Rio 2016: Golf proved it belongs in the Olympics
Lydia Ko, Inbee Park, and Shanshan Feng posing with their medals (source: LPGA)

After being bombarded for months with negative stories, golf seemed to be in an impossible situation.

With many of the big name players in the men's tournament skipping the event, golf's return to the Olympics after a 112 year absence left many to believe that IOC's decision to include the sport was a mistake. There are many who expected the golf tournaments to be lackluster, and that golf's future in the Games did not extend beyond 2020. 

The tournaments in Rio, however, may have saved golf's future in the Olympics. Major champions, Hall of Famers, and compelling stories made the golf tournaments incredibly enjoyable to watch, and the pride and passion of the players was on display in every interview.

Competitive Tournaments

With most golf tournaments, there is only one trophy given out, and that is for the player who sits at the top of the leaderboard on Sunday. While all places in professional golf are rewarded financially, the only true prize is the trophy that is given out at the end of the week.

That wasn't necessarily the case in Rio. The Olympic golf tournaments handed out gold, silver, and bronze medals, and while everyone was fighting for gold, the honor of standing on the podium and seeing your country's flag raised provided a prize in itself. This gave players who were out of contention for the gold medal something to play for on Sunday.

In the men's tournament, the gold medal came down to a duel between two major winners, as Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson separated themselves from the field. The two battled back and forth down the stretch, and the tournament looked like it might go into a playoff before Rose birdied the 18th hole to win the gold for Great Britain. The bronze, however, had several players chasing it, and it was a flawless final round by Matt Kuchar that saw him shoot up the leaderboard and secure himself a spot on the podium.

Inbee Park had the gold medal in the women's tournament in hand starting the back nine, but the rest of the medals were a complete toss up. Several high profile names all found themselves with a shot at the podium as the tournament came to a close. In the end, it was the Rolex Number One Lydia Ko and former major champion Shanshan Feng that were able to rely on their experience to calm their nerves and walk away with medals.

Worthy Champions

Rose poses with his gold medal (Source: Getty Images)

The concern many had with the Olympic golf tournament was that someone with very little experience on the professional stage would surprise the field and win the gold medal, somehow devaluing the tournament. Those fears were quickly erased as the best players in the world found found themselves holding the gold medal at the end of the week.

Justin Rose never once considered dropping out of the tournament, and found himself to be incredibly honored to represent Great Britain in the Olympics. The former US Open Champion, who is sure to be representing Europe in the Ryder Cup this year, instantly pointed to the Union Jack flag on his shirt when the winning putt fell, showcasing the pride he felt to be representing his country. Rose's wife, Kate, appeared to be even more emotional than her husband, as she was moved to tears following Rose's triumph.

Just being in Rio was a victory for Inbee Park. The 7 time major champion has been injured all season, and skipped out on several big tournaments, including the US Women's Open and the International Crown in order to be healthy and ready to compete in the Olympics. For someone like Park, who will be inducted in the LPGA Hall Of Fame next year, to push aside a shot at huge paydays in order to compete for her country for free shows the level of respect she had for the tournament. The always stoic Park didn't shed any tears at the medal ceremony - that was reserved for Hall of Famer and coach of the Korean team Se Ri Pak, who began the professional golf movement in Korea after winning the US Women's Open in 1998. Still, Park's commitment to the tournament and her country is proof enough that the players felt something special in Rio, and the event will only grow as the years go by.