Great Britain’s Justin Rose came out victorious in Olympic golf this past week. The most thrilling play came after Rose birdied the par-5 18th after a sensational pitch shot. Sweden’s Henrik Stenson came in a close second with a bogey. The battle between the two made for a great showdown and cemented that golf belongs in the Olympics after all.
Rose became golf’s first Olympic champion in 112 years – the last being George Lyon of Canada in 1904. Stenson took home the silver medal and American Matt Kuchar came in third place for a bronze. All three world-class players had an obvious enthusiasm that ignited the crowd of 15,000.
The spirited competition helped downplay the negativity leading up to Rio, particularly the widespread apathy among many of the world’s best players. Many of the professionals bowed out of the quadrennial games, stating fears about the Zika virus; or in Rory McIlroy’s case, there was a basic lack of interest in participation.
Despite low expectations, the pace of play pleasantly surprised spectators. All of the players remained positive about the brilliant new golf course and sportsmanship was on full display. There were no controversies or bad judging. And the crowd that showed up was loud and fun, giving the event a big-time party atmosphere.
The entire exercise of returning golf to the Olympics was something of a recalibration, specifically: What does Olympic gold mean in golf? Clearly it means a player is dedicated and consistent in their craft. And participating in a highly competitive and entertaining event shows professional golfers are willing to work to push and promote golf as a worldwide sport.
This week the world’s top women golfers are playing on the Olympic stage in Rio de Janeiro. No.1 Lydia Ko of New Zealand will be competing against Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist and Charley Hill who represents Great Britain. The field will be seeking to follow in the footsteps of Margaret Abbott of the United States, who won the gold medal in Paris in 1900.
How Could Olympic Golf Change
Fans were treated to a thrilling finish this time, but golf definitely could have beat the “ho-hum” format by introducing team play. Creating this format would give players the ability to win more medals. And it would add intrigue/drama to the game. So often portrayed as me-first mercenaries, professional golfers would have a chance to work together for the chance to have a medal draped around their neck.
Expanding the field would also differentiate Olympic golf from the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.
Golf has the potential to become a true international game. Implementing a few easy changes would allow golf to survive beyond the 2020 tournament at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo. If you were fortunate enough to watch Rose and Stenson play, there’s no doubt Olympic golf was a success.