Day's withdrawal overshadows golf's return to Olympics

International Olympic Committee member Barry Maister has labelled a string of top golfers, including world No. 1 Jason Day, withdrawing from the Rio Olympics as "appalling".
International Olympic Committee member Barry Maister has labelled a string of top golfers, including world No. 1 Jason Day, withdrawing from the Rio Olympics as "appalling". PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • Golf is in the Olympics this year for the first time since 1904. But with a large number of key players pulling out, its future may be in doubt.

World No. 1 Jason Day became the latest golfer to pull out of the Olympics because of concern over the Zika virus.

"The reason for my decision is my concerns about the possible transmission of the Zika virus and the potential risks that it may present to my wife's future pregnancies and to future members of our family," he said in a statement.

The 28-year-old Australian won last year's PGA Championship for his first Major title.

Criticism of his decision swiftly arrived. Barry Maister, an International Olympic Committee member from New Zealand, this week blasted the golfers who have dropped out of contention for Rio.

"I think it is appalling," he told radio station Newstalk ZB.

"I don't like it, and I don't think the sport should be allowed to continue in the Games under that scenario.

"Just getting in with your name and then putting up some second- or third-rate players is so far from the Olympic ideal or the expectation of the Olympic movement."

With Day out, the top three golfers from Australia (Day, Adam Scott and Marc Leishman) will be absent from the Games in August.

Ditto the top South African golfers - Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.

Shane Lowry also pulled out of the Olympics on Tuesday, citing Zika, meaning the top three golfers who could represent Ireland are also out: Lowry, Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. Vijay Singh of Fiji has also pulled out.

South African great Gary Player, 80, joked last week that he was ready to step in and play if needed.

In addition to Zika fears, golfers have cited a busy schedule as a concern. The British Open and PGA are both being held in late July, just before the Rio Games.

The top-ranked American, Jordan Spieth, No. 2 in the world, said yesterday he is "uncertain" over his participation in the Olympics and will decide after his advisers "gather more information".

None of the world's top female golfers have backed out of the Olympics, even though they ostensibly face a greater health risk.

The Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) said it respected Day's decision.

"He is a family man and he has put his family first," an AOC spokesman said.

Day announced yesterday he will be heading home to play in November's Australian Open. The Australian has not teed off at his national Open since 2013 due to injuries and family issues.

"The Australian Open holds a special spot in my heart and I'd love to get my name on that trophy one day, hopefully this November," he said.

"Injuries and family commitments have made it impossible for me a couple of times lately, but it's a tournament I've always cherished, just as I know some of the sport's greats have through the years."

When Day last played the tournament in Sydney, he finished tied-sixth behind winner McIlroy. Spieth won it the next year with Matt Jones the champion last year.

"I'm sure the crowds will be huge again in November - I can't wait to come home and give it my best shot," the world No. 1 added.

The Australian Open gets under way at Royal Sydney Golf Club from Nov 17.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 30, 2016, with the headline 'Day's withdrawal overshadows golf's return to Olympics'. Print Edition | Subscribe