I Rate The Olympics Up There With My US Open Win
The great Briton etched his name into the record books by becoming golf’s first Olympic champion in more than a century
The Great Briton Etched His Name Into The Record Books By Becoming Golf’s First Olympic Champion In More Than A Century
There are four chances every year to win a Major. But the Olympics only come along once every four years. So for every 16 Major winners from this year onwards, there is just one Olympic champion. That’s a pretty special achievement in itself, but you know you’ve done something truly historic when you win the first gold medal that’s been available in golf for 112 years. That’s exactly what Justin Rose achieved in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
There was never any doubt that the Englishman would be in Brazil to represent his country. He understood the significance of golf’s return to the greatest sporting stage on the planet, the incredible opportunities taking part would present to him and the history that was at stake for that one lucky and talented golfer who emerged victorious. Rose did himself and Team GB proud – helping to lift his nation to second in the medals table and inspiring a new generation of potential golfers all across the globe.
And while sceptics might claim that gold doesn’t mean as much as a Major, who’s to say history won’t one day judge the Olympics with the same – or even greater – importance? After all, the Masters wasn’t seen as a Major the first few years it was played as a simple invitational tournament, and the Western Open was considered a Major in the pre-war era, so things change and the game evolves.
What’s clear is that golf is here to stay in the Olympics. It was the only event that
sold out all its tickets in Rio, fans around the world – even those who aren’t already golfers – engaged with it, and the players who took part absolutely loved it.
To look back on Rio, we sat down with Justin Rose, who explained why winning Olympic gold was arguably the greatest achievement of his glittering career...
What does being an Olympic gold medallist feel like and mean?
Being Olympic champion really surprised me in terms of what it means – not just in the world of golf, but the world of sport and with the general public. You just don’t realise how many people follow the Olympics and how much a gold medal resonates with them. My goal was to go to Rio and compete and treat it as a once-in-alifetime opportunity. Becoming an Olympian and supporting golf’s return to the Olympics was something I felt was going to be part of my legacy, but to come away as Olympic champion absolutely blew me away.
How important did you feel it was to golf and growing the game?
Golf would have been just fine without the Olympics, but the sport is all the better for being included. That was my mentality and I just wanted to be supportive of it and treat it as an opportunity to be a part of that return because it’s only every four years – that’s what separates it from Majors. No one can really guarantee where their game or health is going to be in four years’ time, so I wanted to grasp that opportunity to play.
Did the Olympic experience meet your expectations?
Before getting there I didn’t really appreciate how much you feel connected to the wider team that represents Team GB. When I checked into the athletes’ village I was made so welcome and part of something bigger than just golf. I felt like there was a collective goal and a collective spirit among all the sports – and that resonated with me. Being around likeminded people was incredibly inspiring and I felt connected to every medal that went up on the board for Team GB. We were all giving 100 percent.
It wasn’t that perfect in Rio. Some of the accommodations were challenging, but everybody in the Team GB camp had such a great attitude about it and just got on with it. I think that was a big reason why we so successful in the medal table. I got caught up in that, made some friends along the way and enjoyed learning from the other athletes. I found the spirit the rugby sevens boys trained with incredibly infectious. Some of my most fond memories are of training in the gym with the rugby sevens lads.
Also going and watching some of the other sports and picking up one or two things I applied to the golf. The gymnastics, for example. What they do physically is mind blowing, but I half expected that. What really surprised me was how mentally strong they were and how much distraction they perform through. I thought that was a lesson for golfers in general. We expect everything to be perfect for us to go ahead and hit a shot but in Rio there was definitely a new golf crowd, so there was a bit more distraction on the course than we’d typically face. But the experience of watching the gymnasts really helped me get over some of those distractions and commit to my shots.
‘THE REACTION HAS FELT FIVE TO 10 TIMES BIGGER THAN WHEN I WON THE US OPEN IN TERMS OF THE SUPPORT AND RECOGNITION FROM THE CROWD’
What did you think of the golf tournament itself?
Once the golf started, it was incredibly successful. Even down in Rio the crowd numbers were fantastic and the atmosphere that created, particularly on the Sunday, was something very special to be a part of. We really didn’t know how golf was going to be received, but once Thursday came around, all the negative talk that had gone before was just forgotten because it was a fantastic event from start to finish.
What was the reaction like from the other players to the Olympics and to your victory?
I think everybody paid attention. Out on tour, you still have guys who think it’s fantastic that golf’s in and guys who question it slightly. But, more importantly, the reaction from the general public and the casual golf fan has been out of this world. To the point where the reaction after the event has felt five to 10 times bigger than when I won the US Open in terms of the support and recognition from the crowd.
It validates you as a sportsman and an athlete. Forever more now I’ll be an Olympic gold athlete, which puts you in a wider group of people. It doesn’t just place you in terms of a golfing audience, it places you in a much wider audience. From that point of view, it’s been such a huge honour and achievement.
What opportunities have you had since becoming Olympic champion that you wouldn’t have had otherwise?
Going to Buckingham Palace was something that really wrapped up the Olympics for me and put a nice big bow on it. Team GB was recognised with a fantastic reception at the Palace because of the success and the British public are incredibly proud of their athletes. To be recognised as a team like that was fantastic and an opportunity that doesn’t really happen as an individual.
If I was to win a couple of Majors, or whatever it might be, I’m not going to be in front of Her Majesty and the Royal Family. So it was just unbelievable to have that opportunity and be part of something that is bigger than your own sport.
Have you noticed any wider impact from golf’s return to the Olympics?
Unfortunately, I haven’t really had the opportunity to see what effect it’s had in places like China where the Olympics is massive because my world hasn’t necessarily changed. My schedule and the tournaments I attend all feel pretty much the same. But the message has been powerful and positive. I believe the Google search for ‘beginner’s golf’ was up 1,000 percent or something silly like that after the Olympics, which is crazy. You hope that statistics like that translate into more people taking up the game, which is why I thought it was important for golf to be in the Olympics. It’s not because us golfers need another huge title to play for, but more to continue the success of the game in the long term.
No one else can achieve what you achieved in becoming golf’s first modern era Olympic champion. How big is that for you?
It’s incredibly satisfying to have achieved that and I feel very fortunate that it fell to me because there are a lot of great players who could have won it. Going head-to-head against a good friend in Henrik Stenson and being level with him on the last hole, it was on a knife-edge who was going to come out on top and it could have gone either way. For everything to fall for me on the right day in a four-year cycle was incredibly special and something I will always be grateful for.
But I have to say, it’s also something I worked incredibly hard for. Twenty-sixteen was a tough year, but the Olympics was an event we really singled out to be 100 percent fit for and to put all my attention on.
How does winning the Olympics compare to winning the US Open?
That’s a great question that I’ve been asked many times and I’m reluctant to compare the two. Major Championships are the pinnacle of what we do and how many you win ultimately defines how you go down in history. But I rate the Olympics up there with my US Open win in terms of achievement and what it means to me.
I think at the end of my career the Olympics will hold a special place in my heart. It’s going to be the icing on the cake of my career. Hopefully I’ll go on to win more Majors and I said before Rio that if my career summary reads ‘Justin Rose – multiple Major champion and Olympic gold medallist’, I’ll be a very, very happy man. I ticked a box with Rio, so now I need to focus on adding more Majors.