Talk is About Olympics at Travelers Celebrity Pro-Am Day. By John Torsiello.
By, JOHN TORSIELLO While the pros teed it up with the celebrities and amateurs Wednesday at the Travelers Championship Pro-Am at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell Wednesday for giggles, some of the talk wasn’t about the tournament but rather about her upcoming, somewhat controversial golf event at the Summer Olympics in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.
Rio has taken a hit from a number of quarters for everything from polluted water to the Zika virus. In fact, the latter may have been a deciding factor that played into most of the top U.S. professionals declining to be members of the four-man United States team at the Games, which start this week. This is the first time in over 110 years golf will be an official medal sport.
The Olympic Golf Course provides the setting for the sport's return to the Games. Purpose-built for Rio 2016, the 18-hole facility was landscaped as part of an environmental recovery project (and Rio needs a lot of this), and will be open to the public after the event.
Top U.S. players, such as Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, declined to play in the Games, citing various reasons, including scheduling conflicts and health concerns, and many of the world’s top-ranked pros have also deferred. But there were three members of the U.S. team in Cromwell Wednesday for the Pro-Am; Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Matt Kuchar.
“I feel like I got my schedule knocked down to where I can go home and rest some during the year,” said Reed, when queried about his decision to play in Rio. “I love to compete and I love to play, so for me, I feel like I’m always going to be a low-to-mid-30-events-a-year guy. I play 35 to 37 weeks pretty regularly and this year it’s going to be 35 or 36 weeks. One more week for the Olympics is no problem at all for me.”
Reed added, “I’m very excited to play at the Olympics. I’m in red, white and blue today, and I have the Olympics golf bag today and I’m carrying it this week. I got the clothing that we are wearing for the tournament and then this golf bag. When I opened up that box I was like, `Oh, my God, this thing is amazing. I can’t wait to carry it.’ I can’t wait to get there and actually start playing.”
Reed said he was going to relish his time at the Games. “I want to see as many events as I can. I would like to see three or four events, especially the swimming.”
Watson, the Travelers Championship title holder, said he was honored and thrilled to be playing for his country in Rio.
“Just to be a part the Olympics is special. Who cares if I finish last? It’s an honor and a thrill. It might not say Oakley (his sponsor) on it, but all my gear for the Games is nice. Just to have the flag and that emblem on there is a special thing for me.”
The lefthander and two-time Masters champ added, “I always dreamt as a kid about what sports I could make it to the Olympics in. But when I wanted to play golf, it was about the Masters and the other tournaments. Still, I always thought how cool and what a privilege it is to represent your country. And now golf is in.”
Watson also said he was going to try and see as many other sports as possible.
“I bought my tickets to events maybe a month ago. I think gymnastics is in there and swimming and diving. We are playing golf during the day, so it’s the night events I can go to.” Kuchar didn’t think he would qualify to be on the U.S. team. But when top-ranked players dropped out, his ranking moved up and now he’s heading to Rio after the Travelers Championship.
“I had my fingers crossed that some of the top golfers would bypass the Olympics. It’s an individual game and we’ll all be shooting for gold. You certainly hope if it’s not you then it is one of your teammates. I’ve been a fan of the Olympics for a long time. When it comes around every four years I’m locked into the television and excited to watch every sport.”
Now, thanks to the inclusion of golf as a medal sport for the first time since way back in 1904, guys like Kuchar, Watson, Reed and the team’s fourth member, Rickie Fowler, will get a chance to live out a dream and maybe drape a medal around their necks.
The men’s (there will also be a women’s tournament) tourney gets under at Aug. 11.