• Ryder Cup vice-captain understands Rio decisions
• Describes situation over Olympic return 'unfortunate'
• "You can see they're all absolutely gutted to be pulling out"
Paul Lawrie has defended the golfers who have made themselves unavailable for this year’s Olympic Games, saying that he believes they all have ‘genuine reasons’ for sitting it out.
Yesterday, world No.1 Jason Day and US Open runner-up Shane Lowry followed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and Graeme McDowell, as well as Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Vijay Singh, in withdrawing from the Rio Games, where golf is making its return to the quadrennial sporting showpiece after a 112-year absence.
"You can see they're all absolutely gutted to be pulling out." - Paul Lawrie
Those players have cited concerns over the Zika virus - which is said to be particularly damaging to pregnant women and their unborn children - as well as scheduling conflicts for opting out of the Games.
This has been met with hostility in some quarters but speaking to bunkered.co.uk at Gleneagles this morning - where M&H Logistics was unveiled as the new title sponsor of the Scottish PGA Championship - Ryder Cup vice-captain Lawrie insisted that he sympathises with his fellow players.
“You can see with the statements that they’ve made that they’re all absolutely gutted to be pulling out,” said the 47-year-old. “I mean, Shane Lowry is as much of an Irishman as I’ve ever met and so for him to pull out I think shows just how worried he is about what’s going on, and you can see that with a lot of them.
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"Obviously, it’s disappointing because a lot of people worked really hard to get it back in there and now you’ve got the world’s No.1 golfer not playing. Now, I’m not criticising Jason Day. Not at all. It’s just disappointing that the people involved have gone to a lot of trouble to get golf back in the Games and now it looks as though a lot of the top boys are not going to play. It’s unfortunate.
“Does it devalue it? Maybe a little but, at the same time, someone’s still going to win a gold medal. Somebody’s still going to be the Olympic champion. It’s just that, obviously, you want all the best players playing.”
"Is a gold medal worth as much as a major? No, and there's question about that." - Paul Lawrie
Many people have criticised golf’s inclusion in the Games given that, unlike other sports, Olympic gold is not the most significant prize a golfer could win. Lawrie shares that take.
“Is a gold medal worth as much as a major? No, and there’s no question about that,” he said. “In my mind, the majors are the pinnacle of our sport and always will be. That’s true, I’m sure, for other sports as well. When you think of Andy Murray, for example, you think of him winning Wimbledon , not winning a gold medal. That said, there’s obviously a place for it because it’s in there.”
In response to the criticism directed at McIlroy, Day and Co., Lawrie added: “You’re always going to get a bit of that when you’re in the public eye. The public’s a big place and there are always going to be people who will see things in a different way to you.
“Personally, I can understand why they’ve chosen to not to play, I can see their reasons, but there’s always going to be a chance that other people will have a go at them or react aggressively towards them.
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“That doesn’t make it right, of course. As far as I can tell, the ones that have pulled out are the ones who are thinking about starting a family or adding to the ones they’ve already got, so you can totally get why they’re doing it. And remember, all these boys are hugely proud of where they’re from. They all want to represent their countries so, if they’re pulling out, I’m sure they’ve got genuine reasons for doing so.”
Team GB looks like it will be represented in Rio by Masters champion Danny Willett and former US Open winner Justin Rose . Willett, indeed, announced yesterday that he doesn’t intend to join the list of high-profile withdrawals.
Asked what he would have done had the opportunity to play on the British team arisen, Lawrie added: “I wouldn’t have been overly bothered about playing in Olympics as a golfer. I don’t particularly see it as something that professionals should be playing in.
“Equally, if I’d had the opportunity to go then, yeah, I’d probably have gone. I imagine it would have been quite a cool experience. Plus, I’m quite a bit older, too. It’s not the same as it is for the younger boys who are looking to start a family and so on. But, not being in that position, it’s not an easy question to answer.”
Lawrie was talking to bunkered.co.uk at Gleneagles where the PGA in Scotland today announced M&H Logistics as the new sponsor of its flagship event, the Scottish PGA Championship, an event that Lawrie - like Chris Kelly, with whom he is pictured above (Pic: Kenny Smith) - has won twice.
This year sees the 100th staging of the tournament. Taking place over the recently-restored King’s Course at Gleneagles from October 17-20, it carries a significantly increased prize fund – worth ‘well into six figures’ over the duration of the five-year agreement with M&H – and will mark the culmination of this season’s Tartan Tour Order of Merit.
"This exciting new partnership takes the Scottish PGA Championship to the level we should be aspiring to," said Shona Malcolm, the PGA in Scotland secretary. "We wanted something special this year to mark the tournament's 100th staging and this also sets the standard for the rest of our events.”
Paul Lawrie defends Olympic absentees - but do you?
Do you share the opinion of Paul Lawrie that the players withdrawing from the Olympics are doing so for genuine reasons? Or do you think that they ought to be making the effort to go to Rio? Leave your thoughts in our 'Comments' section below.