Golden seed planted in Rio for golf’s growth

RIO DE JANEIRO — Can a gold medal be used as seed to grow the field for golf? Newly crowned Olympic gold medalist Justin Rose hopes so.

He thought that his hard fought victory over Sweden’s Henrik Stenson on Sunday in Rio would raise golf’s profile globally and could go a long way toward drawing a younger crowd to the game.

“I think that it brought golf into a context that they could understand,” said Rose, who dueled with Stenson down to the last hole before sinking the birdie putt that gave him the gold. “They may not know what it’s all about, and the fact that it came down to the final hole, they can identify with that. I think it takes it out of the golf world and brings it into certainly the sports world.”

Rose said he received phone calls from people he had not spoken to in years and messages from others that talked about the effect the constant television coverage had on their children that watched.

“I think it’s just the fact that the Olympics is an event that takes over the world really for a few weeks, and you can’t sort of ignore it,” he said. “You could tell it was just opening their eyes… the Olympic Games.”

Rose became the first Olympic gold medalist in golf since 1904 when he finished 16 strokes under par. Stenson earned a silver medal at 14 under and American Matt Kuchar took home the bronze after finishing the four-round event at 13 under.

According to the National Golf Foundation, the US has averaged about 25 million golfers over the past three years. The final round coverage, which was broadcast on NBC and The Golf Channel, produced a 5.6 overnight rating and reached 8.8 million viewers during the 90-minute window that coverage aired on both networks, according to Sports Media Watch. It was the second highest rating for a 90-minute period of the final round of a golf tournament this year, behind only the Masters in April.

These ratings came despite the absence of many of the sport’s top names, including four of the top five golfers: No. 1 Jason Day, No. 2 Dustin Johnson, No. 3 Jordan Spieth, and No. 5 Rory Mcllroy. Other notable absences from the Rio Games include No. 7 Adam Scott, No. 11 Branden Grace and No. 18 Louis Oosthuizen.

International Golf Federation President Peter Dawson couldn’t have been happier with golf’s return to the Olympics. The IGF had been preparing for this moment since the IOC announced golf’s inclusion in 2009.

“We were always confident because of what so many nations had said to us, that this was important for golf,” he said at a news conference on Monday. “So we put our heart and soul into it, and it is very gratifying that we on so many levels had a successful four days.”

In September 2017, the IOC will meet in Lima, Peru, to evaluate which sports will be included in 2024 and beyond. Dawson is anticipating the questions about golf he will have to field, but believed that Sunday’s action, along with the women’s tournament that began today, will serve as strong evidence for golf’s continued inclusion.

“I think we did some good for the game and we’re going to do that again…when the women play,” he said. “I don’t think we’ll improve the spirit and the enjoyment that people extracted these last four days. That’s what I’ll remember, more than anything else.”