It may not rank among some of the highest honours in the sport yet, but for those that will listen, Tommy Fleetwood says Justin Rose has proved how special it is to win Olympic golf gold.
The 30-year-old from Southport is one of four golfers selected to represent Team GB at Tokyo 2020, along with Paul Casey, Mel Reid and Jodi Ewart Shadoff, all of whom are looking to emulate Rose’s triumph at Rio 2016.
That was the first time the sport had been on the programme since 1904, so it was understandable how it would not rank immediately among the four major tournaments and the Ryder Cup. But even though Rose is a former US Open champion, Fleetwood says Olympic success ranks above most other achievements for his good friend.
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“That was a big moment for everybody, it showed how much it meant to golf,” Fleetwood told Eurosport on Rose’s gold.
“It was new to the Olympics and he showed how special the event is and how much it can mean to us to win one of those medals.
I’ve spoken to Justin about it quite a lot, he’s one of my closest friends, and I watch his face light up when he talks about the Olympics. His winning moment there has passed on to me and I desperately want to go out there, compete and have a chance of winning that gold medal.
That may be the case for Rose, Fleetwood and Casey, but it is not for many of their peers. After Rio, a number of golfers who chose not to put themselves forward for the Olympics said they regretted the decision. Times have changed, and coronavirus is an added complexity, but here we are again five years later in a similar situation. Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Louis Oosthuizen have turned down the chance, while Fleetwood has profited because fellow countrymen Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick did not want to go either. All have their reasons, but the man in possession of Team GB kit now says it is a special feeling.
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“I can only speak for how I feel, but it’s been a goal of mine for two or three years now,” said Fleetwood.
“The last Olympics, I think I was 200th in the world, I had no chance. Since I’ve had a chance, there’s never been a doubt that I wanted to go and compete. Throwing the (Team GB) shirt, the hoodie or the hat on - it gives me a level of pride that matches pretty much everything else that I’ve done so far. I don’t want to miss it.”
Fleetwood describes the Olympics as “bigger than our sport individually” and says Tokyo will be about representing the team, something he has thrived on in the past. At the 2018 Ryder Cup, his partnership with Francesco Molinari was the highlight of Europe’s win over the USA - it brought the best out of him, and by the end of the event in Paris, “Moliwood” became a widely used nickname for the pair.
Where Olympic gold sits among the majors and the Ryder Cup is something golf is still working out, and it will likely take time for the prestige to build. Asked a theoretical question about where a top place of the podium would rank if he ended his career as a major champion too, Fleetwood was fairly certain it would be equal.
“All three of them (Olympic gold, major win and Ryder Cup victory) can go on a very level shelf - I need to take care of getting them all first!
For a long time, we had the four majors that were the pinnacle of our sport and the Ryder Cup was up there as well. Then the Olympics came in and golf was part of that as well and nobody quite knew where it would sit.
“But I think if you speak to Justin Rose, you get a very good idea of how much it means to him and the pride that he has and where it sits in his career, it’s just as high up as anything else. I would love, so much, to have a gold medal at the end of my career.”
Both golf competitions are regular, 72-hole individual strokeplay events. The men’s tournament starts on July 29, with the women’s taking place from August 4.
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