ANTALYA, Turkey – He won’t produce the gold medal like he once did, always smiling and eager to share his moment of Olympic glory with friends and fans, but Justin Rose is still quick to remember Rio.
Wednesday, which marks the 100-day countdown to the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, was no different.
“For me it was just an absolutely incredible experience that far exceeded my expectations,” Rose said on the eve of the Turkish Airlines Open, the first of three Race to Dubai finals series events. “I was one of the golfers that was very positive about golf being back in the Olympics. I thought it would be a fun opportunity to go and compete in something completely different.”
That it was Rose, who was among the game’s most outspoken supporters of golf’s return to the Games amid a cloud of uncertainty in the months leading up to Rio, who won the gold medal in the men’s competition was only apropos, and his affinity toward the competition has only grown in the year since he held off a late charge from Henrik Stenson to claim the top spot on the podium.
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Even Stenson, who found little solace in the silver medal he was awarded immediately following the final round, can now fondly recall his week in Brazil.
“To be part of the Olympics, you were part of something bigger than just your sport,” Stenson said. “You were part of the world of sport and coming from a sporting nation – I've grown up watching the Summer and Winter Olympics as a kid – and to be part of that was great and something I would do again if I get the opportunity. I would be there to try and get that gold medal in 2020.”
Rose birdied two of his final four holes at the Olympic Golf Course to beat Stenson by two strokes, while American Matt Kuchar won the bronze medal and was three strokes off the Englishman’s pace. For those who took a medal home from Rio, it was always going to be a special week. But for Rose it’s how the Games impacted those who didn’t have a reason to celebrate that is most meaningful.
The fans, media and his fellow competitors are the real measure of success of golf’s return to the Olympics for the first time in over 100 years, Rose said.
“It captured the golfing world's attention,” Rose said. “I don't play a round on Tour now that I don't hear something about the gold medal. When I won the U.S. Open, that was fantastic and I heard something maybe for a couple of months. But then someone wins The Open Championship and then someone wins the PGA Championship and things go on and on.”
Much of that notoriety stems from the unique nature of the Olympics. Each year golf crowns four major champions and even now, with many of the game’s best still looking to finish 2017 on a high note, the golf world’s attention has already been drawn to next April and the Masters.
But the gold medal endures for four years and beyond. Think of it as the most exclusive form of bragging rights.
For Rose, golf’s return to the Games extends beyond the hardware a player may or may not have taken home. Despite the much-publicized decision by some of golf’s best players to skip the Games, hindsight has proven to be the most telling testament to the 2016 Games.
“Obviously Henrik and I are always going to have a positive experience of the Olympics and where we finished and both medaled; and it was amazing,” Rose said. “[But] there were great stories from guys like Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Bubba Watson, guys who came away from the week with absolutely nothing other than memories and they loved the week. It's one of their favorite that they ever had in a golf tournament.”
Most of all, Rose can now relish the idea that the Olympics mattered, not just to the competitors or those who pushed for years to return the game to the podium, but to those who largely dismissed golf’s place in the Games.
“The golf world actually did pay attention and I think that that's maybe now what the players are realizing; that it is actually an important event,” he said.
With the Olympics moving back into the spotlight as the Winter Games approach golf’s golden moment is worth remembering, not that Rose ever needs a reason to revisit Rio.