T ROON, Scotland — On the Sunday night
before the 145th Open Championship,
Jordan Spieth still hadn’t made up his
mind on the Rio Olympics.
After consulting for the last month with
his team, the highest-ranked American
golfer in the world (third overall) found
himself sharing a house near Royal Troon
with defending Open champion Zach
Johnson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas,
Jimmy Walker and Jason Dufner. It was
the last night Johnson would be in
possession of the claret jug, so they
drank from it before settling in for some
serious conversation.
With the deadline for committing to the
Olympics 24 hours away, Spieth called in
his buddies as an 11th-hour sounding
board. “The topic did arise,” Johnson said
on the practice ground at Troon. “Not one
of us told him what to do, because none
of us are in his shoes.”
This was the same house where Fowler
tweeted a night earlier that he couldn’t
wait to represent the red, white and blue.
On the other hand, the highly respected
Johnson — had he been eligible — said
he would have opted out of Rio, for
reasons he would not discuss.
Spieth was under more pressure than
either. He is the 2015 Masters and U.S
Open champion, the kid on the Coca-Cola
cans and the AT&T commercials, the
American poster boy for golf.
“What I told him is that either way, you
don’t have to justify it,” Johnson said.
Spieth arrived at the course last Monday
still not knowing what he would do. He
was leaning toward not playing, and with
the deadline approaching he stayed true,
not flip-flopping like this year’s U.S.
Open champion Dustin Johnson.
“So no, they didn’t have an effect on me,”
Spieth said of his counterparts. “I had to
make the decision just me.”
The tone of Spieth’s news conference at
Troon was heartfelt, but he clearly was
conflicted. The 22-year-old said it was
the hardest decision in his life. Tougher
than choosing a college, or deciding
whether to leave the University of Texas to
turn pro.
Why was it so hard? Because he is a huge
believer in Olympic golf and in his
country, and because he has played
sports all his life and loves the Olympics
and had been talking up how much he
wanted to go. Before his career is over,
he hopes to compete in four or five
Olympic games.
AFP/Getty Images
So he could understand the skepticism
about his decision. Spieth pushed back
on suggestions that it was about the Zika
virus, saying it was more “health
concerns.” He implied there were more
serious considerations — probably
involving security issues — that he
couldn’t talk about.
Spieth also considered the importance of
golf being in the Olympics for the first
time since 1904. And what athletes from
other sports said about the Olympic
experience. “I certainly was not trying to
wait until the last minute,” Spieth said. “I
couldn’t make a decision and then I had
to by the last deadline.” In the end, he
went with his gut.
Perhaps the process was a distraction.
Spieth struggled at Troon, making the cut
on the number and finishing T-30. He
goes to the PGA Championship at
Baltusrol for his last chance at a 2016
major. And he has decided not to use the
week of the Olympics to defend his title at
the John Deere Classic; playing might be
interpreted as being disrespectful to the
Instead, Spieth said it will be “a big
bummer” watching the opening
ceremonies in Rio, where Fowler, Bubba
Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar
will be the men representing the USA.
Fowler has already texted how jealous
Spieth will be when he wins the gold.