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Padraig Harrington: Top golfers missing out on unique event

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Padraig Harrington has been a staunch supporter of Olympic golf, and on the eve of the 72-hole men's tournament, he surmised that a number of high-profile players who elected to skip the event will rue their decision.

"The players who are here couldn't be more positive and couldn't be enjoying it more,'' Harrington said Wednesday at the Olympic Golf Course, where golf returns Thursday after a 112-year absence. "I sense, as well, the players at home are pretty quiet on social media. You sense that maybe some of them would like to be here. Certainly I think some of them would definitely like to be here and they are missing out.

"There's no doubt they are missing out, that's for sure. You just don't know where this game is going to lead and where they will be in four years' time or eight years' time or whether golf will be in the Olympics in eight years' time.

"I can't say it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity because we're obviously in the 2020 Games, but it may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a lot of people.''

The run-up to golf's return to the Olympics was filled with negativity; no sport saw more withdrawals among its players.

The top four in the world -- Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy -- all elected to skip the Games. Other big names such as Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen and Graeme McDowell also elected to stay home.

Harrington, 45, got a spot when McIlroy, Shane Lowry and McDowell all elected not to play for Ireland. And he was thrilled at the prospect, having taken a role in pitching golf to the International Olympic Committee when it was being considered in 2009.

Back then, Harrington was ranked seventh in the world; he is now 128th.

"I absolutely thought I would be here,'' he said. "But that's the nature of sport, when you're at the top of your game, you don't believe it's ever going to change. You think it's going to last forever. Hindsight says that's not true.

"It would be interesting about the athletes who turned down coming here this time. Some of them might not get the opportunity again. You'd be surprised how it odes change. For me, clearly this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I feel good about my golf and where I'm at with my golf, logically, will I get get another chance in 2020?

"So this is an awfully big deal that I've got an opportunity, and I'm keen to take it.''

Harrington's wife and two sons made the journey to Rio, and they plan to stay next week to take in other Olympic sports.

"All the golfers here, everybody here is loving it,'' he said. "I don't think I've seen as much interaction between the players. Like at a major, there wouldn't be interaction between the players at all. Everybody is really going about their business. Here we're going about our business, but everybody is talking about what they have seen and what's been happening and what they went to.''

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