Los Angeles (AFP) - South Africa's Lee-Anne Pace became the first woman golfer to withdraw from the Rio Olympics, saying Wednesday she will not play in Brazil because she fears contracting the Zika virus.
"I was very much looking forward to the opportunity," said Pace, her nation's top-ranked woman golfer at 38th in the world.
"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."
Pace's pullout leaves 119th-ranked Paula Reto and 207th-ranked Ashleigh Simon in position to compete at Rio as golf returns to the Olympic lineup of sports after a 112-year absence.
"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," Pace said. "I'm a very proud South African and I love representing my country whilst I play on the LPGA Tour around the world."
The LPGA also released a statement regarding players competing in Rio, stating it will support and respect whatever choice any of its players make regarding Zika and the Olympics.
"Playing in the Rio 2016 Olympics is an incredible honor for any athlete, and we are excited for golf's return to the Games," the tour statement said. "We also realize that the Zika virus is a concern for many, particularly for women with plans for a family in the near-term. The decision that any player makes is a personal one and the LPGA will respect and support our member's decisions as it relates to participating in Rio 2016."
Many of the world's top-ranked men's players have said no to Rio, including top-ranked Jason Day of Australia, his countrymen Adam Scott and Marc Leishman, Fiji's Vijay Singh, South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Brendan Grace and potential Irish team members Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry and Graeme McDowell.
New Zealand 19-year-old Lydia Ko, the women's world number one, is going to Rio and excited about her chance at gold.
"It's not every week, not every year you get to do this, to represent your country amongst the world best athletes in other sports, so I'm super excited about it and there are just so many positives from Rio that golf can take."
World number three Park In-Bee of South Korea has a left thumb injury that might keep her out of Rio but otherwise top LPGA players have not pulled out.
The two US players set to compete, Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis, have indicated they plan to participate.