Nicklaus changes stance on Olympic withdrawals

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When it comes to golf in the Olympics, the Golden Bear would like a mulligan.

Jack Nicklaus admits that when top players first began to withdraw from golf's return to the quadrennial Games, he found it to be "a little selfish" for current stars not to do their part to grow the game globally. But with the Rio Olympics less than two weeks away, Nicklaus has reversed course.

"I started thinking more about it, and I thought maybe I shouldn't have said that because it's not about that," Nicklaus told the UPI. "They aren't about growing golf right now. They are into playing golf. I'm into growing golf because I'm past my time. I look to the future of what happens to it. These guys are thinking, 'How do I make a living, how do I perform?' If they get sick, and then all of a sudden they have a family that gets sick, then they've got another issue other than what they are trying to do."

While 60 men will compete next month in Rio, more than 20 have withdrawn from the competition including each of the top four players in the world rankings: Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. All four have cited a personal combination of reasons for their withdrawals, ranging from the Zika virus to more general health and security concerns.

Nicklaus believes that the threat of Zika "has been a large part of it," as has the compressed summer schedule that moved the PGA Championship into late July. But he added that the position of the Olympics within golf's current hierarchy also hasn't helped.

"The thing is, for most sports, the Olympics are the pinnacle of that sport. Tennis and golf, the Olympics aren't the pinnacle of those sports," he said. "Wimbledon, U.S. Open, the Masters, British Open are the pinnacles of our sports. It has done OK with tennis, which has survived through the Olympics and went very well. I think golf has to get started and understand."