text message to Justin Rose to congratulate him on winning the gold medal in Rio for Britain. He said Rose thanked him and asked if McIlroy felt as though he had missed out.

“I said, ‘Justin, if I had been on the podium (listening) to the Irish national anthem as that flag went up, or the British national anthem as that flag went up, I would have felt uncomfortable either way.'” McIlroy told the newspaper. “I don’t know the words to either anthem. I don’t feel a connection to either flag. I don’t want it to be about flags. I’ve tried to stay away from that.”

McIlroy was among several top stars who opted to skip the Olympics, most citing the Zika virus. He had been scheduled to play for Ireland until announcing in June he would not be going. Jordan Spieth did not announce his decision to miss Rio until a few days before the British Open. McIlroy spoke after Spieth, and the Olympics was brought up again.

McIlroy dismissed the notion that he had let down his sport, saying, “I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game.” He also said that he probably wouldn’t watch Olympic golf on TV, only “the stuff that matters.”

“Well, I’d had nothing but questions about the Olympics – ‘the Olympics, the Olympics, the Olympics’ – and it was just one question too far,” McIlroy said. “I’d said what I needed to say. I’d got myself out of it, and it comes up again. And I could feel it. I could just feel myself go, ‘Poom!’ And I thought, ‘I’m going to let them have it.’

“OK, I went a bit far,” he added. “But I hate that term, ‘growing the game.’ Do you ever hear that in other sports? In tennis? Football? ‘Let’s grow the game.’ I mean, golf was here long before we were, and it’s going to be here long after we’re gone. So I don’t get that, but I probably went a bit overboard.”

McIlroy said Olympic golf didn’t mean that much to him.

“It really doesn’t. I don’t get excited about it. And people can disagree, and have a different opinion, and that’s totally fine,” he said. “Each to their own.”

McIlroy, who is to play the South African Open this week, said he has never been driven by nationalism or patriotism because of where he was raised.

“And I never wanted it to get political or about where I’m from, but that’s what it turned into,” he said. “And it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth the hassle.”

Courtesy of Dublin (AP)

Jordan Spieth Says Rio Olympics Is Next Year’s ‘Fifth Major’

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott, the two headliners at this week’s Australian Open, have distinctly different excitement levels over next year’s Rio Olympics golf tournament.

While both agree a team competition would have been nice, Scott says he’ll go if he can fit it into his schedule, and isn’t very enthused. On Tuesday, however, Spieth said count him in unless he’s injured or, by some miracle, the world’s top-ranked golfer fails to qualify.

Spieth says he considers golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904 like a major and plans to be among the four-man American team in the 60-man field.

Last week at the Australian Masters, Scott, who is in line for Olympic selection alongside Jason Day in the Australian men’s team, showed little interest in packing his bags for Brazil.

“I’ve been pretty open and outspoken that it’s not really a priority of my scheduling next year, which is based around the majors. And if the Olympics fits in then it does,” Scott said Wednesday. “There is a gap in the schedule there … some time off looks quite good actually.”

He also said he felt Olympic organizers should have been “a little more creative than a little 72-hole stroke-play event.”

On Tuesday at The Australian Golf Club, where Spieth shot a final-round, course-record 63 last year to win the Australian Open, he said he’s enthused over being part of an American team.

“Just competing in the Olympics, just walking the opening ceremony, staying in the village and doing whatever it is, meeting these incredible athletes from around the world, hopefully that’s something I’ll be able to experience next August,” said Spieth, who moved on from his Australian victory last year to win consecutive majors at the Masters and U.S. Open.

Spieth likes to compare those majors with a potential victory at Rio.

“Winning a gold medal has got to be up there now in my mind with winning a major championship,” he said. “I’ve been asked the question: a green jacket or a gold medal, or a Wanamaker (Trophy, for winning the PGA Championship) or an Open Championship or a gold medal?

“That’s not fair. I think this year we’re going to approach it as a fifth major and we’re going to prepare like it is and I’m going to go down there and try and take care of business.”

He does share Scott’s disappointment with the fact that no team event will be contested, although it’s possible it could be added for Tokyo in 2020.

“It’s not a team event in golf, I think unfortunately,” Spieth said. “But it’s going to be very difficult. You’ve got some great Aussies that will be down there, you’ve got Englishmen, you’ve got your own countrymen that you’re trying to beat.”

AP News

Ready or Not, Golf’s Anticipated Return to the Olympics Is Near

Rio-OlympicGolf’s reentry into the Olympics, after a 112-year hiatus, has been fraught from the very beginning: complaints about the format and field size; myriad controversies surrounding the construction of the Olympic course in Rio; scheduling complications across numerous professional tours; and public outbreaks of apathy among certain top players. But, one year out, there has finally been a perceptible shift in opinion. Many of the biggest issues have been resolved, and with Olympic golf finally close to becoming a reality the loneliest of athletes seem to have embraced the chance to be part of something larger than themselves. Says Martin Kaymer,“The Olympic Games is the biggest sporting event in the world, so to play a role in it would be an incredible experience. We very rarely get to be a part of a team or play for our country so it will be an honor for any of us who get to do so.”

