TOLEDO, Ohio - The thought of passing up participating in one of the world's biggest sporting events didn't cross Stacy Lewis' mind until she saw her male counterparts second-guessing their own participation.
Even with the threat of the Zika virus looming as the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil approaches, Lewis wasn't about to make a knee-jerk decision.
Instead, the seventh-year LPGA pro decided to arm herself with information. With each medical consultation and each security briefing, she made a rhetorical declaration:
"Give me a reason why I shouldn't go,"said Lewis, who was born in Toledo. "And none of those people ever gave me a reason why I should not go."
Lewis is one of 23 LPGA golfers at the Marathon Classic who will represent their respective countries in the Olympics, which are scheduled to begin Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro. While some of the PGA's most prominent golfers have elected not to participate in the Olympics, only one LPGA golfer has withdrawn from Olympic competition because of Zika concerns.
"It's completely based on my health and safety," South African LPGA player Lee-Anne Pace told the New York Times last week. "I really, really want to have children."
Zika is a virus that is spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected mosquito, and can cause serious complications in newborn children, including birth defects, if their mother is infected. Men who are infected can transmit Zika through sexual contact.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a travel notice for 50 countries and territories in Central and South America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, and the eastern Atlantic Ocean -- including Brazil.
Several PGA golfers, including Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, and Jason Day have also announced they will not participate in the Olympics because of Zika concerns. Yet while the men are dropping out, the women -- many who are of childbearing age, as the average age of the Olympic-bound LPGA player is 25.6 -- will simply exercise caution as they prepare to represent their countries.
"I believe in all the experts and everybody that's taking care of this,' said Lydia Ko, who will represent New Zealand in Rio. "I truly believe that if it was so dangerous that we couldn't compete and it wasn't right that I'm sure they would pull us off in the first place. We've got the world's best experts there handling all the situations, so as an athlete perspective, I think it's right for us to believe and trust them, for me to concentrate on what I have in front of me."
Last week at the U.S. Women's Open in San Martin, Calif., Lewis pointed out the schedule as a possible factor in the number of PGA players who have chosen to forgo the Olympics.
"If we had a tournament at the end of the year where we could win $10 million, I would probably change my schedule a little bit, too, making sure I was a little bit more fresh and ready to go," said Lewis, who will golf for the United States. "I think when you play for as much money as those guys do, you become a product of that environment. Your schedule revolves around the big tournaments, around the big purses, and that's kind of what you get caught up in, so when you have another event thrown in there, it kind of messes up your preparation and the way you get ready for tournaments, and so you become a product of that environment, and that's what I think it is."
The, LPGA, Lewis said, has accommodated the Olympics in its schedule, which stretches from the end of January to mid-November. After the RICOH Women's British Open July 25-31 in Milton Keynes, England, the LPGA has no tournaments scheduled until the Canadian Pacific Women's open Aug. 22-28 in Calgary. The PGA has three tournaments scheduled in that span.
"To me what that shows is that our commissioner and our tour says the Olympics is a priority, so we're going to make this so our players don't have to choose between their status," Lewis said. "They can go play in the Olympics and then come worry about their card later. The PGA Tour didn't do that.
"From a player's perspective, maybe the Tour doesn't think the Olympics is that important. I think there's a lot of factors, and it's really disappointing because their decision, it affects us. It affects women's golf staying in the Olympics, and it's just really disappointing."
In May, the Harvard Public Health Review advocated for the cancellation of the Olympics, in Brazil because of the risks the Zika virus poses to public health. A written report stated the disease is "flourishing," that the outbreak in Brazil is more widespread than scientists predicted, and that an estimated 500,000 foreign visitors to Rio de Janeiro could speed up outbreaks across the globe.
Meanwhile, in a conference call earlier this month with international journalists, Brazil's sports minister Leonardo Picciani said the Zika virus will not be a problem for Olympic athletes and spectators, and that there has been a 90 percent decrease in Zika cases in Rio de Janeiro since January and the incidence rate should be "close to zero." by August.
The women, however, aren't bending to the threat of a global health crisis.
"As far as the Zika, I'm getting the bug sprays and the different things you can put on your clothing or attach stuff to the golf bag," Lewis said. "I'm going to do whatever I can, but right now, there's more cases of Zika in Florida than there is in Rio. I really think it's been a little bit overblown. I can't wait to get there. I'm really excited."
This article was written by Rachel Lenzi from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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