To those who doubted the validity of golf in the Olympics, it’s time to admit that you may have been wrong.
Yes, the format was uninspired, and the threat of Zika made all the headlines prior to the event, but when all was said and done, the game of golf put on a gold-medal-worthy performance in front of the entire world.
England’s Justin Rose (now an Official Olympic Champion!) and Sweden’s Henrik Stenson put on a brilliant display of golf in the final round. America’s Matt Kuchar and very our own Marcus Fraser added their own bits of excitement through the four days as well. And while the women’s competition has not been completed at the time of writing, the momentum (and excitement) from the men’s competition has surely been evident in the initial stages.
But the big, all-important metric to the game’s success came via the impressive TV ratings. In the USA, it has been reported that an average of 8.8 million viewers tuned in during the last 90 minutes of the golf event, placing it second to only The U.S. Masters this year. To put it in perspective even further, more people watched the final round in Rio than the final round of the U.S. Open, British Open and PGA Championship. In Sweden the audience averaged over 555,000, with a whopping 1.5 million viewers tuning in at the end to cheer on Henrik Stenson (note that Sweden’s population is only 9.5 million). By comparison, only 65,000 Swedish viewers saw Stenson’s amazing victory at this year’s Open Championship at Royal Troon.
Indeed, the Olympics represented golf’s biggest-ever TV audience (estimated at nearly 4 billion). It opened the door for viewers and sports fans who, by and large, may have never heard of a Green Jacket or Claret Jug, but who unequivocally understand and respect the significance of an Olympic Gold Medal.
Beyond the raw TV numbers, the most important and salient aspect of golf at the Olympics can be seen at the grassroots level, notably in the Corowa GC photo above, where members gathered in the wee hours to cheer on their own Marcus Fraser. Similarly, across the country (and globe) golf fans both new and old cheered on their own country’s/local heroes at clubs, pubs, restaurants and living rooms. And you can bet that it inspired many of them to have a hit soon afterwards.
You cannot put a price on “inspiration”, but its effects can certainly be measured in the long term, as future generations of athletes will doubtless cite the 2016 Rio Olympics as the “moment” that they knew they wanted to be an Olympic swimmer, gymnast, sprinter…or even golfer. Throughout the broader Olympic Games, we saw many examples of how this plays out; none more so salient than 19-year-old Olympian Katie Ledecky sharing a Twitter photo of herself at age 9, getting an autograph from Michael Phelps. Phelps inspired her on that day ten years ago, and it doubtless helped drive Ledecky to greatness.
And the same will surely happen with the future generations of golfers out there. Not just from countries like England, Sweden and Australia, but also from the likes of Brazil, India, Bagladesh and others where golf is just in its infancy.
Best of all, the most appealing aspect of golf is that it can be played by anyone. You don’t need superhuman speed like Usain Bolt or Michael Phelps, nor do you need the physique of a decathlete, marathon runner or weightlifter. In golf, as long as you have the inspiration, dedication and passion (and a bit of skill!) you can compete with the world’s best for a gold medal. That’s something quite unique.
See you on the fairways,