Golf chief: Any athlete who qualifies for Olympics will be there

Golf's top three of Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, and Jordan Spieth all stand to qualify for Rio. Chris Condon/PGA TOUR

Rumours, doubts and speculation about the top players' desire to compete in golf's return to the Olympics has cast a shadow over the event that was last seen at the Games in 1904.

Adam Scott, the winner of the WGC-Cadillac Championship last weekend, has certainly made his aversion to the sport's inclusion clear, and the suspicion has been that he was voicing the feelings of many of his peers.

But the man charged with overseeing golf's Olympics comeback has claimed that big-name players such as Scott, Jordan Spieth -- who has sounded excited about the event -- Jason Day and Rory McIlroy would not only go to Rio, but see all the personal and commercial opportunities of doing so, too.

With Tuesday's test event at Barra da Tijuca approaching, Antony Scanlon, a blunt, no-nonsense Australian and the International Golf Federation's (IGF) executive director, said of the sport's stars: "They are going to be there [in Rio de Janeiro]. Any athlete who qualifies will be there.

"They see the significance of this event to golf and for the opportunity this presents them. There are benefits to be gained from participation and winning a medal. For a starter, there is a television audience of 3.6bn. They don't normally get that every weekend!

"There is exposure to markets and people who have never seen golf, or had exposure to golf. That is the uniqueness of broadcasting an Olympic sport.

"Around 60 or 70 percent of the people who are watching would not normally be watching that sport week in, week out. That is the opportunity the Olympic Games bring to golf, and it's the opportunity the Games brings to the players -- that exposure they would not normally get. From that, all of us [in golf] will benefit."

Scanlon readily identified with the growing tremor of excitement in professional golf surrounding the keen rivalry between the world's leading three players: Spieth, Day and McIlroy -- and let's not forget Rickie Fowler is hammering down the door to make it a fabulous foursome.

"It's true there are some fantastic rivalries" he said. "But it's not just on the men's tours. It's the same on the women's side as well with Lydia Ko and Inbee Park and others involved. There are some great players out there.

"There is a similar rivalry between, probably, the top 10 in each ranking. Any one of them can win on their day and the sport has never looked stronger at the elite level. We will see that desire to win come Rio, I'm sure."

Scanlon has seen negative comments from leading players during the wearisomely long build-up from the announcement of golf's inclusion, which took place in Copenhagen seven years ago, to the cusp of modern Olympic competition.

But he claimed the intelligence he has gathered, from a number of key sources within the game, provided reassurance that the return from the Olympic wilderness will be an overwhelming success.

Scanlon, who took on the IGF role in 2010 charged with promoting golf as an Olympic sport, has never felt any need to engage in one-to-one conversations with the top players as a means of coaxing them to play on the brand new Gil Hanse-designed Barra de Tijuca course, which is situated close to the beating heart of Rio.

"There has been no real need to get out in front of the athletes and address any concerns -- because there aren't any," he said. "We have an 'athletes' commission' which includes Park and Karrie Webb from the women's side and Henrik Stenson and Thongchai Jaidee from the men's.

"All four are influences within the locker room and there is nothing we are hearing from them, along the lines of: 'hey, we need to reach out to these guys'.

"Similarly, we have tour liaison officers as part of the athletes' committee who dial in [for a conference call] every Friday and all we are hearing is enthusiasm from them, week in week out. The message is that the players are keen to be there and looking forward to it."

What is indisputable is that the golfing calendar has become a tangled maze of major championship golf across the male and female schedules in 2016. The Open Championship at Royal Troon will back onto the PGA Championship at Baltusrol in July, with only seven days separating the two majors.

The women's British Open will be played at Woburn from July 28-21 -- the same week as the PGA in New Jersey -- with both those majors feeding directly into the Olympic competitions in Rio. The 72-hole men's event is staged first from August 11-14, with the women's contest following after a two-day interval.

Scanlon took the philosophical view. He said: "The feedback from players and their agents is that they will work around it and fit their playing schedules into the schedule. They will peak in the events they want to peak in.

"The feedback from players and their agents is that they will work around it. They will peak in the events they want to peak in."

Antony Scanlon

"That's one of the commitments we gave to the IOC when we were bidding to get golf back into the Games -- that we would ensure that the top players would be there and we had assurances from all the agencies running the majors that there won't be a conflict with the Olympic Games."

Nine Brazilian male and female professionals were due to compete in the Test event on Tuesday (March 8) to assess the playability of the course and the scoring system devised for the 60-strong fields in August.

Scanlon was hopeful that the final entry would be broadly representative of as many countries as possible, and not just the nations customarily exposed to the game.

But what about the format, which has come in for some stick already because it doesn't make any allowances for team competition, mixed events or match play?

"The IOC directive was that the Olympic Games is not a place to experiment on format. In effect, they said to come back later if you want to experiment, having proven that some other format works," he said.

"We canvassed the players' opinions and they were pretty clear that stroke play was their preference. When you add that to the IOC's desire for it to be stroke play, we really didn't have much choice. Let's get through Rio. Let's see how many excitement is generated around the world -- and then we will look to see if we need to change for Tokyo 2020."