Despite the pandemic and a number of withdrawals, Tokyo 2020 was a huge success for the game of golf
Xander made a clutch par save on the 18th hole after chipping out of the trees to edge out Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini, who took silver.
The bronze medal went to CT Pan after a marathon seven-man playoff, which featured the likes of Rory McIlroy, Collin Morikawa and Paul Casey.
McIlroy wasn’t in Rio last time out but he will be in Paris in three years if he makes the team after getting bitten by the Olympic bug.
“Coming here experiencing it, seeing, feeling everything that goes on, not just Olympic golf but just the Olympics in general, that sort of Olympic spirit’s definitely bitten me and I’m excited how this week’s turned out and excited for the future,” he said.
Rory also said that he had never tried to hard so finish third before in his life.
McIlroy’s attendance, and crucially his words, ensure that golf’s relationship with the Olympics continues to grow.
Whilst he might not currently be the best player in the world, he is the biggest name and the figurehead of the sport as Tiger Woods remains sidelined.
Rory clearly loved his experience and played his heart out to try and win the bronze, and he will surely be telling stories and urging everyone to realise their Olympic dream over the next three years.
Whilst watching the conclusion it was clear just how much the Games and the gold, silver and bronze meant to the competitors.
They weren’t competing for $1.5m or 500 FedEx Cup points, a PGA Tour card or job security, they were competing for their nations and for arguably the greatest prize in sport.
The Games shows off competition in its purest nature and golf is as great a sport as there is.
There were fewer withdrawals this time around than in Rio, where Zika virus was a common excuse, so next time in Paris there will hopefully be no Covid concerns and a field as strong as possible.
The Dustin Johnsons of this world may still take some convincing but there will certainly be a packed field once again, headlined by a determined Rory McIlroy who must only have a Green Jacket ahead of a gold medal in his career goals now.
It is very clear that the majority of players are now on side but the fans are not quite there yet.
What will it take to get the fans on-side?
Firstly, better coverage is a must.
In the UK, the golf was difficult to watch via the BBC and instead shown on the pay-to-watch Eurosport player for the much of the first three days.
We managed to see the conclusion as the BBC showed live golf for the first and only time in 2021.
Olympic broadcast rights are a tricky one and it’s tough to show 20 hours of live golf over four days when there are dozens of other amazing sports also fighting to be shown.
We’d all love to stick on Sky Sports and watch wall-to-wall coverage of the Paris 2024 golf events at Le Golf National. We can only hope that happens but can’t expect anything.
The format is also not a fan-favourite, being the standard 72-holes that we see 50 weeks a year.
Should it be 54-holes? That would certainly help its chances of gaining more air time.
Many fans are also crying out for amateurs to take the reins as the pros ‘don’t care’, although that point is less valid when the world’s best players, McIlroy included, are so strong in their praise for the competition.
There could also be mixed events or other formats like match play, foursomes or a wider team event.
That doesn’t look likely and more medals up for grabs would not go down well with the likes of the PGA, LPGA, European and Ladies European Tours, which all run packed schedules throughout the summer months.
So is the answer to simply keep it as it is?
The Olympics is clearly growing on the players and the medals are only going to get more and more prestigious as the years go by.
I’m a huge fan of golf in the Olympics and whilst it probably isn’t perfect, it’s a very welcome addition to a schedule.
Bring on Paris!
Let us know your thoughts on social media