Johannesburg - Branden
Grace withdrew from the Olympics on Friday, becoming the fourth golfer
to cite the Zika virus as a reason not to play in Rio de Janeiro this
At No 11 in the world, Grace, a two-time winner this year, is the highest-ranked South African golfer.
serious consideration, it is with regret that I have decided to
withdraw myself from the Olympic competition due to the risk posed by
the Zika virus," Grace said in a statement.
"Although it was a huge goal
of mine to represent my country in the Olympics, we are getting married
in November and hoping to start a family in the near future, so I must
put the health of my family first."
Brazil has been the hardest
hit of the approximately 60 countries that have reported an outbreak of
Zika, the mosquito-borne virus linked to severe birth defects and
possible neurological problems in adults.
The announcement comes
two days after Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland, the No 4 player with
worldwide appeal among golf's growing list of young stars, said he won't
be part of golf's return to the Olympics because of Zika. McIlroy also
is engaged and said he plans to start a family soon.
Masters champion Charl Schwartzel said three weeks ago that Zika was
behind his decision to withdraw.
Schwartzel said he and his wife plan to
have more children and that he would play if he were single or if the
Olympics were held elsewhere.
Marc Leishman of Australia also
cited Zika because his wife's immune system has not fully recovered from
nearly dying last year of toxic shock syndrome.
withdrew - Adam Scott of Australia, Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa,
Vijay Singh of Fiji and Graeme McDowell of Northern Ireland - did not
specifically cite Zika. McDowell, who was next in line to replace
McIlroy, said his wife is expecting their second child about two weeks
after the Olympics and he had no plans to be out of the country in the
weeks leading up to the birth.
Golf is returning to the Olympics
for the first time since 1904. It already is set for the Tokyo Games in
2020, though the IOC will vote next year to determine whether the sport
should be a permanent addition to the program.
Still to be determined is whether Jason Day, the No 1 player in the world, decides to play.
began to hedge three weeks ago when he mentioned his wife wanted more
children and said he was wary about going and needed to make a smart
choice. Earlier this week at a preview day for the PGA Championship, he
said he respected McIlroy's decision.
"It's a tough one going from
trying to represent your country and trying to win a gold medal, but
also understanding that it's a life decision that you have to make," he
Grace's decision is a blow to South Africa because its best
three players - Grace at No 11, Oosthuizen at No 14 and Schwartzel at
No 23 - all have pulled out. Next in line would be Jaco van Zyl and
Brandon Stone, who won the South African Open at the start of the year
but has yet to play in a major.
Grace said he wishes the South African teams well and apologised to fans for withdrawing.
would have been a huge honor to represent my country, so I really hope
to be able to qualify again in four years' time," he said.