• Lydia Ko claimed her 18th professional title with victory in the LPGA's NW Arkansas Championship. (AAP)Source: AAP
While world number one Jason Day is the latest big golfing name to opt out of Rio not one women's player has withdrawn citing Zika virus fears. Is there a gender divide over Rio and Zika?
By
Rachel de Bear

Source:
AAP, Reuters
29 Jun 2016 - 12:37 PM  UPDATED 29 Jun 2016 - 1:03 PM

Several big name Professional Golf Association (PGA) players including Jason Day and Rory McIlroy have opted out of Rio selection citing mosquito-borne Zika virus fears, opting instead to put their families first.  

With pregnant women and women wanting to fall pregnant most vulnerable to the birth defect causing virus, it's surprising to see a contrast emerge.

Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) players are excited about golf's return to the Olympics after 112 years and are willing to take the Zika risk. 

Is there more to withdrawing from the Olympics than Zika? 

A survey says

In an anonymous Sports Illustrated survey from May, 40 percent of LPGA Tour players said they'd prefer a gold medal over winning any of this year's four major golf championships.

Compare the PGA Tour players and you're looking at 29 percent of PGA Tour players who preferred gold over the final major, the PGA Championship. 

In fact, 62 percent of PGA Tour players preferred winning the Players Championship - not a major - over the top step on an Olympic podium.

For PGA players is the Olympic Games just another event?  

Seven-times winner PGA Tour winner American Matt Kuchar (ranked 17th in the world) told Reuters that while it was exciting golf was returning to the Olympics after such a long time, many viewed it as another event. 

"Would you rather win one of the majors or an Olympic medal? I don't know exactly. In the golf world, we have our four majors then every other week there is a big event going on with major attention. The fact that we have an event every week, the Olympics will be another event." 

Another event in an extremely busy calendar?   

For the PGA Tour, the Olympic Games falls within a heavily crammed seven-week period from mid-June until late-July. This is the main reason Australia's 2013 Masters champion Adam Scott opted out of Rio. 

But the women's majors have been spread out from the first in April, another in June, two in July and the final in mid-September. 

"It seemed right to take a break (around the Olympics) for the players," said LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan. "It's an exciting time for us. I have yet to meet somebody in player dining who wasn't trying to figure out if they were going to make it on their country's team in Rio."

Olympic Games experience worth Zika risk

Number 1 LGPA golfer Lydia Ko said being part of the Olympics was worth the Zika risk.

"I'm more excited about the Olympics, about the ceremony, about just being in that Olympic vibe than worrying about the Zika virus," said the 19-year-old New Zealander.

"It's more important that we enjoy Rio and we're excited about it. And all the girls I've talked to, that's kind of the response. We're all excited to go to Brazil, represent our countries and be there amongst the other Olympians.

"It's unfortunate with what's happening with Zika. We all trust the people that are taking care of it it's in their hands now."

Perhaps gaining recognition on a wider stage for women's golf is another huge draw card. Men's golf doesn't need much help with that. 

Still, many PGA players are excited about the Olympics

American world number two Jordan Spieth anticipates an "awesome" experience while fifth-ranked Swede Henrik Stenson told Reuters: "I see it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of the Olympics. It's a cool event."

And Day insists it's just Zika, not Olympic ambivalence

"It was a very difficult decision to make," Day said.

"But I had to put family first and make sure that's a priority over anything else, more so than golf and the Olympics.

"I understand and sympathise with everyone that has made the decision to withdraw their names, but I also understand what an honour it is to represent your country and try to win a gold medal, as well."

Day implored Olympic officials, who will vote in 2017 on whether to keep the sport in the games beyond 2020 in Tokyo, to understand the decisions are mainly health related.

"I think it is a one-off," he added of the withdrawals.

"I just hope they look past this and go, you know, we're looking at the bigger picture and trying to grow the game."