Justin Rose and Danny Willett have both tasted major championship success as individuals, but the two Englishmen who represent Great Britain in the Olympic Games this week have effortlessly bought into the ‘team ethic’ in Rio de Janeiro.
As golf makes its eagerly awaited comeback as an Olympic sport at Reserva de Marapendi, 2016 Masters champion Willett and 2013 US Open winner, Rose, have been mixing with other prominent athletes from their own country – and loving every minute of it.
Willett, who made his major breakthrough at Augusta National in April, admitted: “It’s cool – a very cool experience. I’m happy I kept the decision to come down (to Rio) and play and I’m very happy with my decision to stay in the Olympic Village, to get the full feeling of what goes into it, of how much the whole of Britain as a team comes together.
“It’s just an amazing experience to sit across from (tennis player) Andy Murray at breakfast, and his brother, Jamie, is in the apartments, too. You chat a bit to them about a little bit about things. You have breakfast with (heptathlete) Jess Ennis-Hill in the morning and have another chat…things that you normally wouldn’t be able to do, so to be able to bring athletes from so many sports together, I think there is no down side to it.”
Rose chimed in: “The whole reason for coming down (to Rio) early was to be a part of the Opening Ceremony, which I thought would be one of the highlights of the week, and just get to enjoy the Olympics, as 1) a spectator, but 2) a GB athlete in the wider scheme of things. It’s been a really valuable few days and I’ve really enjoyed it. Now, though, it’s Tuesday and I will try to get the attention fully on the golf.”
He continued: “I think walking into the Maracana Stadium was the highlight -105,000 people just having a good time and celebrating the whole event. That was a pretty special feeling. Also, being able to witness a couple of the other events has been really good.”
Rose also admitted he was full of admiration for the different fitness regimes of athletes from all the 28 disciplines that he has encountered.
“I just think it’s the level of training, really, that everybody does, no matter how obscure the sport. You see sort of the training that goes on in the gyms that you’d say it is very athletic training. That just shows how seriously people (work) for marginal gains which would help you in your sport.”
Meeting Wimbledon champion Murray also made an impression on Rose. He said: “That was one of the highlights as well. After the Opening Ceremony I got to ride on the bus for an hour back to the athlete’s village with him, so it was good to catch up and just recount some stories and get some insights into his world and vice versa.”
Willett has enjoyed practicing in the relative tranquility of the Gil Hanse-designed golf course over the past few days. No spectators are admitted on ‘training days’ and following the huge media and public attention following his Masters victory, the Englishman has relished a gentle build-up to his Olympic challenge.
He added: “The field strength is still very, very good. There are a lot of World Ranking points up for grabs and there’s three medals. This is the most fun I’ve had for a long time. Johnny, my caddie, and I, have been on the range and there’s no one there. Obviously it’s closed to the public from Monday through Wednesday, as are I think all the other sports are the same. Jamie Murray was keen to come along today but, as a competitor from another sport, he can’t access the course.”