In recent weeks, we've been flooded by news of golfers withdrawing from the Olympics. But on Wednesday, Jaco van Zyl flipped the script.
The South African announced he's all-in for Rio. And in a much more surprising development, he withdrew from both the British Open and the PGA Championship instead. Here's what he told Sport 24:
“I expect that there will be a camp that will criticize me for withdrawing from the Majors, but I feel very passionate about golf’s debut at the Olympics. Rory [McIlroy] said in a recent press conference that we play four ’Olympics’ a year because Major titles are what we play for, but I don’t agree.
“To me, the Olympics is the pinnacle of all sporting events and to have the chance to represent Team South Africa on sports’ biggest stage is an honor I don’t take for granted. I need to go to Brazil with the rest of the South African team knowing that I am in peak mental and physical health and that I can give my best over four rounds.
“The majors will still be there next year, but I don’t know if I will get another chance in 2020. To be part of the first South African team at the Olympics is a massive honor, and I owe it to SASCOC, Gary Player, South Africa, Paula [Reto], Ashleigh [Simon] and the player who will be joining me in the men’s competition to be at my best.”
Van Zyl, currently No. 65 in the Official World Golf Ranking, moved into position to qualify for the South African team after Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel withdrew. He is a member of the European Tour and has 14 career wins on the Sunshine Tour. Luke Donald has replaced him in the field for next week’s British Open at Royal Troon.
Golf being added back to the Olympics after 112 years has caused a jam-packed schedule. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational was moved up to June, and the British Open and PGA Championship will be played in a three-week span before the men’s golf competition of the Olympics next month.
In addition to a strong South African contingent skipping the Games, other big stars like McIlroy, Jason Day, Adam Scott and Hideki Matsuyama have pulled out. Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson are among the big names who have committed to playing.
Those three will also play in the year’s final two majors. Van Zyl, however, felt he was getting a bit burned out while playing in last week’s French Open, where he finished T-62. In any event, the surprising decision is done -- and the IOC has a new favorite golfer.