Zika virus not discouraging most would-be Olympians

By Will GrayMay 26, 2016, 10:38 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – Over the last few weeks, golf has begun to develop its own four-letter word, one that has started to ripple its way through the sport with increasing speed.


The Olympics kick off in Rio de Janeiro in exactly 72 days, a fact that has brought increased scrutiny to the Zika virus outbreak currently affecting Brazil among other parts of the Americas. Its impact and scope continue to develop, even according to the World Health Organization, and it will likely cause nearly every Olympian to take at least some sort of precautionary measure.

But when it comes to golf, which returns to the Olympics this summer for the first time since 1904, Zika is actually impacting the field of entrants. While players like Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel withdrew from Olympic consideration over scheduling issues, Vijay Singh and Marc Leishman both specifically cited the virus as a factor in their recent withdrawals.

Things escalated once again this week when both Rory McIlroy and Danny Willett hinted that the virus might influence their decisions to tee it up in Rio, and even the top American noted that the issue remains in the forefront.

“I’m interested in keeping a very close eye on what’s going on around the Olympics, too, mainly off the course,” Jordan Spieth said Wednesday. “Trying to figure out the safety concerns, figure out plans, but as of now I’m extremely excited for it.”

While Zika may impact golf’s return to the Olympic stage, there are still plenty of players eager to compete for gold.

Few players understand golf’s global nature more than India’s Anirban Lahiri. The 28-year-old left his native country on Jan. 9, and he estimates that he won’t return until the conclusion of the FedEx Cup season. In between, he’ll play a cross-continent schedule, highlighted by a stretch this summer that he described as “45 days of mayhem.”

That run will include a trip to Rio where Lahiri, ranked No. 56 in the world, will almost assuredly earn one of two spots on the Indian golf roster. That ranking could be in the midst of an upgrade this week after Lahiri opened with a 5-under 65 at Colonial Country Club to sit one shot off the lead.

Lahiri is aware of the Zika situation, noting that “the threat is real.” He’s planning to take plenty of recommended precautions, both before traveling and once in the Olympic village.

But hailing from a populous country where golf is not necessarily viewed as a priority, Lahiri feels that the positives of a potentially strong showing outweigh the personal risks associated with making the trip.

“It would mean a lot to the country to get a medal out of a game like golf, and probably put that in the forefront or in the spotlight,” Lahiri said. “So for me, the Olympics is a very important event, maybe more so than a lot of guys who are going, because of that.”

New Zealand’s Danny Lee is also projected to qualify for Rio, and he has been keeping an eye on the situation in Brazil as it has developed. But like Lahiri, he plans to play.

“It’s not like I don’t care about the Zika virus or all that stuff happening over there, but it still is the Olympics,” Lee said. “You’re representing your country and you’re going as an Olympian instead of trying to win money or accomplish something. You are accomplishing something if you win a medal, but it’s more for the honor than the glory, I guess.”

For Lee, it’s also an opportunity to bring attention to a country which has produced a men’s major champion in Michael Campbell as well as the world’s top-ranked female player, Lydia Ko, but which is sometimes overlooked on the golf landscape.

“Everybody thinks there’s not many good golfers in New Zealand. I just want to prove them wrong,” said Lee, who won last year at The Greenbrier Classic. “It’s just, New Zealand is so far from America, it’s hard to watch a lot of the New Zealand guys play. And they don’t have enough of an opportunity to come over here and play all the amateur golf that I did, because it’s not cheap to come over here.”

When it comes to player decisions regarding Zika, there is no correct answer. The choice to play is a deeply personal one, and it’s an especially nuanced situation for players who may consider having children in the near future.

But even if the withdrawals have not yet ended, one thing is certain: There will be 60 players eager to take part in golf’s Olympic return this summer, each with an eye on boosting its global appeal on the biggest stage around.

“For me personally, I want to play the Olympics,” Lahiri said. “I really, really want to play the Olympics because it’s a great opportunity for me to do something for my sport.”


Getty Images

What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.