“I’ve dreamed about it since I was a little girl but I never thought I’d have the chance,” says Michelle Wie. “Finally golf is in the Olympics and my dream can come true.”

The golf in Rio will look very familiar: the format is 72 holes of stroke play, just like the major championships and pretty much every other tournament on television. Ever since the sport was voted back into the Olympics, in October 2009, the golf press has been hostile to the format choice. What makes the Olympics such riveting theater is that the athletes are constantly fighting for their survival, one little misstep from ruining a lifetime of preparation. That win-or-go-home ethos sounds a lot like match play, no? Even the two-man teams that were used for decades at golf’s World Cup managed to create a sense of teamwork and the feeling that you were rooting for the flag, not individuals. But the International Golf Federation, which spearheaded the game’s return to the Games, recommended individual stroke play for more practical reasons, and the IOC was happy to concur.

The field size in Rio for both the men and women will be only 60 players, largely because the IOC is working to limit the total number of athletes at the Games. (The U.S. Open accommodates 156 players.) Match play cuts the field in half with every round, potentially reducing fan interest and creating the doomsday scenario of only unknowns from small countries being left in the medal round. “We see extreme benefits in everybody who makes the Olympics competing all four days instead of many of them going home after one round of match play,” says Ty Votaw, the IGF vice president. “And in a match play scenario, you would likely be left with four players for the final day, with three of them guaranteed to medal. Where’s the dramatic tension in that? In stroke play, there could be 20 players within three shots of the lead That’ll breed excitement. And if you’re talking about players from China, India, Brazil…” Here Votaw’s voice trails off dreamily.

More problematic is the limited field size and the qualifying criteria it has spawned. Qualifying for the Olympics is pegged to the existing World Ranking. At the cutoff point on July 11, 2016 the top 15 in the ranking are automatically in the Games, with the proviso that there cannot be more than four players from any country. The World Ranking will be used to fill out the next 44 spots but no country can have more than two representatives. Brazil, as host country, will receive the 60th and final spot if not otherwise qualified.

What this means is that many of the biggest names in golf will not be in Rio. As of this writing, U.S. men hold down 14 of the top 23 spots in the World Ranking. Jordan Spieth, Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler and Jim Furyk would qualify for the Games those who wouldn’t include Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, and Phil Mickeslon. With the two-player-per-country limit, various big-name Brits, South Africans and Aussies will also be left behind. Meanwhile, among those who are currently in the field are Ricardo Gouveia (Portugal), Angelo Que (Philippines), Thomas Pieters (Belgium), Chan Shih-chang (Taipe) and a dozen other randoms unknown even to the most sleepless Golf Channel viewer. This imbalance is repeated on the women’s side, where half of the top 18 in the World Ranking hail from Korea. World No. 1 Inbee Park recently called the qualifying criteria “disappointing,” adding, “If you are in the world’s top 50, you should be able to play in the Olympics. There are some countries where [players] ranked number 300 or 400 will play, but obviously not Koreans.”

Votaw, whose day job is at the PGA Tour, spearheaded golf’s return to the Olympics and he has a well-rehearsed rebuttal. “That isn’t how it’s done in any Olympic sport,” he says. “I would submit that the fourth-fastest sprinter from Jamaica can probably beat anybody in the world except the top three sprinters from Jamaica. But the guy who’s fourth doesn’t get in. It certainly doesn’t grow golf around the world when fully developed golf-playing nations dominate the field.”

This missionary spirit has informed the creation of the Olympic golf course, which is being built on the edge of an estuary in the Barra da Tijuca zone. When the Games leave town it will be the only public golf course in all of Rio de Janeiro—“another great legacy of this Olympics,” says IOC president Thomas Bach. Yet the course’s birth has been a struggle, with lawsuits related to competing claims of the ownership of the land on which it’s being built and public protests and media controversies about the course’s environmental impact, which is curious given that the site was previously a degraded sand mine.

Says Votaw, “I’ve learned to never say never in Brazil, but we believe all of the issues have been resolved and anything else is just background noise.” Undeterred by the endless delays has been the course’s designer, Gil Hanse, who was an underdog in the fierce competition to snag the commission. Hanse is beloved by purists for his natural, minimalist designs but his is a boutique operation compared to the brand names like Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman he was competing against. Hanse got the nod thanks to an exceedingly clever routing, wonderful use of the natural landforms and gorgeous bunkering that evokes the great courses of Australia’s Sand Belt, such as Royal Melbourne. It certainly didn’t hurt that Hanse made a strong commitment to native vegetation and water conservation, which will make the course sustainable into the future.

Course construction has been completed and now it’s just a matter of letting the turf mature. An IOC mandated test-event was scheduled for this November but the exhibition—which will likely feature four male and four female golfers—has been pushed to early 2016, allowing for another season of grow-in. Moving the event away from the holidays should also make it easier to coax top players to make the trip. Until it is tested by the pros the course’s merits will remain theoretical but the low-key Hanse can’t hide his excitement, saying in a recent email volley,“[IGF president] Peter Dawson described the course as a ‘thinking person’s course’ and we view that as a compliment of the highest order. I believe a thoughtful player who is able to assess the angles of play will be at an advantage.

