(Editor's note: GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 newsmakers of 2016. Take a look at why each item made our list, along with a collection of their top stories from the year. Click here for the full list and release dates.)
The headlines came with staccato regularity, each news cycle more foreboding as golf’s return to the Olympics neared.
April 20 – “Adam Scott will not compete in the Olympics”
June 9 – “Rio isn't ready for its Olympic closeup”
June 28 – “Jason Day to miss Rio Olympics over Zika virus scare”
July 11 – “Jordan Spieth will not participate in Rio Olympics”
Aug. 4 – “Rio Olympic Golf Problems 2016: Capybaras, Crocodiles, Sloths All Over The Course”
You get the idea. Still, despite some of the world’s best male players decining to make the trip to Rio for golf’s first cameo in the Games since 1904, not a single golfer was harmed by a capybara, crocodile or the Zika virus during the Olympics.
Golf’s return to the Olympic program, a move heralded by proponents as the most promising grow-the-game initiative since the feathery golf ball was retired, faced a litany of issues from the outset.
The Games' dates forced an overhaul of the 2016 PGA Tour schedule, with the PGA Championship moved to late July, just two weeks after The Open. Zika and security concerns dominated the conversation and many of the game’s top players blinked, including Spieth, Day, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson.
“I don’t think it was as difficult a decision for me as it was for Jordan,” McIlroy said in July at The Open. “I don’t feel like I’ve let the game down at all. I didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game. I got into golf to win major championships. I get that I have a responsibility to the game. But at the same time I got into golf to win. I didn’t get into golf to get other people into the game.”
In short, the greatest spectacle in sports was met with an indifferent shrug from golf, or at least the male portion of the marquee (there wasn’t a single high-profile female player who didn’t make the trip to Rio).
That narrative, however, began to evolve from the moment players arrived in the Olympic Village. Rickie Fowler, who along with Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar represented the U.S. at the Games, hung with Michael Phelps and the U.S. swimming team and enthusiastically embraced the Olympic experience.
Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose dueled down the stretch in the final round, with the Englishman making birdie at two of his final four holes to claim the gold medal. Stenson took silver and Kuchar became arguably the happiest third-place finisher in the history of golf.
In short, golf’s return to the Olympics was everything the headlines said it wouldn’t be; and, despite concerns over the future of Rio’s Olympic Golf Course, players have already began looking to 2020 when the Games will be held in Tokyo where they hope to make an entirely different set of headlines.
Olympics a Big Success
The Aftermath of Golf's Return to Olympics