Golf’s gen­der gap on dis­play at Rio

The Dominion Post - - Olympic Games Countdown - MARK LAMPORT-STOKES GOLF

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.

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