By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Amidst the final ranking of golfers to compete in the Rio 2016 Olympics, the first return of the sport in 112 years, organizers were pleased to announce 120 names (sixty men and sixty women) from forty different countries included in the tournament. Unfortunately the top four ranked in the sport have declined to come, citing the Zika virus scare and lack of importance in the sport’s calendar.
Bubba Watson, Danny Willett, Rickie Fowler and Lydia Ko among 120 names on final ranking list for sport’s return to the Games. The full list of qualifiers was published July 11th, with the sport’s world governing body highlighting the wide range of nations who have earned places.
The International Golf Federation (IGF) said this reflected the ‘Olympic effect’, which can also be witnessed in the increase in the number of national federations under its umbrella – this figure has grown from just over 100 to an all-time high of 147 according to the Rio 2016 press office.
IGF president Peter Dawson said: “After eight years of intense planning, we are extremely excited to have reached this important milestone of identifying those players who are eligible to compete in Rio. We are particularly gratified to see how many countries are represented and anticipate compelling competitions on the outstanding golf course that Gil Hanse and Amy Alcott have created.”
However the news dominating the sport in recent days was how the Rio 2016 Games will not see Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson – the world’s top four players. At present, only four of the top ten say they will be in Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.
All four of the top ranked players noted the Zika virus, which has been linked to brain defects in newborn babies, as a reason to pass on the Games. However to add more context, Rory McIlroy says he probably won’t even watch television coverage of Rio 2016 golf, preferring “track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters”.
The new Olympic golf course in Rio was opened in March this year amidst controversy, with its first test event being praised both by the International Golf Federation (IGF) and Brazilian golfers. “This field will leave an extraordinary legacy for the Brazilian sport,” said Carlos Nuzman, President of the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee said at the time.
Golf has not been a part of the Olympics for 112 years and has only ever been a part of sport’s oldest tournament twice, in 1900 and 1904. It has been a decade long journey back to the green, and even now, after an Olympic committee decision in 2009, golf may only be part of the next two tournaments, with another vote set to be taken in 2017.