AKRON, Ohio (AP) — Japanese star Hideki Matsuyama said Sunday he was pulling out of the Olympics because of the Zika virus, making him the seventh golfer to cite the mosquito-borne virus for sitting out golf’s return to the Olympics after 112 years.
Matsuyama, who won the Phoenix Open earlier this year in a playoff for his second PGA Tour victory, told Japanese reporters of his decision after he finished the Bridgestone Invitational. He later issued a statement through his management company.
“Although I am excited that golf is returning to the Olympics and I realize that my potential success would help grow the game in Japan, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot put myself or my team member’s health at risk,” he said.
That makes seven players from the top 25 in the world who have said they are not going to Rio next month. The others are Jason Day and Adam Scott of Australia, Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland and the South African trio of Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel.
Of the 11 golfers who said they would not go, seven specifically cited Zika.
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.
“I have been getting information from all the concerned parties as well as my doctors about the situation in Rio, but I cannot be 100 percent sure about my safety, and my team’s safety, from the Zika virus,” Matsuyama said. “Additionally, my body has a tendency to react strongly to insect bites.”
He called the choice “heart wrenching” not to go to the Olympics.
His announcement capped a tough week for golf, which last was part of the Olympics in 1904. Day is the No. 1 player in the world and said on Tuesday he would not be going. Shane Lowry said Wednesday that he was too concerned about the Zika risk because he married in April and wants to start a family.
Jordan Spieth said he remained undecided.
Golf is assured of being part of the Tokyo Games, though the International Olympic Committee votes next year to determine if the sport will be part of the program beyond 2020.
With one week remaining before qualifying ends through the world ranking, Japan’s two spots currently would go to Hideto Tanihara and Yuka Ikeda. Tanihara won on the Japan Golf Tour on Sunday to move into the No. 2 spot among Japanese players even before Matsuyama withdrew.
Each country is allowed two players until the 60-man field is set, with a maximum of four players provided they are among the top 15 in the world.