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Women Pros See Olympics Differently

By Steve Eubanks – Global Golf Post

It could be an outlier or the first shoe to drop. Either way it’s more bad news for the Rio Olympics, an event that, from the outside, seems perilously close to disaster.

Early last week the story of golf at the Games was the curious dichotomy between the men and women. Nine men, including the Nos.1, 4, 8, 12 and 14 ranked players in the world, all took passes on playing, all but two of them citing the Zika virus as a concern, while none of the women had made similar calls. Zika doesn’t discriminate based on gender. Since the biggest threat is birth defects, you would think that those who could actually get pregnant would forgo the trip to Brazil.

Not so, at least not until last Wednesday when South African Lee-Anne Pace became the first LPGA player to drop out of the Rio Games.riogolfolympics

In a prepared statement, Pace wrote: “I was very much looking forward to … being part of the South African Golf Team and the wider South African Olympic Team. However … after weighing up all the options and discussing it with my family and team, I have decided that due to the health concerns surrounding the Zika virus, I will not be participating.”

The fact that a woman finally said “No, thanks,” should come as no surprise. But two months ago, I asked Pace about Zika on the driving range at the Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic and she had no idea what it was. “Never heard of it,” she said through her always pleasant smile. “I heard we are to get some vaccinations but I don’t know what for. I guess I’m going to have to do some reading.”

We can assume she did just that, reading reports of the horrors that can accompany Zika but also about the more pressing dangers in Rio.

Like the 9,968 muggings that occurred in the month of May alone, a good number of them within sight of the venues. Or the 71 people who have been hit by stray bullets this year. Or the 20 who have died in the past two weeks in gun battles with police. Or the human foot that washed ashore a few yards from the Olympic beach volleyball stadium last Wednesday. It’s enough to make anyone re-evaluate priorities.

Even with Pace breaking the ice, the exodus from the Games is contained mostly to men’s golf. There is a medical reason for that. Zika can live longer in semen than in blood. While no one knows exactly how long the virus can remain active (best guess, according to the CDC, is six months but it could be longer), a male carrier can infect his partner without ever suffering symptoms.

But don’t kid yourself. PGA Tour players haven’t suddenly mastered the nuances of epidemiology. The truth is, women golfers haven’t dropped out of the Games at the rate the men have for one simple reason: They care more.

golf-olympic-ringsFrom the beginning of the year until last week, players on the LPGA Tour have spoken about the Olympics as a cause, a vehicle to showcase their skill to the world, something the women’s game, for all its great storylines, doesn’t get often enough.

“I’ve always said and continue to say that, as an American, anytime I can represent our country, I’m going to be there and do it,” Lexi Thompson said last week. “Sure, there are concerns. You’re keeping up with it. But the idea of (the Olympics) is just so great.”

You get a fraction of that enthusiasm from men. But you can rest assured that if bubonic plague and a zombie apocalypse broke out in Augusta, Ga., in April, Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and the rest of them would still show up for The Masters.

That’s the difference.

“The women are concerned (about Rio), too,” Stacy Lewis said last week at the LPGA stop in Portland, Ore. “But we’re playing for a slightly different reason. Women need to grow the sport and gain the recognition that we deserve. The Olympics represents the biggest opportunity in the world to do that.”

Men have four majors and the Ryder Cup, the latter of which draws a massive worldwide audience, much larger than anything golf can expect out of the Olympics. In short, the men’s game doesn’t need the Olympics and vice versa. Women’s golf could use a boost. The Games is a vehicle that could provide it.

This isn’t the first time something like this has happened. When baseball and softball were dropped as Olympic sports, professional baseball players, who didn’t interrupt their schedules for the Games anyway, shrugged and went about their business. Women softball players were devastated.

We can only hope something similar doesn’t happen to golf.

“Years from now, I don’t want to look back and regret that I didn’t take the opportunity to represent my country at the world’s most important athletic event while I had the chance,” Lewis said last week.

That was the attitude organizers had hoped all golfers would take regardless of gender. In hindsight, that was probably a pipe dream from the start.

Republished with permission by Global Golf Post.