Golf's 112-year Olympic drought ended this past weekend in Rio. Many of the best players in the world -- although not all the best -- descended upon Brazil for four unpredictable rounds. They showed the world golf fits in the Olympic spirit, and even more than that, golfers can be chameleons in the Olympic Village. Although the crowd at the Olympic Golf Course had far less enthusiasm than Augusta or St. Andrew's, golf pulled in some momentum ahead of Tokyo in 2020. And do not forget, we still have the women's tournament Wednesday-Saturday.
1. Stars Earn Medals To Relief Of Organizers
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) August 15, 2016
Unlike swimming and track, where athletes train four years to peak at the Olympics, golf has a different rhythm.
After Round 1, Marcus Fraser, Graham DeLaet, Thomas Pieters, Gregory Bourdy and Rafael Cabrera-Bello -- none of whom have a PGA Tour win -- were all in the top four. As the competition went on, the big names made a push. Justin Rose, a former U.S. Open champion, finished with a 65 and 67 on the weekend to take gold for Great Britain (and improve his world ranking from No. 12 to No. 9 ). British Open champion Henrik Stenson, arguably the globe's best player the past two months, joined Rose in the final group and claimed silver for Sweden. Stenson moved from No. 5 to No. 4 in the world rankings, passing Rory McIlroy, who made some questionable statements about the Olympics this summer.
Matt Kuchar shot Sunday's low round of 63, propelling him onto the podium for a bronze. Kuchar, a seven-time PGA Tour champ with seven top ten major finishes, entered at No. 20 in the world rankings. The U.S.'s four players in the field were more than any other nation.
The Olympics, as a whole, is a beautiful two-week sports showcase with underdog stories and small nations getting a chance to prove themselves. One day, it will be a joy to see a small nation earn a medal in golf a la Puerto Rico's Monica Puig winning gold in women's tennis or Fiji winning gold in men's rugby. But for the first crack at this, household names on the medal stand gives legitimacy to the golf project.
2. Players Had A Blast
For top golfers, the Games are more of a treat than a means of proving talent. That is perfectly OK. From what it appears, the golfers who went to Rio knew their place, and are as much fans as athletes.
From an American perspective, Rickie Fowler has been in Rio from the beginning. Rather than play in the Travelers Championship Aug. 4-7, Fowler walked in the Opening Ceremony. Although Fowler's 37th place (E) finish was far from a successful performance, the 27-year-old is pinching himself more than kicking himself.
— Golf Digest (@GolfDigest) August 5, 2016
Meanwhile, Bubba Watson hit the ground running in Rio, watching the action in person nearly every moment he is not on the course. Go to Watson's Instagram and you will see him at diving, swimming, basketball, fencing, field hockey, ping pong, badminton and more.
"We’re so blessed when you look at these other countries, and these athletes that train for not just hours -- years -- and they got 30 seconds, or they got a minute, or they got under 10 seconds," Watson says. "And I get to show up at Augusta every year from now on, because I won there. So it is humbling for sure."
Earlier in the week, Watson, in all seriousness, said if he were faced between taking a risk on 18 for gold or nothing or laying up to assure bronze, he would lay up and make sure he gets on the podium. Although Watson was in contention going into Sunday, he finished eighth place. But he got a selfie with Kuchar.
Germany's Martin Kaymer, a two-time major champion, has been perhaps the most fervent Olympic golf warrior in Rio.
"He said the pain that he felt was so intense that his leg didn’t feel connected to his body anymore," Kaymer said, in reference to German gymnast Andreas Toba, whom Kaymer ran into in an elevator. Toba tore his ACL in competition. "He had so many tears in his eyes but he still did it. And then you think about your sport and we complain quite a bit if we don’t get the proper food and stuff like that."
Kaymer added on Thursday, before his event even started: "No matter what happened this week, it was the greatest week of my life, it really was."
Perhaps it was fitting that at the end of the weekend, it was Great Britain's "God Save the Queen" national anthem being played for Rose. After all, Britain invented the sport.
3. Timing Was Right
Part of why golf worked well in the Rio schedule was timing. While most athletes are used to competing in the afternoon or evening, golfers have been teeing off shortly after dawn their whole lives. Brazil's Adilson da Silva took the first drive of the Olympics at 7:30 a.m. local time Thursday, and all 20 groups were out by 10:09 a.m. The final round started even earlier with the leaders going out at 9:39 a.m.
The crowds may have been a fraction of what golf fans saw at the latest major, the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club outside New York City, but from a TV perspective, things lined up. Golf was the live event to watch before noon. In Europe, golf slid into an afternoon time slot that would have been empty. In the United States, although Rio is in a compatible time zone, Olympic golf felt like a second British Open to enjoy weekend morning coffee over. Golf had its own niche in the chaos of an Olympic schedule.
On top of that, even though Dan Hicks could not leave the pool, where he was calling swimming, Johnny Miller and the rest of the NBC golf broadcast crew did an excellent job keeping the energy up in Rio. The time zone will be different in Tokyo in 2020, but from a broadcasting standpoint, NBC has a strong lineup.
Simulcast of Men’s Olympic Golf Final Rd. on NBC & @GolfChannel is 2nd highest-rated 90 mins of golf in 2016 (6.3 overnight, 1:15-2:45pm)
— NBC Sports PR (@NBCSportsPR) August 15, 2016
4. Rio Is Rio, Tokyo Is Tokyo
The Olympics was without Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott and a number of other stars who skipped the trip to Rio. Although it is mostly speculation, common sense says more big names play in the event if the Olympics were held in a golf-rich nations such as the United States, Great Britain (how was golf not ready for London in 2012?!?) or Australia. Brazil, with its lack of golf history, Zika presence and safety concerns, made the nation an undesirable location for the sport. The modest crowd did not help make its draw look any better on TV.
But Rio did enough to create a bridge to Tokyo, the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Although far in distance, Japan is a budding golf nation with a gigantic market and rambunctious sports fans. The 2020 Olympics should be the golf major Asia has never had, and Hideki Matsuyama, who did not play in Rio, will be one of the host nation's premier athletes.
Look, one golfer who did not go to Rio is already thinking Tokyo 2020:
— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) August 14, 2016
It is a shame Spieth did not make Rio 2016 a goal, as he is healthy and was in the qualification range for the Olympics. But maybe he really did just love watching Olympic golf this weekend and realizes how great it would be to go to Tokyo. Whatever the reason, there would be limited complaints about seeing Spieth at the next Olympics. Expect 2020 to be a even bigger second step for Olympic golf, and if Los Angeles really is a thing for 2024, the sport's Olympic presence can pick up seed in its first three rounds of the second incarnation.
5. Women's Golf Should Be Great
FYI: Olympic golf is not over. The women take the course this week. Unlike a sport such as tennis, where men and women share the same major venues, golf rarely sees men and women compete alongside each other. The Olympics is the closest golf is coming to such a system. The women are playing for the same goal as the men, medals for their country, on the same course. While the crowds may not be as large for the women as for the men's tournament, the effect on the medal count is the same.
Perhaps the women can have the greatest effect on TV, as the tee times are the same as for the men's game. Fans around the world tune into the Olympics for sports they do not care about on a regular basis. Women's golf has a chance to draw Olympic fans with little knowledge of the sport late in the Games, as nations scramble for final medals.
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Follow Jeffrey Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband.