Golf turns heads in Rio

The return of golf to the Olympic Games got off to a rocky start, but delivered a great spectacle on the weekend, making a great argument for it’s inclusion in the global showpiece.

After a 112-year absence and the promise of an individual gold medal, one would have thought modern golfers would have been chomping at the bit to play in an exotic location for national pride.

However, this was not exactly the case. The withdrawal of the top three players in the world rankings, harsh comments from the likes of Rory McIlroy, and a mad rush to get the course ready threw doubt over whether the event would be a success at all.

But the course was ready in time…and the field was high-class enough to attract massive galleries over the weekend. In fact, not only was the course ready, it was superb.

The Gil Hanse design got fantastic reviews, seamlessly combining the sand belt courses of Australia with the windswept links of Great Britain, while still sporting modern grasses that grip the ball.

Added to that, there was wildlife everywhere. Players snapped shots of the odd-looking capybara, burrowing owls and Henrik Stenson even poked a cayman with his club.

Bubba Watson, who committed to three weeks of golf in a row to play in Rio, raved that it was “the best conditioned course we’ve played all year” while teammate Rickie Fowler was hell-bent on making every golfer jealous via social media. Judging from reaction, he succeeded.

All this, combined with spectacular weather on Sunday, snowballed into a riveting competition on the back nine between Stenson and eventual gold medalist Justin Rose.

The two European Tour heavyweights took turns slugging it out with great iron play before Rose struck the final blow on the 18th green, chipping it to two feet and rapturous applause from the packed gallery.

The USA even had something to cheer about thanks to a sizzling 63 in the final round from one of the most likable players on the PGA Tour, Matt Kuchar, which earned him the bronze medal.

For an event that even McIlroy said he wouldn’t watch, Rose’s win attracted plenty of attention, even from the likes of football stars Wayne Rooney and Luis Figo, who texted the Englishman to congratulate him.

While golf in Rio is not over – the ladies tee off on Wednesday- we can safely say that so far, the Olympics has done the sport proud and we’d like to see it stay. Would you?

Doug Mattushek