The course is wide off the tee but in order to score the player will have to favor one side or the other based on the hole location for the day. The course will also favor a player who is creative with their short game given the many recovery options that exist around the greens. While we were building the course it was very frustrating given how inefficient the process was. However, in hindsight we may have benefited from the more leisurely pace as it allowed us to spend more time refining our thoughts and working on the details.”

The final hurdle for golf’s reentry into the Games was cleared last month when the PGA Tour released its rejiggered 2016 schedule. With the men’s Olympic golf provisionally scheduled for August 11-14, the PGA Championship has moved from its traditional mid-August slot to July 28-31, just two weeks after the British Open. The FedEx Cup playoffs will begin the week after the Games, followed immediately by the Ryder Cup. Being crowbarred between golf’s most important events only highlights the Olympics’ unusual status: it is the biggest sporting event in the world but still a curiosity in the golf world. Adam Scott recently voiced the traditionalist point of view, saying, “Whether I win an Olympic medal or not is not going to define my career or change whether I’ve fulfilled my career. It’s nothing I’ve ever aspired to do and I don’t think I ever will. It’s all about the four majors and I think that’s the way it should stay for golf.”

Bach, the IOC president, has already seen golf weather numerous challenges on its way to Rio, and he has a long view about its place in the Games. He buzzed into last month’s British Open to press flesh and at a press conference was asked, “If Olympic gold doesn’t represent the pinnacle of achievement in your sport, then does it have its place in the Games at all?”

With the tiniest of smirks, Bach replied, “Ask the gold medalist after he has been standing on the podium listing to the anthem and being celebrated by the world, then he will give you the answer.”

courtesy of Alan Shipnuck (golf.com)

U.S. PGA Tour presents packed 2016 schedule in Olympic year

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth celebrates after sinking his final putt to win a three-hole playoff in the fourth round of the 2015 Valspar Championship

Jordan Spieth might have no choice but to miss the John Deere Classic next year. It’s the same week as the Olympics.

The U.S. PGA Tour released on Thursday its 2015-16 schedule, which included changes because of golf’s return to the Olympics next August in Rio de Janeiro. The Travelers Championship, John Deere Classic, and Wyndham Championship will be played during the three-week Olympic window.

Spieth chose to play the John Deere Classic this year, even though it was a week before his bid for the third leg of the Grand Slam at the British Open. He not only won the Deere, he missed a playoff by one shot at St. Andrews.

He also won the John Deere in 2013 to earn his full tour card.

Tournament director Clair Peterson said the John Deere would like to have Spieth back to defend, although “we can think of no better representative of our country” than Spieth at the Rio Games.

The Americans can have as many as four players at the Olympics, provided they are among the top 15 in the world ranking. Spieth is No. 2, and he has nearly double the points average over the fifth-ranked American.

It’s possible two tour events during the Olympics will be without a defending champion. Bubba Watson, currently No. 3, won the Travelers.

Golf executives told the International Olympic Committee they wouldn’t hold big events – majors and World Golf Championships – during the Olympics. It was always going to be busy, especially in a Ryder Cup year (Sept. 29-Oct. 1 in Minnesota).

The US. PGA Championship agreed to move up to July 28-31, just two weeks after the British Open. And the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone will be held two weeks after the U.S. Open instead of its early August date preceding the U.S. PGA Championship.

Still unclear is how that will affect the European Tour, which has not released its schedule for next year. The weeks between the U.S. Open and British Open are during the heart of the continental schedule, with strong events in Germany, France, and Scotland.

“We knew there would be challenges for all of golf in terms of scheduling when the Olympics came in, and a number of people have made sacrifices,” said Ty Votaw, the PGA Tour chief spokesman and vice president of the International Golf Federation.

The Quicken Loans National, hosted by Tiger Woods, will be held a week after the U.S. Open. Woods has not played the week following the U.S. Open since he tied for 13th in the Buick Classic in 2003. That means a three-week period on courses that have hosted majors – Oakmont, Congressional and Firestone.

The Greenbrier Classic will be in the John Deere’s old spot a week before the British Open, and the Canadian Open will be sandwiched between the British Open (Royal Troon) and the U.S. PGA Championship (Baltusrol).

The FedEx Cup playoffs will start the week after the Olympics, and that could present challenges for players from smaller countries who qualify for the Olympics but are struggling to stay in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup. That could mean giving up a crucial week – or two weeks if they want to take part in opening ceremonies in Rio – in which they are missing out on potential points. This year, for example, Carlos Ortiz of Mexico is No. 111 in the FedEx Cup.

“We’re looking at this as one in four (years). We’re not faced with it every year,” Votaw said. “So it depends on where they are and what they want.”

He said projections show only about half of the 60-man field for the Olympics will be U.S. tour members.

courtesy of DOUG FERGUSON (golfdigest.com)