Does Zika Change Things?

Golfers Watching and Waiting Zika Situation

I was going to begin my thoughts today by telling Ariya Jutanugarn that enough is enough, and this total dominance thing isn’t funny anymore. But now, I want to ask her how she feels about going to the Olympics as one who has her game on fire, given the Zika virus situation in Brazil.

ZikaA group of apparently knowledgeable people, professors and medical practitioners, have sounded the alarm as a collective, urging that the Olympic Games in Rio, scheduled for this summer, be moved or postponed. I can’t imagine the logistical nightmare of doing such a thing, but the concern seems well-placed. What Brazil is going through with Zika isn’t your normal health scare, which players who tour the world always have to consider. One and a half million Brazilians alone are infected, and the Olympics is said to be prepared to host another half million visitors, who will then report back to their native lands and add to the global outbreak.

The tricky part of this is not just the warning that it is dangerous to women who are pregnant. Any woman could simply decide to come or not to come based on that. However, those who are “expecting to have children” in the near future are also told to check their plans, and perhaps come another time. Some alteration has already been made in the schedules. Men play their events between August 11 – 14, and women between August 17 – 20. In other Central and South American venues, the Guatemala Open was moved to late April, and the Honduras Open to early May. Colombia plays its Open, apparently, at a higher altitude, which seems to have an effect on the mosquito crowd. Zika is particularly applicable to Olympic golfers, because the game itself will feature multiple sites of standing water, where mosquitos get it all done in their preparations for pouncing on the regional environment. Some have suggested altering this in some technical way, so that the water is moving, and that may happen. Mosquito treatment is ongoing, and the results are uncertain.

There have already been dropouts for the summer events. Marc Leishman of Australia sited scheduling problems, but it is thought that Zika played a part. Vijay Singh of Fiji is out, and so are South Africans Oosthuizen and Schwartzel. Rory wants to play, and still intends to come, but is watching carefully to see if it gets worse.

Interestingly enough, as of the middle of May, no LPGA competitors had dropped out. According to the tour commissioner, women have never spent so much time obsessing on their current world and national rankings, and that the Olympic spirit is burning bright in the world’s best female golfers. Approximately 40% of those asked responded that they would rather win a Gold Medal in the Olympic Games than an LPGA major. There is a difference – win a tournament, and you make good money, some personal glory, perhaps some endorsements, and a temporary round of praise from those of your countrymen and women who follow golf. Win a Gold Medal for your country, and you’re tickertape parade material, at some level.

The women aren’t just being cavalier about the danger. They’re watching the Zika updates all the time, and some might have a change of heart if there is a turn for the worst. But, so far, a recently published article entitled “Zika be Damned! Women Ready for Rio” seems to signal the truth of the matter. Even if the professors and doctors are right, they will still have to fight hard to stop or move the games. Until they do, it seems that the spirit of competition is ready to overrule the fear.

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