Ford: Golf does not belong in the Olympics

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Work continued at the Olympic Golf Course in preparation for the 2016 in this photo taken July 4, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Rory McIlroy said he expected to watch some of the Rio Olympics on television but didn't think golf would be among the sports he chose.

"Track and field, swimming, diving . . . the stuff that matters," McIlroy said.

McIlroy could be watching the Olympic tournament from tee to green if he wanted, but he, along with a number of top professionals, has elected to skip Rio, which offers neither prize money nor world ranking points.

Like most of the other golfers who have declined spots on their country's Olympic roster - including Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Speith, the other three on golf's current Mount Rushmore - McIlroy cited health fears related to the mosquito-borne Zika virus.

It's a reasonable concern, even though it is winter in Brazil and the incidence of mosquitoes is relatively low, and a concern shared by athletes from all Olympic sports. Funny thing, though, almost all of the others are slathering up with repellent and going. That's because for most athletes who qualify, the Olympics mean something. They play "the stuff that matters."

As of now, the Olympic golf competition, which will be held Aug. 11-14, has a strength of field comparable to a middle-of-the-road PGA tour stop. Seven of the top 15 players in the world won't be there, including No. 8 Adam Scott, who referred to a tournament that offers the chance to win an Olympic gold medal as "an exhibition." Well, OK, then.

The world's top golfers did not vote to add their sport to the Olympic program, so perhaps their lack of interest shouldn't be held against them. That decision to add golf was made by the International Olympic Committee, which did so for the only reason it does anything: money.

It isn't easy being the most corrupt international sports organization - not with competition from the likes of FIFA, the governing body of soccer; the IAAF, the governing body of track and field; and the International Skating Union - but the IOC wins the prize every time. Merely awarding the Games to Rio, which has problems a lot bigger than mosquitoes, was a typical IOC joke. The Brazilian bid was rated well behind those of the other three finalists (Chicago, Tokyo, Madrid) by the IOC's own assessment committee, but when the delegates voted, they voted not with what was in their heads, but, in keeping with Olympic tradition, with what had been placed in their pants pockets.

The IOC likes to lure in sponsorship, and where there is golf, there is usually money. So the sport was added to the program for Rio. It is the same reason tennis was added, the same reason professionals were allowed to play soccer (1984) and basketball (1992), and the same reason volleyball players now wear swimsuits and BMX cycling has become somehow necessary for a successful Olympic Games.

It is unlikely I would be consulted on this, but the Olympics could be run efficiently in a week or so. It should be a track meet, a swimming and diving meet, a rowing regatta, a gymnastics meet, and a marathon, with some minor sports - contested by athletes for whom a gold medal holds meaning - tossed into the mix. Any sport that has a higher prize than an Olympic medal is out. That includes tennis, soccer, and basketball. In fact, any team sport would have to make a very good case to stay. And golf? No golf. Doesn't belong there.

If there was any doubt, the golfers are making it clear. The top players will be coming off this weekend's British Open and the PGA Championship at Baltusrol at the end of the month and gearing up for the four tournaments that begin soon after the Olympics and comprise the lucrative FedEx Cup playoffs and the pot of bonus money those entail. The end of September is the Ryder Cup.

Zika is a convenient excuse for ducking Rio, and if the tournament were somewhere else attendance might be better, but it's more likely the golfers looked at the schedule, looked at the money involved, and said, "Eh, not worth the trouble."

That is certainly their right. No one should be forced to compete for an Olympic gold medal against his will. Similarly, there were no-thank-you's from some NBA players, although the United States is still fielding a great team that includes Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Jimmy Butler, DaMarcus Cousins, and Harrison Barnes.

In other sports, with few exceptions, the athletes will be there, despite conditions that are less than ideal. Rowers, sailors, and open-water swimmers will be facing water hazards that involve more than a stroke penalty and a new drop. But it is the Olympics, so they are going.

Not so much with the best golfers. Maybe some other time, but got to get ready for the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship.

Don't blame them for declining the offer, however. They shouldn't have been invited in the first place.

bford@phillynews.com

@bobfordsports