AFP Rio de Janeiro
When the International Olympic Committee examines every Olympic event next year to decide its fate beyond 2020, golf will make a simple case to offset absent stars — remember the golden duel.
Golf’s 112-year hiatus from the Olympic lineup ended with Britain’s Justin Rose edging Sweden’s Henrik Stenson for the gold medal, pitching the ball inches from the cup on the 72nd hole to set up a title-winning birdie after a day of intense drama.
Australia’s top-ranked Jason Day, Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy of Northern Ireland—the world’s four top players—didn’t play, heading a list of about 20 top golfers who skipped Rio, many of them citing the threat of the Zika virus, which causes severe illness and has been linked to certain birth defects.
But 2013 US Open champion Rose, ranked ninth this week, and new world number four Stenson, who won his first major at last month’s British Open, staged a shotmaking classic where the lead swung back and forth and displayed world-class golf skills.
“I think it was very important for Olympic golf going forward,” Rose said. “I don’t know who wouldn’t want to be a part of great competition. I love competition at the highest level and for me, that’s what the Olympics is all about — the best of the best, going head to head.”
Stenson settled for silver but like Rose had put a priority on the Olympics in a crowded schedule that offered two major titles in three weeks last month. “It’s a whole new experience for us golfers,” Stenson said. “It’s the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m thrilled I came here.”
American Matt Kuchar, who took bronze after a final-round eight-under par 63, said the Rose-Stenson showdown spoke volumes about why golf and the Olympics were good for each other ahead of the 2017 IOC rethink.
“I’m not sure much more needs to be said except what transpired this week. What a great showdown for these two guys,” said 15th-ranked Kuchar of his podium neighbors. “This event has gone over fantastically well. It’s a clear winner going forward.”
IOC president Thomas Bach questions whether top players skipped Rio to rest for the US PGA’s season-ending playoffs and the chase for a $10 million top prize, Zika used only as a convenient excuse.
“We see now in the discussion in the golf community, there are obviously very different reasons for not going to Rio, not related to Zika,” Bach said. “We are also following with interest the discussion in the golf community how they themselves are considering these decisions and what judgements they are making.”
It could mean the IOC wants to see how a revamped Olympic-year events calendar might look to prioritize Games golf and better ensure participation by all top stars. That would mean golf governing bodies working up a new solution sooner rather than later for campaigns when the Olympics could pinch two major tournaments, the tour playoffs and the Ryder Cup.
Golf pre-dates the modern Olympics as a major sports offering, the first British Open in 1860 coming nearly 30 years before France’s Pierre de Coubertin first considered the idea of reviving the multi-sport spectacle.
Scotsmen Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris were multiple major winners well before Greece’s Spyridon Louis won the first marathon in the 1896 Athens Olympics.
So it’s somewhat fitting that another Briton, this one passionate about the notion of his place and golf’s place in the pantheon of sport, made the case for bringing the two 19th Century ideas together again for the first time since Canada’s George Lyon won gold in 1904 at St. Louis.
“I made it a big deal in my schedule,” Rose said. “I made it a highlight. I felt very inspired this week. I felt very focused. It’s definitely something I’ve been looking forward to a long, long time. I was very motivated.”
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