The men’s golf tournament was meant to be one of the flagship events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Four days of enthralling contest as man battles course, himself and the field in the search for gold at Kasumigaseki Country Club outside of Tokyo.
Now it is reeling before a ball has even been hit. Two of the top-draw stars were dealt a COVID-19 blow on Sunday, ruling them out of the quadrennial even (already at five years this time due to the coronavirus pandemic), illustrating just how tricky and risky this event has been to piece together.
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The then world No. 1 Dustin Johnson had already refused to travel due to COVID risks when news emerged on Sunday that Spain’s Jon Rahm — DJ’s usurper as top man in the world golf rankings and the US Open champion — and America’s big-hitting controversy-seeker Bryson DeChambeau were ruled out due to positive coronavirus tests four days before the event begins.
This is a devastating blow, not only for the guys seeking a possibly once-in-a-lifetime chance to become an Olympian, but for golf on the Olympic stage.
Golf only returned to the Games programme after a century in Rio in 2016, and many of the world’s top stars withdrew from that event due to fears over the Zika virus in Brazil. However, things looked rosy as Justin Rose prevailed in a thrilling competition that had the likes of Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson and Dubai’s own Rafa Cabrera Bello all vying for the podium.
The organisers had pulled out all the stops to make sure this year’s event went ahead with all the glamour and allure of the four annual majors after a year’s hiatus. But once again they are firefighting. Thankfully Team USA can call upon Patrick Reed to step in for Bryson as their contingent of four — including Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffelle and Open winner Collin Morikawa — has yet to depart for Tokyo.
No such luck replacing the world No. 1. Spain will now have Adri Arnaus on his own. This is sad on a personal level for the Dubai resident as he told Gulf News only last week how much he was looking forward to playing alongside ‘Rahmbo’.
Just like the game of golf itself, these developments show how fickle things can be on the world stage when trying to bring together the greatest of any sport in one place during the uncertain times of COVID.
The organisers will be hoping and praying that there are no new cases (the players are expected to be permitted access to the course for practice on Sunday and Monday), and that the top players still competing serve up a cracker.
The news is also such a shame for Rahm, who has shown his true potential this year, overcoming numerous adversities and setbacks. It is his second positive test in fewer than two months. He was holding a six-shot lead after three rounds at the Memorial in early June when he was devastated by the news that he would have to withdraw after a positive result. He showed great character to come back two weeks later to win the US Open and vault to No. 1. After his win at Torrey Pines, Rahm said he was vaccinated when he tested positive at the Memorial, but still had to be quarantined because he had not been vaccinated for 14 days. “Looking back on it, yeah, I guess I wish I would have done it earlier,” Rahm said then. “But thinking on scheduling purposes and having the PGA and defending Memorial, to be honest it wasn’t in my mind.”
Surely in an Olympic year — even a postponed one — the PGA and European Tour should consider what is important to the players, rather than just shoehorning in more competitions.