For the first time in 112 years, the Summer Olympics allowed the best golfers in the world to compete for medals on the world’s stage. With anywhere from one to four representatives, thirty-four countries sent their best male players to the Olympic Golf Course in Rio to bring back hardware for their respective nationalities. With the women yet to play, the men’s competition took place this past weekend with three very deserving players bringing home prizes to their country’s medal counts. Justin Rose, representing Great Britain, brought home the gold medal, shooting a 16-under total of 268, two shots ahead of silver-winning and this year’s Open Champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden, who was one stroke better than bronze-winning Matt Kuchar of the United States, the lowest ranked American in the field. While some questioned the format and participation level, I’m here to re-ask the question of who really is the best golfer in the world? I’m also here to answer it.
The official world golf ranking currently lists Australian Jason Day at number one, and Americans Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at second and third respectively. Stenson is close behind at fourth, the Northern Irishman stud Rory McIlroy sits at fifth while players like Bubba Watson, Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Danny Willett, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson, and Jimmy Walker all falling under them. Justin Rose sits at 9th currently.
Englishman Justin Rose has had a fantastic career at the age of 36. He has now been victorious on every continent that holds a professional golf tournament, has now had a victory every year dating back to 2010, has won a major championship and contended in five others, has seven victories on the PGA Tour, and has played on numerous Ryder Cup teams. With one of the prettiest swings on tour, Rose never seems to leave the top page of leaderboards that he finds his way on to. He is always one of the favorites heading into majors and high-profile tournaments. Not only does his golf speak for itself, but he is widely considered the nicest player on tour (at the end of the article, there is a link to Rose’s runner-up interview to Spieth at the 2015 Masters. Watch and be amazed). If you didn’t believe that Justin Rose is legit, now you know.
The Olympics, Summer or Winter, are what a lot of athletes see as pinnacles. All the work they do for four years and all their preparation is tested during one time trial or performance. For some, four years of running an 100 meter race and not winning a medal is considered a waste of time. For baseball players and golfers, losing a game or not winning a major tournament isn’t the biggest deal- there are plenty more to come. For other Olympians, such as those who run track or swim, it’s one and done. I’d argue that Michael Phelps’ 23 gold medals are incredibly impressive, but what’s more impressive was his ability to rise to the occasion and swim the best races he could when it mattered. If he got beat (e.g. Joseph Schooling), he got beat. For these reasons, I think it’s fair to say that the Olympics are the most meaningful and grand stage in sports if I had to prove it to you.
It’s unfortunate that golf had to be taken out of the Olympics for so many years; players like Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, and Seve Ballesteros didn’t have the opportunity to cement themselves in sporting history. We also don’t know how an Olympic medal would rank among their career accomplishments. Martin Kaymer, a two-time major champion, put the Olympics on a pedestal, before he arrived and even after he left without a medal. Nick Faldo said it best: “The gold medal is bigger than our game of golf, this was putting golf on the biggest stage of the world”. I’m basing my incredibly bold statement off of this and another factor: participation.
In major championships, normally every golfer in the top 50 is there and competing for the trophy. Guess how many of the top 20 were at Rio? Nine, four of them Americans. Some may say that the importance of the Olympics was obviously lacking. For some, yes it was. Australian Adam Scott said that the Olympics were standing in the way, schedule-wise, of his chances at winning the PGA Tour year-end FedEx Cup. McIlroy and Spieth said that zika virus was a general fear among them. To Scott, McIlroy and Spieth, I have this to say, and I hate to say it: You messed up. Your actions are a disgrace to the sport of golf. Adam Scott, were they really? You could’ve sat out every tournament leading up to the Tour Championship (which you’ve won already, I might add) and still have a significant chance at winning. McIlroy and Spieth, if zika virus were a real concern, why are all the other star-studded athletes going without hesitation? Phelps? Andy Murray? Usain Bolt? They’re all going. Why? Because it’s the Olympics. Adam Scott, in ten years, who am I going to remember you by if you win the FedEx Cup? 2013 Masters champion, sure. FedEx Cup champion? Probably not. I have to take a few minutes to remember Bill Haas winning it in 2011 with the shot of the year, and I’m a golf fun fact machine. I’ll forever remember Adam Scott and every other star who could’ve had a chance as those who didn’t play in the Olympics. With all these being said, I give you my piece: Justin Rose is the Number One Golfer in the World.
Justin Rose had this tournament ahead of everything else in his schedule. He had been looking forward to it, like all Olympic athletes, for a few years. He showed up ready and conquered. A picture of Michael Phelps leading a race and looking straight ahead to the end of the pool inspired him to do the same. Rose buckled down, made the first ever Olympic hole-in-one along the way, and took home to the top prize back to Great Britain. Already one of my favorites, Justin Rose has just escalated to my favorite player as I’ve been typing this. He will be remembered in the golfing and sporting worlds for years to come. Don’t worry Jordan Spieth, your choke job at Augusta this past April has been totally forgotten: it’s been clouded over by the story of a true champion. Justin Rose, you performed when it counted, you won the gold, you’re the best. End of story.
Images from Golf Digest and Chron.