Golf majors way ahead of Olympic ideal for sport’s Rio contenders

Winning a medal appears some way down the agenda for golf’s elite

Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympics, at which golf will make a reappearance. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro will host the 2016 Olympics, at which golf will make a reappearance. Photograph: Buda Mendes/Getty Images

Sat, Jun 21, 2014, 06:00

Some people can go their entire life without playing a single round of golf and unless something drastic changes I’m about halfway there.

If there is one sure way of spoiling a good run then it must be walking around a golf course carrying a set of steel clubs and hitting a small white ball. Or else it hasn’t yet been invented.

In fact my house is just around the corner from Glencullen Golf Club, facing onto Willie Fox’s Pitch ‘n’ Putt, and I can’t pass either of them without wanting to flip off my shoes and go running barefoot across the rolling fairways and soft greens. That risks being chased out by an angry man wielding a very long rake, shouting at me to get the hell off. But it is always worth it.

When my dad retired from running my mother foolishly bought him a set of golf clubs, and they sat under the stairs for the next 10 years until a neighbour wanted to know if he could borrow them. When he offered to give them back my mother told him don’t be stupid. Some people will never get golf and we are some of those people.

None of this has anything to do with whether or not golf should have been brought back into the Olympics, and yet no harm putting it out there. Because plenty of people are excited about golf being played in Rio in 2016 and good luck to them. Although judging by what Rory McIlroy has to say about it, was it honestly the right call?

“An Olympic medal is still not as big as a major championship,” mused McIlroy this week, after declaring that he didn’t actually feel more British than Irish after all. “Maybe give it four or five Games down the line, and maybe one day the Olympics will be able to get up to that level, but for me the four majors are the biggest prizes in our game.”

McIlroy, we all know, is an honest young man. And his decision to represent Ireland in Rio, and not Great Britain, can’t have been entirely straightforward. (He can, by the way, change his mind again for Tokyo 2020.) But by admitting that winning an Olympic medal would rank somewhere below all four majors he actually questioned why golf itself should be represented. Part of the Olympic ideal, or what’s left of it, is that winning a medal should be the pinnacle of that sport, or at least very close to it. By McIlroy’s own admission that is not the case with golf.

Is he put off by the fact there is no prize money at the Olympics? Was competing in Rio not written into his Nike contract? Or perhaps it’s a reminder that the reason golf was dropped from the Olympics in the first place is because most golfers were not interested?

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