Gary Player pleased as golf thrives on Olympic stage despite high-profile withdrawals

Golf returned to the Olympics for the first time in more than a century under a dark cloud caused by the withdrawal of more than 20 top male players.

It left Rio a fortnight later with the gloom lifted and having done enough to secure its long-term future in the Games, according to nine-time major winner Gary Player.

Player, it should be pointed out, does have a vested interest in the topic as the captain of South Africa's golf team, but it would be hard to deny that the men's and women's events were a success.

Britain's Justin Rose defeated Open champion Henrik Stenson in a thrilling duel in the men's

competition, while Inbee Park added a gold medal to her seven major titles with a commanding victory in the women's event.

Perhaps the only thing missing was a play-off for any of the medals, with Matt Kuchar emerging from a crowded leaderboard to claim bronze and Lydia Ko making a birdie on the 72nd hole to edge ahead of China's Shanshan Feng for silver.

Players were also more likely to encounter a burrowing owl in a bunker than any mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus, the threat of which was cited by the majority of the absentees.

"When I saw players withdraw with uncalled-for remarks, feeble excuses - when you think that these same players play in Asia and Africa with big appearance money, thousand times more serious (threats) with malaria than Zika - I was very sad," Player said.

"But I don't want to talk about those guys. We will continue to be in the Olympic Games now in spite of them, but thank you to the players that all supported it and had the common sense to realise that this is the greatest show on earth and it would help and benefit golf in tiny countries where golf really needs help.

"If you look at the stats and number of people who have watched, according to the ratings it's been almost as high I think as the British Open, which is marvellous. It's been a roaring success."

Golf will also feature in Tokyo in 2020, but every sport's place in the Olympic programme from 2024 onwards will be reviewed by the IOC in September 2017.

Asked if golf had done enough to secure inclusion going forward, Player added: "No doubt. Not even a question. Our ratings have been higher than most sports in the Olympic Games. They have no option but to continue using us."

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