Golf proves it belongs in Olympics during Rio Games


RIO DE JANEIRO – Apologies for jumping ahead here and for not putting together a formal PowerPoint presentation, but fresh off golf’s fortnight in the Olympics, it seemed like an opportune time to sign the game’s Olympic scorecard.

We know this will be an ongoing process and a final decision on golf’s future in the Olympics won’t be made until September 2017 when the International Olympic Committee finalizes the Games’ program beyond 2020 during its session in Lima, Peru.

You’ll be busy looking at every Olympic event before then so we’ll keep this concise – golf has proven it deserves it spot on the podium.

“We are going to tick a lot of boxes here,” said Peter Dawson, president of the International Golf Federation on Saturday in Rio. “We’re not complacent. There is a lot of competition for staying in the Olympic Games with all the various events. We’re going to put golf’s credentials forward the best way we can.”

Specifically those boxes include spectator interest, television ratings, commercial success and how the players behaved while in Rio.

And, of course, the competitive purity of the events, but on that it’s best to let the athletes do the talking.

“Anybody making the decision [whether golf remains in the Olympics beyond 2020] going forward, I would just ask them, ‘Were you in Rio on Sunday?’” Justin Rose said.

If you weren’t in Rio for the final round of the men’s competition, or perhaps you were under a rock, the CliffsNotes recap will suffice: Rose and Henrik Stenson went toe-to-toe until the last hole in the men’s competition, where the Englishman secured the gold medal in dramatic fashion with a birdie. Just for good measure, American Matt Kuchar tied the then-course record (63) in the final round to win the bronze medal.

On the women’s front, former world No. 1 Inbee Park beat current No. 1 Lydia Ko in a rout for the gold medal, but the competition for the silver and bronze medals also came down to the last hole.

Yep, that happened.

“If you can’t see golf in the Olympics after two fantastic weeks back-to-back you can’t have much of a sporting heart,” said Norway’s Suzann Pettersen, who was a part of golf’s original bid to re-enter the Games in 2009.

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Beyond the competition, however, is where we believe golf truly proved its worth.

You threw us a curveball in golf’s Olympic debut. There was no golf course in Rio, no infrastructure to build a layout and virtually no interest in the game.

“It was harder to get here than I expected,” admitted Dawson, “given the difficulties of getting the course constructed.”

Golf delivered a course that proved to be up to the test with the potential of leaving a true legacy in Rio thanks to architect Gil Hanse, who was last seen sleeping off what has been a difficult few years.

Let the record show the game did have some participation issues, specifically on the men’s side where four out of the top 5 in the world rankings took a pass on Rio, but given the response from those who did make the trip, that shouldn’t be a problem in Tokyo - site of the 2020 Games - and beyond.

There were those who argued that golf in the Olympics was an unnecessary evil, that the game’s majors were the pinnacle of success and didn’t need any company, but as many athletes explained over the last two weeks, the Games are simply a different side of the same coin – neither better nor worse than a Grand Slam, just different.

“Saying it’s worth less than a Grand Slam [event] is not a reason for not playing,” Dawson said. “If that was the logic you’d never play any tournament other than a major. You wouldn’t play the Phoenix Open, you wouldn’t play the John Deere [Classic].”

But golf’s reach in its first Olympics in over 100 years went well beyond the confines of the golf course.

Sunday’s coverage of the men’s competition on NBC and Golf Channel ranked as the second-highest rated 90-minute window of final round golf coverage in 2016 with a combined 5.6 household rating and 8.8 million average viewers, behind only the Masters, which is kind of a big deal in golf.

Even the galleries exceeded expectations, with the final round of the men’s event sold out, which was no small thing considering that golf in Brazil is very much a curiosity.

The commercial impact of golf’s return to the Games will take some time to gage, but anecdotally consider the potential impact a soft-spoken 18-year-old could have in India, where an estimated 75,000 people play golf out of 1.25 billion citizens.

On Thursday Aditi Ashok carded a second-round 68 to move to within three strokes of the lead, setting off a frenzied attempt to put the Indian teen’s accomplishment in context. Consider that over 400,000 Indians searched for Ashok’s name on Google after Round 2 in Rio, that was more than searched for “Rio Olympics” and “Ryan Lochte,” for what’s it worth (as an aside, “golf” Google searches spiked over 110 percent during the Games).

For at least a single afternoon, golf mattered in a country where golf never matters. Where the 10 most popular sports, according to Indian Golf Union council member Dilip Thomas, are “cricket, cricket, cricket and cricket . . . ”

When we first made our pitch for golf’s return to the Olympic stage in 2001 it was, admittedly, an amateurish attempt. Seven years later we clearly made a more persuasive argument. Now we come to you, the IOC, again with a story to tell; but this time instead of vague promises we bring verifiable facts – a track record of our successes and failures to decide if the game, our game, is worthy of remaining in the Olympic family.

“Our performance here in Rio is just going to help us, it’s done marvelous and so many of the IOC members suddenly realize what a great game golf is and what a show we’ve put on here,” Dawson said.

Take your time, consider the facts, digest what golf did despite the obstacles in our path. Forget the emotion of the competition, forget Gerina Piller’s tears on Saturday after failing to earn a medal or Kuchar’s pride of claiming a bronze that far transcended your random third-place finish.

Look only at the checklist of golf’s accomplishments as you decide our Olympic fate.

“As far as I can see golf will tick many, many boxes,” Dawson said.

Drop microphone. Walk off.