Spieth's uncertainty further clouds Olympic return

By Will GrayJune 28, 2016, 10:09 pm

AKRON, Ohio – What once was considered a slow bleed has turned into a gaping wound.

The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational kicks off this week, not that you would know it from the pre-tournament buzz that centers on who is playing in the Olympics. Or more specifically, who is not.

The high-profile withdrawals last week of Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Branden Grace were followed Tuesday by a bigger blow when world No. 1 Jason Day pulled out, citing concerns over the Zika virus. Minutes later, newly-married Shane Lowry followed Day in grabbing a spot on the bench.

Rest assured, this mass exodus is not what Olympic organizers or golf executives had in mind when the sport was voted back into the Olympics several years ago. But now the situation has reached a level where it is not only overshadowing this week’s proceedings in Akron, but threatens to serve as a dark cloud hanging over the festivities in Rio – perhaps even impacting the sport’s Olympic future.

And that’s before we get an answer from the biggest domino still left standing.


WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: Articles, photos and videos


Jordan Spieth, the all-American poster boy with corporate ties to a noted Olympic sponsor, approached the microphone Tuesday and offered a very firm “maybe” regarding his Rio prospects. It wasn’t the answer many hoped to hear from the 22-year-old wunderkind, and it also portends that the Olympic field could suffer some further deterioration.

“Right now, I’m uncertain,” Spieth said, 43 days before the opening round in Brazil. “Always been excited about the possibility, but there’s quite a few different factors that would turn somebody away from going.”

All credit to Spieth for addressing the elephant in the room: while Zika and potential birth defects may be a motivating factor for family men like Day and McDowell, it’s hardly the only issue for others.

There’s the wear-and-tear of an overly ambitious schedule that failed to properly accommodate a new event of such stature, and there are other concerns once players set foot in the host country.

“Just the security threats that Brazil and Rio have. I’ve heard some stories on both sides,” Spieth said. “Transportation is a big security issue down there, how to get from one place to another with the different kind of violence that we don’t see here.”

It’s a complicated issue, and one that has now thrust the foursome clad in red, white and blue under an even bigger microscope.

While Bubba Watson reiterated his plans to play in Rio, at age 37 he is in a different stage of life than Spieth, Rickie Fowler or Dustin Johnson. After Day’s withdrawal, they now comprise four of the five highest-ranking spots in the projected 60-man field, and Spieth is fully aware that the magnitude of any American defection would be significant.

“Do I feel an added burden? Potentially. I think all four of the Americans do,” he said. “I feel like one of four with maybe a slightly higher burden now that the guys have dropped out.”

Watson and his wife, Angie, are unable to bear children, and have two adopted children. While he remains enthused about the opportunity to compete, he’ll do so without his regular caddie, Ted Scott, who will not travel to Brazil because of safety and health concerns.

Watson also pointed out that his perspective would have shifted dramatically if his circumstances were different.

“If I was the other way and I was planning on having more kids, I would not go,” Watson said. “But I’m not. I’m in a situation where that’s not happening, so my decision was a lot easier.”

The mounting pressure on the Olympic participants who remain ambivalent is exacerbated by the fact that, frankly, this seems like a golf-centric issue. Swimmers, runners, tennis players – even female golfers – are not backing out of the Olympics much at all.

The most recent withdrawals are set against the backdrop of the U.S. Olympic trials, where American athletes have come from far and wide to take their shot at maybe, hopefully, earning a trip to Rio.

But those athletes strive to reach the pinnacle of their sport, and it’s an opportunity that is offered only once every four years. For golfers with no pre-existing concept of their sport in the Olympics, it’s simply a prestigious tournament that falls short of the four majors.

“Golf has never been on anyone’s radar in the Olympics,” Day said. “I never grew up thinking, ‘Oh, I’m going to represent my country in the Olympics,’ because there was never an opportunity to.”

Therein lies another wrinkle to this layered dilemma: golf’s return to the Games could be short-lived.

While the sport is guaranteed a spot in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, where many believe participation issues will be largely minimized, the vote on golf’s Olympic future will take place next year.

The only data that officials will have at their disposal will be what happened in Rio, a tournament that is likely to be defined as much by who wasn’t there as by who ultimately stood atop the medal podium.

“No matter what I do, it’s already – there’s already been enough players (withdrawing) that I think it’ll definitely have an impact,” Spieth said. “Pending some crazy, great finish or whatever, I think there’s a significantly lower likelihood now of it staying in the Olympics than there was six months ago.”

The factors involved with Olympic participation are complicated, personal and nuanced. Players are attempting to evaluate a dynamic situation where one of the greatest fears – the unknown – continues to play a significant role.

Day’s withdrawal was a setback, as was McIlroy’s before that. But their choices also served to ratchet up the pressure on Spieth, whose decision – fair or otherwise – could create ripples that impact whether golf remains an Olympic mainstay, or simply becomes an ill-fated experiment cut short by a confluence of factors.

Getty Images

Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.


Masters victory


Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative


Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ


Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket


Man of the people


Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief


Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together


Ace at 17th at Sawgrass


Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018


Departure from TaylorMade


Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade


Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'


Victory at Valderrama


Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.