Brian Allee-Walsh

Zurich Classic features several potential Olympic golfers

The year is 1904.

Republican incumbent Theodore Roosevelt defeated Democrat Alton B. Parker to remain president of the United States, Henry Ford set a new land speed record of 91.37 mph, Cy Young threw the first perfect game in the modern era of baseball and Canadian George Lyon and Team USA won gold medals in golf in the third modern day Summer Olympics as part of the St. Louis World's Fair.

After a 112-year hiatus, golf will reappear at the Summer Olympics with men's (Aug. 11-14) and women's (Aug. 18-21) stroke play being conducted over 72 holes at the new Gil Hanse-designed Olympic Golf Course cut out of a nature reserve in western Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Think about it: one hundred and 12 flippin' years ago -- a lifetime and a half for many. That said, several world renowned players from the PGA Tour have decided not to represent their countries on this historic occasion.

They are Adam Scott (Australia), Charl Schwartzel (South Africa), Louis Oosthuizen (South Africa) and Vijay Singh (Fiji). That number could grow before the qualification deadline expires July 11. They cite their busy summer schedules and health concerns as reasons to skip.

I'll give Singh a pass. His concerns are with the deadly Zika virus. Scott, Schwartzel and Oosthuizen have decided to bypass the Summer Olympics because of scheduling conflicts or other undisclosed reasons. To each his own. But we're talking about the the Olympics here, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a chance to compete for Olympic Gold. That opportunity may never pass their way again.

Hall of Famer Gary Player said it best: "I would have given anything to play in the Olympics. South Africa had a great team, but not now. Obviously, it will not be as as good.''

I focus on the Summer Olympics because of this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans at TPC Louisiana where 11 potential players are in the field of 156: Alex Cejka (Germany), Jason Day (Australia), Brendon de Jonge (Zimbabwe), Rickie Fowler (U.S.), David Hearn (Canada), Anirban Lahiri (India), Danny Lee (New Zealand), Marc Leishman (Australia), Carlos Ortiz (Mexico), Justin Rose (Great Britain) and Jhonattan Vegas (Venezuela).

To date, no U.S. golfer has withdrawn from consideration. At the moment the U.S.A. men (based on Official World Golf Rankings) would be Jordan Spieth (No. 2), Bubba Watson (No. 4), Rickie Fowler (No. 5) and Dustin Johnson (No. 8). The U.S.A. women would be Lexi Thompson (No. 3), Stacy Lewis (No. 4), Christie Kerr (No. 16) and Gerina Piller (No. 20).

Day (No. 1, OGWR), Fowler and Rose (No. 10, OGWR) are assured of playing in the Summer Olympics based on their current world rankings. Each gladly embraces the idea of fitting the Olympics within their "busy'' pursuit of major glory at the upcoming U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship later this summer.

"It's going to be something that stands apart,'' Rose said of the Olympic experience. "We are judged by how many majors (we win) and world rankings, etc. I think this is something that's going to stand apart from all of that. I think it's going to be a very nice cherry on top.''

"If I have the chance to go down there and play for Team USA and walk in the opening ceremonies and to be a part of the Olympics, it would be pretty special,'' Fowler said.

"For me,'' Day said, "it would be a really, really fantastic honor to be able to win a gold medal or any medal in the Olympics ... To be able to represent your country is a unique and massive honor for a person.''

If 1904 Gold Medalist George Lyon of Canada were alive, he'd probably agree.

Brian Allee-Walsh, is a longtime Saints reporter based in New Orleans. He can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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