“As an athlete I can think of no greater honour than representing the United States in the Olympic Games. However, after much careful consideration and discussion with both my family and my team, I have made the decision to withdraw.” This was Dustin Johnson speaking ahead of Rio 2016. He was the first American to step aside and, like Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, the Zika virus was his reasoning.
Fast forward to January of this year and Johnson’s dream of playing in the Olympics sounded a little flat.
“It’s something that you constantly battle every year, making a good schedule that fits you. Obviously Olympic year is more difficult just because, you know, the way the schedule falls, and obviously it’s an extra tournament that’s in the season, so they moved some things around.
“Obviously representing the United States in the Olympics is something that, you know, definitely be proud to do. But is it going to fit in the schedule properly? I’m not really sure about that because there’s so many events that are right there and leading up to it. So you know, I’m still working with my team to figure out what’s the best thing for me to do.”
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A little over a month later and Johnson is the first player to give the Games in Tokyo a miss. This time around he plans to put all his efforts into the FedEx Cup Play-offs over the chance of a gold medal.
His manager David Winkle told Golfweek: “Dustin gave the Olympics a great deal of thought and we discussed the pros and cons of him participating at length. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of personal preference and priority. As much as he would be honoured to be an Olympian, the FedEx Cup Play-offs are also very important to him.
“Having had a few close calls he really wants to win them before his time is done and feels that he wouldn’t be giving himself the best opportunity to do so if he added a lengthy international trip just prior to their beginning.”
We should prepare ourselves for more of this in the coming months. Despite it only coming around every four years, or twice in 116 years, for some players it’s pretty much an irrelevance though using the annual Playoffs as a reason is an interesting one.
There’s the Open Championship in Kent on July 16-19, the Olympics starts two weeks later and then the Play-offs get going on August 13.
The good news for Tiger Woods fans is that it edges him closer to a starting spot in Japan with a maximum of four players from the top 15 in the world being eligible. As things stand Johnson is third of the Americans behind Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas with Patrick Cantlay just behind him.
So, for example, this would make room for Webb Simpson.
Koepka has sounded less than compelling about his interest in the Games so if or when he makes his excuses that would let in Patrick Reed, and then comes Woods.
Plenty can, and will, change in the interim, hopefully only in the shuffling of places rather any more withdrawals.