This one came as a surprise. On Wednesday afternoon, South Africa’s Lee-Anne Pace officially withdrew from the Olympics, becoming the first female targeted for qualification to publicly announce that she will not go.
Ranked 38th in the world in the Rolex Rankings, Pace is the top-ranked South African. Ashleigh Simon, ranked No. 207 is in line to replace Pace and join No. 119 Paula Reto representing South Africa in Brazil.
In a statement, Pace said:
“I have advised South African Golf Association, South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee, Mr. Gary Player and Sunshine Ladies Tour that I have withdrawn my name from consideration for the South African Olympic Golf Team for Rio.
“I was very much looking forward to the opportunity of being part of the South African Golf Team and the wider South African Olympic Team. However, over recent months my team has been monitoring the situation regarding the Zika Virus and finding out as much information as possible.
“After weighing up all the options and discussing it with my family and team, I have decided that due to the health concerns surrounding the Zika Virus, I will not be participating.
“I hope that everyone can understand that this was a very difficult decision to come to, however my health and my future family’s health must come first.
“I’m a very proud South African and I love representing my country whilst I play on the LPGA Tour around the world. To see the South African Flag flying at each tournament is a great motivator for me, along with all the fantastic support I receive from home. I wish the South African Olympic Team all the very best in Rio.
“I also want to thank the IOC for golf’s return to the Olympics and I wish the IOC, Rio 2016 and the IGF a very successful Olympic Games.”
Two months ago, Pace told me she hadn’t even heard about Zika, saying, “I guess I’m going to have to do some reading.”
She clearly did just that and decided Rio wasn’t worth the risk.
Whether or not this defection starts an avalanche like we’ve seen on the men’s side remains to be seen. But don’t expect Lee-Anne Pace to stand alone among women who chose health ahead of Olympic glory.
If the Games started today, these would be the women qualifiers (as of June 25).