Saturday 24 February 2018

Spieth latest to vote 'leave' - and Rory won't even watch Rio golf

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'Click to enlarge'
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

The golfing version of 'Leave/Remain' had echoes of Brexit yesterday at Royal Troon, where the Olympics story was the big talking point.

Rory McIlroy stood his ground and firmly stated that he was very happy with his decision not to play in the Olympics golf tournament.

Jordan Spieth admitted to an almost terminal case of indecisiveness as he agonised over his choice, but he joined McIlroy, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and a host of other big names as Games absentees.

Masters champion Danny Willett stays inside the Olympic camp, as does fellow Briton Justin Rose.

The International Golf Federation was left to wring its hands at the fine mess that has been served up to its plans for a triumphant return of the sport to the Games for the first time since 1904.

Tomorrow, US Open champion Dustin Johnson and Shane Lowry, runner-up at Oakmont, will have to face the music, as they are on the roster for media interviews.

Both of them are 'Leave' on the Olympic issue, and Lowry has already explained in depth his own decision not to go.

Whatever about the Zika virus causing high fever, it certainly has raised the temperature in golfing circles with the debate becoming ever more fractious, particularly after McIlroy stated that he would probably watch the Olympics, but only the sports that matter - and he didn't mention golf.

"Probably the events like track and field, swimming, diving, the stuff that matters," was his verdict.

Spieth is so sensitive about the fallout of his withdrawal from Rio that he will not play the John Deere Classic on the PGA Tour, an event which clashes with the Olympic golf competition.

Spieth retained his title at the John Deere last year before flying to Scotland for the Open at St Andrews, but the scheduling changes this season due to the Games have pushed the Classic back into August.

This year Spieth will reluctantly turn down the chance for a hat-trick of wins in the tournament.

"I will not be playing that week. I don't think it would be appropriate given our decision on the Olympics. But I do look forward to going back there" he said.


Spieth revealed the depth of his thoughts on the Olympic issue.

"Listen, this was probably the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life at 22 years old. This was something I very much struggled with, that I bounced back and forth with, and ultimately a decision had to be made yesterday, and so I made it," he said.

The two-time Major champion also had to tell his friend Rickie Fowler that he would not be on the USA team.

"I texted Rickie immediately after I decided and said, 'Rick, I'm sorry, buddy, but I'm not going to be joining you down there this year. Sorry about that. I'm obviously going to be rooting for you, bud'," said Spieth.

"He said, 'No worries. I know you had to make it just for you. You're just going to be jealous when I get that gold.'."

Almost as a by-the-way, there's a big golf tournament to be played, and in that respect, the stage is being set for a fascinating Open.

McIlroy's last appearance in this championship was a winning one at Hoylake in 2014. His enforced absence from St Andrews has only whetted his appetite for the 145th Open.

"Obviously I missed last year at St Andrews. It was one that I'd earmarked since 2010 as possibly a chance to win a Claret Jug there. But I'm excited to be back and to a golf course that I've never played before," he said.

"I don't really have any experience here at Troon, so it was good to get a couple of good looks at it last week, and then I just played another 18 holes this morning," he said.

McIlroy struggled at the famous 123-yard par-three Postage Stamp eighth hole yesterday - the shortest hole on the Open Championship rota .

His tee shot landed in the Coffin Bunker and after his first two attempts hit the face McIlroy sneaked his ball over the lip only for it to spin back into the sand, from where he required three more attempts to get on to the green - accompanied by some ironic cheers from fans.

"I think I took an eight or a nine, so that didn't go too well, (it was) a bit of a struggle at the Postage Stamp for me," said the Northern Irishman.

"Hopefully the struggle is out of the way for that hole. If you make four threes there this week, you're probably going to gain a bit of ground on the field."

If golf has notions of being sexy, then the Fab Four are Jason Day, Johnson, Spieth and McIlroy, according to the world rankings.

Former No 1 McIlroy was not impressed when a Beatles analogy was suggested as being appropriate, with him taking the Ringo Starr role.

"I haven't heard that, no. Probably it's the first time I've been compared to the Beatles," he said.

"I feel like my game has been quite consistent apart from say 2013, where I didn't play that well, and it's probably the only time in the last six years I've dropped outside the top ten in the world.

"If I focus on myself and make sure that I'm playing the best that I can, I'm pretty confident that if I go out and play my best golf, I'm going to win more times than not."

And then, in soccer parlance, he threw his medals on the table.

"I've got four Major championships, and I'd love to add to that tally, just as those guys would love to add to their one or two Majors that they have and just keep going," he said.

Irish Independent

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