Rio Olympics 2016: Global exposure as golf's Games return proves a big hit

Women's golf medal winners
Medallists Lydia Ko, Inbee Park and Shanshan Feng come from countries representing key markets for golf

Golf made a triumphant return to the Olympics at Rio following a 112-year absence and the sport's bosses are confident it has done enough to secure its Olympic status beyond the Tokyo 2020.

All events will be evaluated next year to decide whether they will be included after the next Games in Japan and, with so many top players choosing to stay away from the men's competition in Rio, there were fears golf would not survive.

But both tournaments in Brazil have been regarded as huge successes.

"If I had concerns before, I don't have those concerns anymore," Ladies European Tour chief executive Ivan Khodabakhsh told BBC Sport.

"The sport has certainly proved itself. We can also look forward to Tokyo, where golf has a much higher status, and with the television numbers we already have I have no doubt we will stay on board."

Following Justin Rose's thrilling showdown with Henrik Stenson, settled on the 72nd green of the men's tournament, the women's event was decided in emphatic fashion.

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Best shots of the day in the women's golf final

Inbee Park cruised to a five-shot victory over world number one Lydia Ko, but the international nature of the leaderboard provided another significant boost.

While South Korea celebrated gold, Ko thrillingly claimed silver for New Zealand with a birdie at the last to leave China's Shanshan Feng with the bronze medal.

Each medallist represents a key market for the game. Americans Stacy Lewis and Gerina Piller, Canada's Brooke Henderson and Britain's Charley Hull were also in contention.

Despite the often painfully slow pace of play, this geographical spread will undoubtedly have attracted the biggest global television audience ever to witness a women's golf tournament.

These are the metrics that matter most to the International Olympic Committee.

And gold went to one of the game's genuine superstars when Park added her precious metal to seven major titles.

Rose's victory the previous week attracted vast viewing figures in America, Stenson's Sweden and at home in the UK where 10 million people witnessed Britain's former US Open champion receiving his gold medal.

I understand the 36-year-old has been inundated with contract offers in the wake of a victory that he admitted resonated far more than his 2013 major triumph at Merion.

"It's great to showcase golf to billions of people," Khodabakhsh added. "They see how competitive golf is, that it's not just a pastime but a real high-performance sport.

"Usually women's sports take second position on TV and in the media and here we are centre stage on the same platform as the men.

"For us it is important to ignite the interest around the world. Golf is a fantastic sport - which father or mother wouldn't like to have their daughters pick up this sport now they have seen it?

"I am sure this will be a huge game-changer for golf. It has been said many times before but the proof of it is now here."

The Ladies European Tour boss is, however, among those looking for a tweaking of the format for the Tokyo Games.

"If the IOC would allow us, I think we should include a mixed format in addition, without taking away from anything we have now," he said.

This could mean a mixed team event in the gap between the men's and women's tournaments in Tokyo.

Harnessing television interest will be the key because all Olympic sports lobby to find formats that generate more medals for their competitors.

US network NBC is the biggest power broker because it contributes most to IOC coffers. The dedicated Golf Channel is part of the NBC television empire and it invested heavily in covering the Rio tournaments.

So although Matt Kuchar's men's bronze was the only American success in Rio, there is reason to suggest powerful forces will be keen to secure and enhance golf's Olympic status.

It has surely become harder for people within the game to argue against its inclusion. Players have enjoyed levels of global exposure far greater than their traditional tournaments have ever achieved.

Now, for those who run the game, comes the appetising challenge of securing golf's Olympic status and harnessing a legacy of growth for all levels of the sport.