By Doug Ferguson
AP Golf Writer
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. — This is one time Rory McIlroy says he was happy to be mistaken.
McIlroy was among the top four players in the world who chose not to play in the Olympics, and the four-time major champion didn’t help the cause when he said it was not his role to grow the game and that he would only watch “the stuff that matters” on television.
He did watch the golf — at least the final hole, when Justin Rose outlasted Henrik Stenson to win golf’s first gold medal in 112 years.
“It pleasantly surprised me,” McIlroy said Wednesday at The Barclays. “There was more people at the golf events than there was at the athletics. It was good to see, it really was. It seems like it was a great atmosphere down there. I think it was one of the cheaper tickets, as well, and I think that encouraged a lot of people to go.
“But to see the crowds and see the turnout, I was glad to be somewhat proven wrong.”
Golf did its part with tickets that cost about $16. It was the only sellout among Olympic venues on Sunday of the men’s final round.
The Olympics went as expected for Jordan Spieth.
He said on the day he withdrew that his decision would loom over him during the Olympics. And he was right.
“I enjoyed watching the finish to the Olympics, and I wished I was there,” Spieth said.
He still believes he made the right decision at the time. Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and McIlroy all specifically cited the threat of the Zika virus, while Spieth said he had broader concerns about the Rio Games and that Zika was only a part of it.
Spieth tweeted after the men’s golf ended that it would be a goal to be in Tokyo in 2020.
“The potential for regret was going to be there, and it certainly was while I was watching,” he said.
More than the competition — Rose and Stenson came down to the 72nd hole, while Matt Kuchar shot 63 to win the bronze — was the Olympic experience. So when he said that “I wished I was there,” Spieth was talking about opening ceremony and golfers spending time at other events.
Rickie Fowler sent plenty of videos, his way of trying to make the absentees see what they were missing.
McIlroy didn’t watch much of the traditional sports, either. He was in a cabin in upstate New York that didn’t have television or even electricity, but he managed to catch up with golf on the Sunday afternoon when it finished.
Johnson was in Idaho with his family, and nothing Fowler shared on social media made him jealous. He was relaxing on the lake and on the course with his family. He did watch the Olympics, just not the golf. That’s not unusual. Most players don’t watch golf when they aren’t playing.
“I checked the scores on the golf just to see how it was going, but that’s about the extent,” Johnson said.
Golf was different from when tennis first joined the Olympics in that nearly every player supported it from the start, up until uncertainly about Zika, security and other operational issues that planted doubts about the Rio Games.
“I would have loved to have gone and played,” Johnson said. “But to me, the risk wasn’t worth it. So that was the reason I didn’t go. I think it would be a neat experience and a lot of fun, and especially winning a gold medal would be even more fun.”
Day said he had no regrets. He decided not to go because of his family. His wife wants more children and he stayed home because of the Zika virus. The world’s No. 1 player only watched the final hole of Rose and Stenson, and he didn’t watch much else except for Usain Bolt and a swimming relay.
He said that Rose told him during a corporate outing earlier this week how many people watched golf who don’t ordinary pay attention, just because it was the Olympics. And he already was looking ahead at the next chance.
“There’s a lot of golf to be played from now until then,” Day said. “If I can play my way on to that team, that would be fantastic.”