If odds had been set on who would stand beside Rory McIlroy’s statement from The Open Championship last month in taking a little shot at golf in the Olympics, it seems like Zach Johnson would have been a dark horse. Normally mild mannered (though virulently competitive), Johnson was outspoken about golf’s return to the Olympic Games.
“Oh, I didn’t watch golf,” Johnson told the New York Post. “I’d rather watch the sports that should be in the Olympics. I’d rather watch the athletes who train for four years for that one week. I’d rather watch swimming and diving, track and field — the athletes that are relevant for one week. All of our [golf] athletes are relevant 24/7, 365. I just don’t see the need for golf to be in the Olympics. Same thing with basketball. It’s relevant all the time. LeBron James, Kevin Durant? They’re relevant all the time.”
Well then. This is almost exactly what McIlroy said at Royal Troon in July.
“I’ll probably watch the Olympics, but I’m not sure golf will be one of the events I’ll watch,” said McIlroy. “Track and field, swimming, diving … the stuff that matters.”
Johnson went on to say that he would change the format to include college players (though I’m not sure you could get enough college players from other countries). There was an additional reason Johnson was upset. It bit into his major championship preparation.
“The fact that it put a kink in our schedule this year irritates me,” Johnson told the Post. “To mess with the four tournaments that matter most [the majors] because you’re at the Olympics, I’ve got a strong, strong disdain for that.”
I get where he’s coming from, but I do wonder if Johnson had watched if he might have a different opinion. I was equally pessimistic coming into Rio, and despite the over-exaggeration of its success, it was still a success. The Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson battle was good, and the joy of golf in the Olympics was real.
Johnson is not wrong that the PGA Tour needs to do a better job of scheduling properly in Olympics years, and he’s not wrong that golf and basketball are relevant all year long. But he is wrong about golf mattering in Rio de Janeiro. It did. I think if Johnson had made the team (which he almost did), he would have felt differently.