Golf and gold medal winner Justin Rose tick all the right Olympic Games boxes in Rio de Janeiro
Despite the absence of the likes of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, the sport’s comeback to the Olympic fold has been hailed as a huge success
It’s hard to imagine a better ambassador for golf’s merit as an Olympic sport than gold medal winner Justin Rose.
The reigning Hong Kong Open champion – and sources say it’s all but confirmed fans in the city will get to see the Olympic victor defend his title in the city in December – is an eloquent speaker and generous and affable towards reporters and fans.
WATCH: golden moments on Day 10 at the Rio Olympics
As he spoke passionately about what his Rio de Janeiro success meant and how those top male golfers who pulled out had missed a glorious opportunity Peter Dawson, the president of the International Golf Federation sitting alongside him, could have been forgiven for allowing himself a smug grin – not that he did of course.
The world’s top four – Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson – were the highest-profile of about 20 leading players who gave the Olympic tournament a miss.
Fear over the Zika virus was a common excuse, though the perception persists that they simply couldn’t be bothered adding another tournament to a packed schedule, especially one without any prize money. The fact that the odds of catching Zika now seem higher in Florida, where many top professionals live, than Rio, merely added an ironic sheen to those suspicions.
Chelsea fan Rose had been planning to take his seven-year-old son Leo to the team’s game against West Ham United on Monday night, but missed his flight back to England.
He called young Leo expecting disappointment but couldn’t have been more wrong “I’ve never seen it resonate so much with him,” he said.
“He’s just beginning to understand what sport is all about. He received a medal for a football camp this past week. And he said to me a couple of days ago, ‘Right, Dad, I’ve got my medal. Now it’s time for you to get yours.’ He was actually crying when I phoned him. I’ve never seen that out of him before. And that was very, very special.”
And Dawson said he was delighted with the feedback he’d got from International Olympic Committee (IOC) members who came out to watch.
“One of the best golf events I’ve ever been involved with the last few days on many levels,” he said. “I think it’s done golf a great deal of good.”
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Rose posted a selfie on Twitter earlier in the week with tennis star Andy Murray. Shortly afterwards, both men were adding to Team GB’s gold medal count here, and Rose’s passion both for the Games and his team were evident.
Speaking the day after his thrilling duel with British Open champion Henrik Stenson in front of sell-out galleries, Rose was simply elated to win the sport’s rarest prize, and looking forward to some clubhouse bragging rights over the next four years.
— Justin Rose (@JustinRose99) August 14, 2016
“It’s made my year,” he said. “In fact it’s made my next four years.
“Many of you guys have made comparisons between major championships and the Olympics, but there’s 16 of them over the next four years [before the next Games]. We’re certainly going to have some fun with [bragging] on the range.”
WATCH: relive the action involving Hong Kong athletes on Day 10 at the Rio Olympic
US Open winner Rose has had a tough season, struggling with back problems, but it was clear the medal around his neck made everything worthwhile. His pride to be representing his country and bringing joy to the nation in one of the most individualist of sports was plain too.
“It hit home with Leo for sure,” he added. “It meant something more for him – I think it’s just that the Olympics takes over the world for a few weeks. The kids have been watching the gymnastics, my daughters eyes were popping out of her head watching them and you cant tell its really opened their eyes to sport and that made my win feel a lot more important.
“I don’t really want to compare [it to major championships]…but I feel like this was an opportunity that couldn’t be missed and I feel like it resonated much wider [with the public] than my US Open did.
“The vibe on course was different, it’s a lot more patriotic, and the fact you have the chance to represent your country is very special.
Golden Rose: European Tour officials hopeful Olympic Games hero Justin Rose will return to defend Hong Kong Open title
“Here you’re contributing to something that the nation is very, very proud of and looking at the Team GB tally right now is amazing for a small country and every time I see we’ve won another medal I feel proud of the team and that makes it even more special.”
Dawson somehow managed to restrain himself when given the opportunity to launch a ‘told-you-so’ rant at McIlroy and company. The IOC will decide which sports stay on the Olympic programme beyond 2020 at an upcoming meeting, and he was hoping the thrilling climax to the men’s event – with more action involving the women beginning on Wednesday – had convinced many of the naysayers.
— Team GB (@TeamGB) August 14, 2016
“I don’t think we were here to win points over anyone, we were always confident because of what so many nations had said to us,” he said. “We put our heart and soul into it and it is very gratifying on so many levels that we had a successful four days. We did some good for the fame and are going to do that again with the women this week.”
Looking at the mansions that line the road to the newly-built course and the luxury apartments being built alongside it, Dawson’s assertion that the only public course in Rio would somehow be a benefit to grassroots golf in the city seemed somewhat doubtful – it’s hard to imagine favela residents making the long pilgrimage to the outskirts of the city for a cheeky four-ball. There remain many valid arguments suggestion the sport’s inclusion was far more of a benefit to local property developers and broadcasting giants like NBC than anyone else.
But it was certain that Rose’s victory had made a greater impact on him, his teammates and countrymen than many predicted the sport could possibly deliver in recent months as big names pulled out left and right.
Rose has been trying to catch as many events as he can, and looked back to his own childhood memories when he idolised the British sprinter ‘Olympic Crispy’. “That’s what I thought [Linford Christie’s] name was.
“Identifying with the fastest men and women on earth, the longest jumpers, the athleticism to them was mindblowing. Watching the gymnasts up close really gave me a big appreciation of what [wife] Kay did as a youngster as well.
“I got to watch about the last two games of Andy’s match…[and] heard he watched my last hole before going on to court. We shared seats on the way back from the Opening Ceremony and were able to chat so fast forward 10 days, both having Olympic golds has been a great takeaway for me.
“Being part of that Sunday, five gold medals, is something I’m very, very proud of.”
And as for Rory, Jason, Jordan, et al: “I think they are going to sit back and realise this was a great event,” Rose added.
“It’s not going to sit well with them. It’s an opportunity that comes around so rarely. Hopefully they are going to take the opportunity in 2020.”