Those who figured golf was never suited for the Olympic podium, that the game’s majors made the Rio experiment a square hoop amid the Olympic rings, were given an alternative to consider on Sunday.
On a warm and sunny day in Rio the world watched golf. Really, the world, not just the avid core who have driven the game for decades.
The majors will always hold a place above and beyond anything else in golf – history wouldn’t allow any other ranking – and the Ryder Cup enjoys special status regardless of the lopsided nature of the last few matches.
But Olympic golf, a novelty concept for most until this week’s event, proved to be something different, something neither better nor worse than the game’s predetermined benchmarks but definitely apart from the norm.
What else could explain Matt Kuchar’s emotions after closing with a 63 to secure the bronze medal.
“This was a chance to medal and do something; my heart was pounding,” said Kuchar, who closed with an Olympic record-equaling 63. “I can assure you I’ve never been so excited to finish top 3 in my life. I’ve never felt this sort of pride just busting out of my chest before.”
It wasn’t an entirely perfect introduction for the game after a 112-year hiatus. The two biggest storylines heading into Sunday were Matthew McConaughey, the man of Oscar-winning fame who made a cameo at the event on Friday to watch Rickie Fowler, and capybaras, the oversized rats that call the Olympic Golf Course home.
On Sunday, however, the game responded with Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson quickly separating themselves from the field and turned what was always going to be a marathon relative to most Olympic sports into a medal-deciding sprint.
The Swede took a share of the lead with a 35-foot birdie putt at the second, the Englishman answered to regain his advantage with a 4-footer at the third and so it went.
The two were tied after the 10th hole and Stenson knotted the proceedings again with a 4 -ooter for birdie at the 16th hole to set up the kind of dramatic exchange one expects at the game’s most important events.
History will show Rose won England’s first gold medal in golf by a cool two strokes, but that detail ignores Stenson’s three-putt at the last after his bold birdie attempt ran some 8 feet past the hole. Players had said all along they wouldn’t play any differently with medals on the line than they would if it were a major, and Stenson’s play proved the point.
Although silver may be an acquired consolation for golfers, Stenson acknowledged the surreal satisfaction of a trip to the Olympic podium, even if the shade of medal (silver) wasn’t exactly what he’d hope to go home with.
“I wanted to put myself in contention and fight it out for the medals and I did that,” said Stenson, who closed with a 68 for a 14-under total. “Of course I would have liked to sit there with the gold rather than a silver but all in all I’m pretty pleased with my performance.”
But it was Rose’s victory, a ball-striking masterpiece that at least outwardly appeared effortless, that sealed golf’s transition from a curiosity to a competitive fit for the Olympics.
Throughout all the turmoil that seemed to consume golf’s return to the Games – from construction delays at the Rio golf course to concerns over the Zika virus that drove away a healthy portion of the game’s top players – Rose never wavered in his commitment to Olympic golf.
That dedication began with his decision to arrive in Rio early to march in the Opening Ceremony and his dogged focus to treat these Games as more than just a sightseeing adventure interrupted by the occasional round of golf.
While the American team basked in the glow of the Olympic flame, rubbing elbows with other athletes and making regular calls to other events, Rose approached the event with a singular focus.
Rose savored the experience, but never lost focus on why he was in Rio.
“I made a big deal of this all year,” said Rose, who finished his week with four rounds in the 60s (67-69-65-67) for a 16-under total. “I got in on Friday – that’s typical with what I would do for a major. I felt very inspired this week, very focused and motivated.”
There’s no accounting for what place Olympic golf will hold in the hierarchy of importance in coming years. The fact is the game is assured only one more start in 2020 at the Tokyo Games, but if Sunday’s finale holds any sway it certainly made a persuasive pitch to remain on the podium.
Asked how he would debate the benefits of golf remaining on the Olympic program, Rose went with an economy of words: “Anybody making the decision I’d ask, were you in Rio on Sunday?”
Paul McDonnell, Golf agent for Excel Sports Management who manage Justin Rose, made the suggestion that Justin should only sign autographs for fans using a Gold Sharpie for the next 4yrs!
Here’s a look at Justin Rose’s TaylorMade equipment setup.
Driver: TaylorMade M2 (Mitsubishi Rayon Tensei CK White 70TX shaft), 8.5 degrees
3-wood: TaylorMade M2 (Matrix Ozik Black Tie 8M3 X shaft), 15 degrees
Irons: TaylorMade PSi Tour (3-iron; KBS Tour C-Taper 130X shaft), TaylorMade Tour Preferred MB (4-PW; KBS Tour C-Taper 130X shafts)
Wedges: TaylorMade Tour Preferred EF (52-09 and 56-12 degrees; KBS Tour C-Taper 130X shaft), TaylorMade Tour Preferred EF (60 degrees; KBS Hi-Rev 135X shaft)
Putter: TaylorMade Ghost Monaco Tour Black Prototype
Ball: TaylorMade Tour Preferred X
Rob Brooks @golfnation_
Sources: golfnation.golf, PGA Tour, Golf Channel