Justin Rose celebrates after winning gold at Rio 2016
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An hour’s bus ride next to Sir Andy Murray, a meal with clairvoyant Adam Peaty and a humbling gym session with Team GB’s rugby sevens squad…
When Justin Rose sits down to watch the men’s Olympic golf tournament this week, what he anticipates being “a bittersweet feeling” will be informed by more than simply his victory at Rio in 2016.
“I’ve been going around for five years knowing I’m the only living male with an Olympic golf gold, so it will be a little weird, yes,” Rose, 40, says. “Listen, I so wanted to be in Japan to defend and essentially I have nobody else to blame but myself that I’m not. But I do look at last year’s postponement and wonder. I had done enough to qualify 12 months ago. I was in. But then in just an Olympic golf sense, the pandemic has affected the tournament so much more than me.”
When the 72-hole strokeplay event tees off at Kasumigaseki Country Club at 7.30am local time on Thursday (Wednesday, 11.30pm BST), only three of the world’s top 10 and 11 of the top 30 will be in attendance and although that figure is distorted by the US being restricted to four, the artillery has also been weakened by choice and circumstance.
Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau were forced to pull out on Sunday after testing positive for coronavirus meaning two of golf’s most marketable characters would join refuseniks such as Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Tyrrell Hatton. Meanwhile, the galleries have been decimated out of sight. A few members and sponsors observing just the second male Olympic golf tournament in 117 years.
Four players to watch at Olympic golf tournamen
“On the back of Rio, I really hoped Japan would be the huge leap forward for golf in the Olympics,” Rose said. “Brazil had flashed a number of question masks. Obviously, the Zika virus gave the opportunity for players not to turn up. But Japan was going to have everyone there, with massive crowds.
“I mean, there’s no doubt there’s a good field with megastars like Rory [McIlroy] and now Collin [Morikawa] and it would be brilliant to see a tense Sunday with some of the big names involved. Because I think it’s critical for the success of golf in the Olympics.
“Some say golf should feature the amateurs. I couldn’t disagree more. The Olympics should be the best against the best in every sport. If golf is to thrive in the Games the finest need to be there. Ultimately it will be up to the players to decide how important the Olympics is in golf.”
Based on his experiences, Rose believes the audience requires no convincing. “I’ve had amazing feedback much more than I was expecting to be honest. It’s been more Justin Rose, Olympic champion than major champion.
“Of course that’s down to the uniqueness of my position, but also because Olympic gold resonates. It’s funny, when guests come over to the house, they want to see my gold medal first and my US Open trophy second. And they ask me questions about Rio as much as they do about the Ryder Cup. There’s a real fascination.”
Rose posing for a photograph with his gold medal after the last Olympics
Credit: GETTY IMAGES
Rose has a few tales. He had never before met Murray, but like two excited children going to Disneyland they sat next to each other on the way to the opening ceremony chatting and creating a bond. ‘
Peaty was another blessed connection for Rose. “Adam told me all about his plans for Tokyo, how he was going to approach it. He’d mapped it all out and five years on it was remarkable on Monday to see him pull it off just like he said.”
There was also a comical moment when Rose ventured for a workout in the Olympic Village gym, alongside caddie Mark Fulcher and manager Paul McDonnell. The trio strode confidently through the doors and two strode straight back out again on witnessing the sevens players in full slaughter mode. “We’ll leave it to you, JR,” the giggling pair told him.
“Yeah, a bit awkward,” Rose says, “but the rugby guys were great to me and to see them go after it, the sheer intensity and determination, was an eye-opener. I envied their camaraderie and that’s stuck with me.
“So has the Gymnastics. Kate (his wife) is a former international gymnast and it was good to see her world. They are extraordinary athletes, but what I took away were all the distractions they blocked out. So they’d be just about to attempt this death-defying routine and there’s this almighty din with other categories taking place… chaos.
“And, I thought, ‘if they can risk their lives in this noise’ then I can hit a putt without total silence. Well, it was not your traditional golf crowd at Rio and occasionally they cheered at odd times, but I’d harnessed my mindset the way of the gymnasts and that proved to be very beneficial. There are so many memories and I’m determined to get back. It’s only three years to Paris.”
Le Golf National truly could be the big one for Olympic golf. “Yeah, we pray there will be no more virus worries and it will all be normal again. And there should be no scheduling concerns. It’ll be just after the Open and the top players will already be in the right part of the world. So no excuses.
“Hopefully, Team GB will be looking for a third male golf gold in succession, because Tommy [Fleetwood] and Paul [Casey] are plainly both good enough. I know it’s difficult with the restrictions, but I do hope they enjoy it as much as me – and that all others do, too. To my mind, golf must embrace the Olympics.”
- The Justin Rose Telegraph Junior Golf Championship final is at Walton Heath from October 5-8. The club will welcome the 12 best junior girls and 12 best junior boys – as well as 6 more ‘net’ qualifiers – to play the prestigious course. Qualifying events are still open – go to telegraph.co.uk/junior-golf/ to find your nearest and for more information.