(Reuters) - PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem says that golf will be in good shape heading into this year’s Rio Games where he predicts “a superb Olympics”, despite the recent withdrawals of several elite players.
Former world number ones Adam Scott and Vijay Singh, and fellow major winners Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, are among those who have already announced that they will skip this summer’s global sports showpiece in Rio de Janeiro.
Those no-shows, for reasons ranging from schedule issues to concern over the Zika virus, sparked fears that more players could follow suit but Finchem felt there was generally “a real enthusiasm” for the Olympics in professional golf.
“It’s a combination of things, really,” Finchem told an Olympics news conference on Tuesday at the TPC Sawgrass ahead of this week’s Players Championship in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida when asked about player withdrawals from the Rio Games.
”Starts with a compacted season, affects the players in different ways, the way that the (PGA Tour schedule) changes were for the season this year.
“Part of it is prioritization, I would admit, although I think in general there’s a real enthusiasm, certainly for the concept of golf in the Olympics.”
With the Olympic men’s golf competition to be played from Aug. 11-14, the year’s final major, the PGA Championship, has been brought forward to late July from its traditional date in the second week of August.
As a result, the PGA Tour’s busy June-July schedule has been compressed more than usual and now includes three major championships in just seven weeks.
“In golf, and in most of the individual sports, you just got to accept the fact that not everybody’s going to play every week,” said Finchem.
”Not everybody’s even going to play in top events. Most of the top events have lost players for strange reasons at one time or another, and these aren’t strange reasons, really. These are more like concerns.
“We have had a combination of things that have created some issues this year, but we seem to be doing OK and I think we’re going to have a superb Olympics once we get down there.”
Asked if he had any concern that additional withdrawals from Rio could be damaging to golf’s future inclusion on the Games schedule, Finchem replied: ”I think right now we’re looking pretty good.
”Every four years it happens, and you want to take advantage of that. We don’t go around saying gloom and doom. We say, ‘Look, let’s take advantage of the upside here if we possibly can.’
“At the same time, we respect a player’s decision. It’s a short-term thing, and we’ll move on regardless of what the result is.”
Golf was brought in for the Rio Games, along with rugby, with the International Olympic Committee eager to tap into new markets and win new viewers with the two sports. Golf will also feature at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
Reporting by Mark Lamport-Stokes in Los Angeles; Editing by Larry Fine