Annika seeing big picture about Olympics

Annika Sorenstam will be in Rio to broadcast golf's return to the Olympics for the first time since 1904. Michael Cohen/Getty Images

Several of the top male golfers -- Jason Day and Rory McIlroy among them -- have declared they will not compete in the Olympics due to concern about the Zika virus. But if golf legend Annika Sorenstam still was on the LPGA Tour, she would definitely play in Rio. Both to be an Olympian and to benefit the sport.

"It's sad because I was in the presentation to the IOC to get golf in the Olympics,'' said Sorenstam, a 10-time major champion. "For them, it was, 'OK, we need to get the best players to play,' and this was the first time in several years that all the organizations had lined up and were ready to commit ... So now when you see the players not competing, it's certainly disappointing for whatever reason.''

Concerns over Zika might be overblown. Epidemiologist Mikkel Quam recently estimated that just one in 31,000 people might get the virus during the Olympics. Your chances of being killed in a car accident in the United States this year are substantially higher. "Yet we still rent cars and drive around,'' Sorenstam said.

Thus, Sorenstam isn't worried about going to Brazil as an analyst for NBC.

"As far as I understand, this is a good time of the year to go there, it's more dormant,'' she said. "I'm going. I'm not concerned about that. I may cover myself a little more with mosquito repellent and long sleeves maybe, but other than that, the Olympics is a one-time opportunity.''

Zika worries are not the only reason for withdrawals, what with the always-demanding professional tour schedules.

"Some players feel like they're exhausted,'' Sorenstam said. "They don't see the Olympics as that big of a deal in golf. But when you go to other countries, like Korea and China, that's all they live for. So it's cultural.''

If Sorenstam was playing in Rio rather than broadcasting, just how competitive would she be at age 45 when the average age of players regularly winning LPGA tournaments is around 21 these days?

"The game is changing,'' she said. "I think a lot of players are better at younger ages. A lot of them don't go to college anymore. It's become very global, so you have players from other parts of the world coming in early. We always talk about experience and how important that is, but we haven't seen ... that this year, with people with lots of years of experience behind them.''

More opportunities for junior golfers is one factor. Sorenstam says her foundation, for instance, holds six junior tournaments around the world annually.

"We have kids who are 12 or 13 years old or 14 and you watch them and say, they play like they might be 19-year-olds,'' she said. "There are different opportunities that they have early on that are preparing them for pro golf sooner than it used to.

"It will be interesting to see how long their careers span. They're 20; will they be done before they're 30? Or will their careers be longer? I have a feeling their careers will be shorter if they start sooner. But right now we're just starting this phenomenon, so we'll have to see how many of the 30-year-olds will continue.''

It will also be interesting to see how the growth of Asian golfers and champions continues.

"We haven't seen the China invasion yet. We have had a few good players, but they're coming and I think the Olympics will escalate that,'' said Sorenstam, who retired eight years ago. "We're at the beginning of that, but I think other countries will connect and follow and try. There might be another resurgence of U.S. players, there might be a resurgence of European players.''

While several top male golfers are dropping out, only one woman has withdrawn.

"I would want to represent my country in the Olympics to be all around these other athletes and be among the elite few that get to do it,'' Sorenstam said. "That is the premier [event] of sports. I know we have majors and our history, but the Olympics have a lot of history. That would be a privilege. An honor.''