Golf’s gender gap on display at Rio
When it comes to golfers and their interest in competing at this year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, a curious gender divide is emerging which, at first glance, is counter-intuitive.
While world No 1 Jason Day and fourth-ranked Rory McIlroy are among several big names in the men’s game who have already opted out of Rio, not a single women’s player has yet withdrawn from the global sport’s showpiece.
Both Day and McIlroy have cited Zika fears as their prime reason for pulling out, saying they were unwilling to put either themselves or their families at risk from a mosquito-borne virus that can cause crippling birth defects.
Yet even though pregnant women appear to be most vulnerable to the virus, Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) players have enthusiastically embraced golf’s return to the Olympics after an absence of more than a century.
According to a recent Sports Illustrated survey, 40 per cent of LPGA Tour players said they would prefer to win a gold medal in Rio than any of this year’s four major golf championships.
In contrast, 29 per cent of PGA Tour players expressed a preference for winning gold over the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, and that percentage would likely have been lower if the Masters, US Open and British Open had been factored in.
Surprisingly, 62 per cent of PGA Tour players rated the Players Championship, which is not a major, above Olympic success.
Based on that and other evidence collected so far, women players seem to have placed a higher priority on Olympic golf than a majority of their male counterparts.
For Lydia Ko, the top-ranked women’s golfer, the thrill of being part of the Olympics trumps any fear over Zika.
‘‘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.’’
American Matt Kuchar, a seven-times winner on the PGA Tour who is ranked 17th in the world, summed up the ambivalence of his peers over golf’s return to the Olympics.
‘‘For the fact that this is going to be the first time in over 100 years for golf to be played at the Olympics, we will certainly be awfully excited,’’ Kuchar said.
‘‘But would you rather win one
New Zealand’s Lydia Ko, left, is happy to play in Rio but fellow world No 1 Jason Day, right, won’t be flying the Australian flag at the Olympics.