Nobody knew exactly what to expect from golf returning to the Summer Olympic Games for the first time in 112 years.
How would an untested venue test the game’s best players? How would the world react to the game’s inclusion among the Olympic program?
Even with the decision by a select number of golfers to not compete, the stroke-play competition in Rio de Janeiro for men and women was a resounding success.
Four USGA champions were among the medalists. 2013 U.S. Open champion Justin Rose, of England, took home the gold medal, with 1997 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar, of the USA, earning the bronze. On the women’s side, two-time U.S. Women’s Open champion Inbee Park, of the Republic of Korea, earned gold, five strokes ahead of the silver medalist, 2012 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion Lydia Ko, of New Zealand.
But more importantly, every continent was represented in both competitions, including countries such as Morocco, Hong Kong, Israel, the Czech Republic and Bangladesh.
Any skepticism about golf’s return to the Olympics was quickly washed away. The positive vibes convinced the International Olympic Committee to vote to keep golf in the Games through 2024 in Paris. It had already been determined that it would be contested in Tokyo in 2020.
The vote for the 2028 Games in Los Angeles will be held in 2021.
For the golf community, especially key stakeholders such as the USGA, The R&A, PGA of America and the major professional tours, this was great news. These organizations pushed hard to get golf back in the Games for the first time since 1904.
Last summer, Albane Valenzuela, of Switzerland, was one of three amateurs in the women’s field. She parlayed that experience into runner-up finishes in the 117th U.S. Women’s Amateur at San Diego Country Club and the European Women’s Amateur. Valenzuela tied for 21st along with another leading amateur, Leona Maguire, of the Republic of Ireland, who has won the McCormack Medal three consecutive years for being the top player in the Women’s World Amateur Golf Ranking™.
Those performances are likely to inspire the next generation of golfers. By 2024, Curtis Luck, the 2016 U.S. Amateur champion, could be representing Australia. The USA’s Lucy Li, a quarterfinalist in this year’s U.S. Women’s Amateur at the age of 14, will be 21. Chinese Taipei has a rising talent in 13-year-old Chia Yen Wu, who produced a memorable and historic 30-hole victory in the U.S. Women’s Amateur quarterfinals last month.
In 2016, the world was introduced to teenager Aditi Ashok, of India, who was tied for seventh after Round 1 before finishing 41st. Ashok, the first player from her country to win a Ladies European Tour event (2016 Hero Women’s Indian Open), owns two top-15 finishes so far in her rookie season on the LPGA Tour.
More new faces are likely to emerge in 2020 as interest in the competition drafts off the momentum of 2016, and by 2024, nearly a generation of young golfers will be accustomed to tuning into the Olympics to see their favorite golfers go for the gold.
David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at email@example.com.