Golf returns to the Olympic program in 2016 for the first time in 112 years, with two 60-player, 72-hole tournaments -- one for men, one for women -- set to be played in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
The sport is also assured a spot in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. However, the future of golf in the Olympics will be decided three years before then. A year after the Brazil Olympics, the International Olympic Committee will vote to determine if golf and other sports should remain in the program.
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No wonder, then, that Rory McIlroy is concerned that the rash of top male players opting out of this summer's tournament could affect that IOC vote next year.
"It's obviously being played in Rio this year and it's being played in Tokyo in 2020. I'm not sure if we're going to have another opportunity to win a gold medal after that depending on what happens,” McIlroy said Wednesday ahead of the Wells Fargo Championship.
He added, "If we don’t somehow change the narrative of getting people more excited about it...I’m worried."
Of course, having Adam Scott, Louis Oosthuizen, Vijay Singh, Charl Schwartzel, Miguel Angel Jimenez and, on Wednesday, Marc Leishman decide to take a pass isn't a good look for the sport. The players have cited either scheduling concerns or worries over the spread of Zika virus. No woman likely to play in the women's tournament has said she would opt out of competing.
Aware of the risk of Zika and, perhaps as well as anyone, aware of the concentrated golf schedule from June through early October, McIlroy doesn't think the Olympics are a burden at all.
"It's a week," McIlroy said. "You know, go play four rounds really competitively and try and win a gold medal. And if you do, I don't know how that will stack up against the other things that I've done in my career now, but maybe I might look back in 20 years’ time and a gold medal might be one of my crowning achievements in the game, you never know. So it's an opportunity to do something that you've never done before."
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