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FEATURE Golf, like tennis in 1988, facing troublesome return to Olympic fold By Simon Cambers, dpa

Europe
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Golf is a world game, but only now is returning to the Olympics after an absence of 112 years. However, the response to this from the professional golfing community shows anything but unanimous approval.

London (dpa) - Here‘s a quiz question. Who won the men‘s singles in tennis at the 1988 Olympic Games? And while we‘re at it, two more questions: When was the last time golf was played at the Olympics and who won that?

The answer to the tennis question: The Czech, Miloslav Mecir, beat Tim Mayotte of the United States to win gold as tennis returned to the Olympic fold after an absence of 64 years.

Though Steffi Graf won women‘s gold to complete the "golden slam" that year, adding the Olympics to all four grand slam titles, many felt the high-paid tennis stars had no place in the Games.

Only three of the top 10 men at the start of 1988 - Stefan Edberg, Mecir and Mayotte - even bothered to enter, with the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Mats Wilander, Andre Agassi and John McEnroe all staying away.

It was a decision many later regretted but in 2016, tennis is firmly established as an Olympic sport and Andy Murray and Serena Williams will defend their titles in Rio.

Women‘s world No 3 Simona Halep and Wimbledon finalist Milos Raonic will not be involved, both citing the Zika virus.

The history of tennis in the Olympics can be compared to that of golf, which returns to the Games in Rio after 112 years away, having been played in 1900 and 1904. At the St. Louis Olympics in 1904, it was George Lyon of Canada who won the last Olympic gold in golf.

Critics say the Olympics is not the pinnacle of a golfer‘s career, that the four Majors are considered much more important.

But with global playing numbers dwindling, golf lobbied hard for inclusion and hopes that a presence in the Olympics will introduce new people to the sport.

However, with the world‘s top four - Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith and Rory McIlroy - all choosing not to play, some in the game fear it could be a one-off.

McIlroy, like several others, cited the Zika virus as his reason for not playing.

The Northern Irishman then drew criticism when he said he "did not get into golf to grow the game" and that he would probably not watch the Olympic golf, preferring to watch "track and field, swimming and diving, stuff that matters."

The nine-time Major winner, Gary Player, said the Zika virus was a "corny excuse," not least because it has has now been found in Florida, the home to the majority of top American golf tournaments.

"Are they all going to leave Florida and move to another state now?" Player asked on BBC 5 Live. "We play golf in malaria countries throughout our careers and malaria is a thousand times worse than Zika.

"I really believe they are all corny excuses. They talk about schedule...(but) you don‘t worry about schedule when you‘re going to the Olympic Games, the biggest sporting event in the world.

"I just hope they don‘t kick us out of the Olympics because all the golfers are not there, all these guys that have let golf down," Player argued.

McIlroy‘s former fiancée, the tennis player Caroline Wozniacki, will carry the flag for Denmark in Rio and American Phil Mickelson, the runner-up at the Open, was gutted to miss out on qualifying for the event by one week.

Others are equally excited about the Olympics and with the top four absent, their chances of success are that much better.

"If I was to fast forward 10 years, I‘d like my career to read: ‘Justin Rose, multiple major champion and Olympic gold medallist,‘" the Englishman said last month.

"It‘s going to be right there alongside the major championships but not compared to. I just think it has its own category. It‘s once every four years. It‘s unique. It‘s very different. It‘s very special."

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