Justin Rose talks to Nick Bonfield about his passion at representing Team GM in the 2016 Olympic games as Olympic golf returns for the first time in 112 years
Justin Rose ‘genuinely excited’ about Olympic golf
Below, Nick Bonfield talks to Justin Rose about the upcoming Olympic Games, with golf making its return after an 112-year hiatus…
Golf Monthly podcast: Olympic preview
Is Zika a convenient excuse, and have all the withdrawals been a bit embarrassing for the game?
I don’t really see it that way and I actually sympathise with them a little bit. I think that, rationally, we all know that the Zika situation has been a little bit overplayed, but no doctor can tell anyone that they can go down there and be absolutely fine.
All the medical advice is that basically there is a slight risk, and unfortunately some of the guys who are in a certain phase of life – when they are planning on having children or are in the middle of having children – aren’t willing to take that slight chance, and I kind of understand that.
I’m in a slightly different phase of my life and it’s less relevant for me, so it’s not so much of an issue. I’m choosing to see it that way, to be honest with you, because I’ve always been really excited about golf in the Olympics. I think it is good for the game and hopefully it can help to grow the sport in some of the emerging golf nations.
The other thing – and I did say this from the outset – is that I felt golf would be great in the Olympics if the top players supported it, because for me the Olympics is about being the best of the best, whether that’s amateur or professional sport.
Unfortunately we’ve lost a few. I’m not sure how tennis first started in the Olympics, but now it seems as if all the top guys do support it, and hopefully golf will be the same.
Do you have a theory on why so few women have pulled out?
It’s a good question. I think my only theory would be that, unfortunately, a lot of ladies playing the game maybe have to put families on hold when they are in the prime of their careers, and many of them are in that phase right now. I can only imagine that that is the difference between the men and the ladies.
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Did you feel a responsibility to play given how hard so many people worked to get golf into the Olympics, or is it purely genuine excitement to be part of the Olympic experience?
I think it’s genuine excitement to be part of the experience. My wife, Kate, was a gymnast growing up, and the Olympics was always her dream from that point of view. She did a version of gymnastics called Sports Acrobatics, which was actually never recognised in the Olympics, although she hoped that one day it would be.
In terms of our family, she’s very excited about it and I’m very excited about it. We actually planned to take the children down there and make a big thing out of it, but we’ve scaled back – the children aren’t coming any more – just because of some of the talk about what’s going on in Rio.
I’m also excited about being part of a bigger team in Team GB – seeing what that will feel like and trying to take in the opening ceremony. I’m looking forward to walking round with the team tracksuit on and feeling like I’m a part of something bigger than just my sport.
What do you know of the Olympic golf course? Have you seen any photos?
I’ve seen some images of it and I also had the chance to talk to Gil Hanse, who designed it. He’s a lovely guy and I’m actually going to call him at some point to get his insight. I told him that some of my favourite golf was in the Australian sandbelt, and he said that some of his inspiration for the course was based on that.
I know he put his heart and soul into it and I’m looking forward to getting down there and seeing it. I’ll be down there in plenty of time to get to know the course, and that’s something my caddie, Fooch, and I really enjoy doing.
I understand Fooch is looking forward to the whole experience?
Fooch is really excited to be going down there. He can’t wait to fit into a tracksuit that’s very tight on him and then call himself an athlete!
Danny Willett has also committed to playing. Does that make Team GB the favourites?
I think the USA team has some great players on it, and I think they are probably the guys to beat, but Team GB is right there. Danny and I are obviously top-ten players in the world and it would be fantastic if we could both come away with a medal. Although it’s an individual pursuit and we’ll both be gunning for Gold Medals, it might be fun to play some practice rounds together and share some information.
Could you attempt to put in context just where a Gold Medal would sit in terms of golfing achievement?
It’s a tough question if you make someone decide definitively. If you were to ask me to pick between the USPGA and a Gold Medal, I’d say the USPGA, because growing up it has all been about the Major Championships, and that feeds into the pecking order of where you fit in history.
But the way I see it is that hopefully one day my career will read ‘Justin Rose, Major Champion and Olympic Gold Medallist’. I think it has its own category. I think it’s going to be right there with the Majors, but in its own bracket. You just can’t compare it to the Majors.
Are you going to watch any other events down in Rio?
Yes, I’d really like to. I want to see some swimming, some gymnastics and maybe some tennis. Tom Daley diving would be quite cool to see, too, as he’s one of the faces of the Games from a Team GB perspective.
Following all the withdrawals, would a blockbuster golf event help to ensure that golf has a good chance of staying in the Games beyond 2020?
I think that would certainly help. You want it to be close. When you look at other sports, it often comes down to hundredths of a second. You want it to be tight and you want it to be an epic competition, absolutely. If somebody runs away with it and plays magnificently, you have to tip your cap to them, but excitement can only be a good thing.
Obviously a few guys vying for medals would be fantastic. There’s been talk about whether 72-hole stroke play is the right format. It might not be the most exciting, but it is the most telling. It’s the proven format that often brings out the best winner. If you look at some other formats and team stuff, you may not get the truest champion, and I think the Olympics deserves that.
Are there any countries represented on tour who have been completely obsessed with the Olympics?
I would say Team GB has been one of the most passionate. I think both Danny and I have been pretty unwavering in our support and excitement for it. I’d put us right up there. I’d like to think that a lot of other nationalities would say Team GB if you asked them that question.
Justin Rose is ambassador for Glenmorangie – Spirit of The Open. To find out more, visit glenmorangie.com/golf