RIO DE JANEIRO -- As the final round of the men's Olympic Golf Tournament took place Sunday, Gary Player figured it might be a nice time to get in some work on his own game.
So as the women who were arriving for their Olympic tournament this week began taking their places on the driving range, so, too, did the 80-year-old Hall of Famer, pausing to chat between shots.
He did more chatting than he did practicing.
Nobody has been a bigger proponent of golf in the Olympic Games than Player, the nine-time major winner who served as South Africa's advisor for the men and will remain for the women's competition.
Critical of the players who withdrew, including the South Africans, Player was concerned about golf's future in the Olympics beyond 2020, where it is guaranteed to take place in Japan but not necessarily beyond.
"I got realistic,'' Player said. "I was worried. I thought we were out. If I'm the IOC (International Olympic Committee), I'm kicking you out.
"But now I'm very optimistic. You had (Henrik Stenson), the British Open champion; the Masters champion in (Danny) Willett. Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, on and on. The scorers have been outstanding, the crowds have been great.
"I thought there'd be (only) 3,000 people and it's been a roaring success. People come up to me, kids even, they say my name. I'm shocked they know me. Not in America, but here in Brazil? I think we've justified our place in the Games.''
While it might not be quite as easy as Player believes, undoubtedly the way the men's tournament played out at the Olympic Golf Course has done much to improve its status, a feel-good ending with Great Britain's Rose dueling Sweden's Stenson for the gold medal with a birdie at the final hole, and American Matt Kuchar firing a final-round 63 to snag the bronze.
To watch the intensity as it played out, to see the joy on their faces afterward, to hear a boisterous and enthusiastic gallery support them throughout the course was a welcome and fitting retort to the naysayers.
"Anybody making the decision going forward, I would just ask them, were you in Rio on Sunday?'' Rose said. "The crowd was incredibly well supported. It was jam packed, a sellout, which is more than some of the other events I've been watching on TV. There's been a lot of open spots in stadiums, and it was incredible to see golf so well attending and so well supported. From that perspective, it's been a very successful sport this week.''
That was undoubtedly a relief to International Golf Federation officials, who had to fear lackluster support in a country not known for its golf. Player, who boasts two Brazil Open victories (including shooting a 59 on his way to the win in 1974), said very few people attended those events, but was amazed at the enthusiastic support here.
"This event has gone over fantastically well,'' Kuchar said. "Amazing support from the crowds. I wasn't really sure what to expect as far as golf in Brazil. I didn't think that it would have great support and it really did.
"If you take the broadcast and then look at what a great showdown to have these two guys battling down the end. I don't know that it could have gone much better for the game. It's a clear winner to move forward.''
But there will be other issues to sort out. The IGF can explain the absence of many top players due to circumstances. The negativity leading into the Games was not just a golf issue; security, Zika, health concerns... all of it has been an Olympic problem.
"We know some of the difficulties there have been with tour schedules,'' said Peter Dawson, president of the IGF and former CEO of the R&A. "And comments about format, although I'm not as convinced about those as some. We have to press the right buttons with the IOC, not just with our performance here, but how supportive of the Olympic movement we are all the time. Not just a peak every four years. And we're doing just that. We're part of the family. And that is just as important.''
To that end, the IGF can stay prominent by discussing ways to improve golf during the next year. The schedule is a huge issue. The Tokyo Games are in late July, so those problems are not going away. As it currently is constituted, the men's Olympic tournament would be played two weeks after The Open in 2020.
Then there is the format, which has caused much consternation, even though Rose admitted that 72 holes of stroke play is the best way to determine an individual champion. To introduce best-ball or alternate shot would make crowning an individual winner nearly impossible giving scheduling. So why not go with an aggregate total for two-man teams, and allow the players to also play for individual medals?
If that had been the case here, the Americans (Kuchar and Patrick Reed) would have tied with Sweden (Stenson and David Lingmerth). How cool would it have been to have a playoff for team gold, on top of Rose's stirring individual victory?
But those are decisions to come. For now, it is best for golf to revel in what just transpired -- with more of it to come this week with the women's golf tournament.