Zika devestating Olympic golf

Pictured Above: Zika mosquito

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

This past week saw Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell, Shane Lowry and Branden Grace add their names to a growing list of top players who have withdrawn from the Olympics. An IOC member said in a radio interview that the exodus of elite players is “appalling” and that he doesn’t think “the sport should be allowed to continue in the Games under that scenario. … The Olympics is about the best, and they pledged the best. Any sport that cannot deliver its best athletes, in my view, should not be there.” Is the official right?

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): One could make an argument that “the best” should be the best amateurs, and take a retro Olympic approach to the golf competition in future (i.e., ams only).  Whether the wide viewing public would give a hoot (or a moment of their time to watch) is another matter. But clearly, Olympic Gold and Glory mean diddly squat to most elite professionals, and I think the Zika virus thing has provided them with a convenient excuse for not bothering. I mean, it’s not as though thousands of Brazilians are dying in the streets from Zika, are they?  So I agree that the exodus is appalling.  Assuming these Games are not going to be postponed at the last minute due to complete incompetence, lack of funds, and no shows, I will commend every golfer who does show up, and wish them well.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: I covered five five-ring circuses for Maclean’s, and typed countless pre- and post-Games opuses and profiles. etc etc.. So I come by my utter distain for the IOC and the Games honestly.  Master Maister from NZ is a pompous shite with no conception of the real world. The Acting Governor of Rio said this week that the state health care system is “calamitous”; that the $860 million (US) Games shortfall in funding will mainly affect security; that state workers having their salaries “deferred” is equivalent to slave labour; that the subway system supposedly designed to get most of the Games spectators in and out of the venues is short $290 million (US) and so isn’t finished. We all know that the rowing and sailing venue is the city’s alternative to a septic tank, and that Brazil is in its worst recession in modern history.  Putin’s criminal Sochi and Beijing’s propaganda fest weren’t enough? The Games are always about circuses not bread with, of course, an advanced course in pharmacology slipped in. That a “Member” or anyone else cares about the integrity of the golf event at the Olympics — the worst idea for an added sport in decades of bad ideas — is laughable.

Frank Mastroianni, Canadian Golf Magazine (@frank_mastro): I think the official is right but delusional in terms of the reality of the situation. I’d counter by saying any committee that risks the lives of their athletes, expose them to risks of disease and bankrupts nations should seize to exist.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Unless the entire golf industry pulls a Gexit, 60 men and 60 women will be competing for medals in Rio in August – even though we may need a program to know who they are. As a “grow the game” initiative, Olympic Golf is pretty lame. The format is flawed and not only won’t deliver the “best” golfers, it won’t showcase golf in the best light either. The official is right that golf shouldn’t be in the Olympics but not for the reason he suggests.

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): No, of course not! I don’t hear the IOC harping about basketball’s future in the Olympics now that LeBron James and Steph Curry have taken their names out of Team USA consideration.  There are still going to be tons of elite players at the Olympics.  This guy doesn’t need any more radio time ….

Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): I think its great that golf is back in the Olympics, I don’t blame any athletes for not going, and for those that go I hope they have an experience of a lifetime. That said, the IOC official is off his rocker shifting the blame on athletes and their choices, last I checked it is their life and they are permitted to make their own choices. If memory serves me correctly, the IOC awarded the games to RIO, Brazil knowing about the corruption and the virus. I don’t see them stepping up and admitting to be partially at fault for putting the athletes in this position. Maybe they need to look internally at their procedures in awarding the games to areas that may be high risk to the athletes before pointing their fingers outward and elsewhere.

Billy Hurley’s win at the Quicken Loans National is being touted as the “feel good” story of the year in golf. Do you agree?

Mastroianni: As a Canadian, I’d have to go with Brooke’s major championship win. But on the PGA TOUR, sure.

Deeks: I suppose it’s the feel-good story for this week.  Honestly, you can make up a feel-good every week.  It would’ve been an even nicer feel-good if Ernie Els had pulled it off, but alas… no.

Kaplan: Absolutely. The guy has just had so much bad stuff happen to him over the last year.  His dad disappeared during the Quicken Loans last year and was later found dead with a self-inflected gun shot wound.  Then he lost his PGA Tour status, missing the mark by a mere $400.  Anytime that someone wins with a sponsorship exemption, it’s a hell of a story.  All of that other stuff going on in the background makes Hurley’s win on Sunday an early candidate for golf story of the year.

Quinn: Sunday was littered with texts (no, don’t Tweet) about Ernie and VJ playing in prime time. That was as big a feel good as Hurley’s magical week. With a couple of a million refugees on the road even less enamoured than usual of the American trumpeting of the military, but Hurley’s is a nice story.

Mumford: Whenever Americans can weave in some military connection to a story, it’s obligatory that everybody stand up, salute the flag and profess their undying gratitude to ‘the brave men and women who keep us safe’. Hogwash. Billy Hurley’s story is touching but more so for the tragic way his father died or the loss of his exempt status or the sponsor’s exemption he received than his Naval service. Vaughan Taylor, Jim Herman, Dustin Johnson all have feel good stories to tell, sacrifices they made and personal issues they overcame too, but I think if Vijay Singh had won, that would have been the ‘feel good’ story of the year, don’t ya think, Commissioner?

Loughry: Totally agree. Between it being a home game, the route he took to the PGA Tour, his military background and the passing of his father, I’m not sure how that could be topped.

Apart from the re-introduction of golf to the Olympics, we don’t hear too much anymore about “grow the game” initiatives, even though golf participation continues to decline. If there was one thing you could change that would make golf more attractive to more people, what would it be?

Quinn: Vancouver has a great array of pitch and putts, from Stanley Park to Queen Elizabeth Park, to Ambleside with views of English Bay, to Rupert where it’s free all winter and branches with grocery bags fill in for pins and flags, and my favourite name for a course —  Murdo Fraser — on the North Shore. I’d like to see Phys-Ed classes in grade school devoted to a 3-hole pitch and putt once a week. (The Pitch & Putts here are municipally owned and so could set aside tee times, as the courses are paid for by the taxpayers.) The love of the game starts early, with a little help.

Deeks: Universal birth control so that anyone under 40 would not have children…  who require equal co-parenting, chauffeuring to organized sports and arts activities, and parental love and attention.  Sarcasm aside, I believe this is the single greatest factor in the decline of the game (AKA, adults with not enough time for golf), and there’s very little if anything we can do about it.  And it’s a good thing for families everywhere.  Golf will bounce back, to a degree, no doubt, when another superhero like Tiger engages the world… but until then, let’s enjoy the uncrowded courses and lower fees, although I sympathize with those trying to make a living in the golf business in the meantime.

Mastroianni: I’d get rid of par, eliminate pace “standards” and only give rule books to those who plan to turn pro.

Kaplan: Everything about golf costs too much. A full scale reduction in prices across the board — everything from golf balls to golf clubs to green fees — would bring in a lot of people that have always wanted to play more regularly, but have never had an opportunity.

Loughry: There is no single solution. But I’d simply allow it to be played in any school or park, even if it was limited to certain times/days for safety. Just to have the game be a little more accessible. Some of my fondest memories are from my childhood when I created schoolyard courses, I even won a few events using a Canada Cup ball.

Mumford: It would help if golf courses would quit trying to be everything to everybody. Some courses could step up and say, “OK, we’re going to be the bunny hill. You other guys can be tough and challenging and championship calibre. Newbies are welcome here!” And they have to mean it and build a business model centred on welcoming beginners and developing long term golfers.

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