Jamie Spence on golf’s return to the Olympics and how he celebrated Justin Rose’s historic gold medal
“I Walked In Feeling Like A Complete Plonker Thinking What Am I Doing Here?”
Golf’s return to the Olympics has been far from straightforward – there was the 112-year wait for it to happen and, when it did, we had a host of players, predominantly the men, pulling the plug citing the Zika virus as their reason for not travelling.
But golf did happen in Rio and we were rewarded with two podiums full of class and talent – Justin Rose beat off Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar to the gold medal while Inbee Park won the women’s ahead of Lydia Ko and Shanshan Feng.
Six winners from six different countries and all who took part had loved it.
Team GB’s manager was Jamie Spence who, from a field of 43, got the job – it was the first interview that he had ever had – and the former European Tour player helped to grease the wheels for Rose’s gold medal victory.
Were you always up for including golf in the Olympics?
Even among the golfing fraternity there was a lot of scepticism whether it should be included, let alone outside it.
I was always for it for a number of reasons – it was part of the first two Olympics and there is so much that it can do for our game.
If we can take it around the world the Olympics can give us that platform to grow the game – Justin Rose has found out every time he walks on the tee that it is an incredible accolade to have.
And also obviously for the ladies’ game and junior golf, we tend to get caught up in the PGA and European Tour world and golf is so much bigger than that.
The Olympics is viewed far differently in Asia and it’s a massive opportunity to raise the game.
What do you make of the much-criticised format now that we’ve had one go at it?
I was very critical of the format beforehand as it was all the same again but actually, it’s quite hard in the timeframe of an Olympics, to come up with a format that challenges the players and is a credible competition.
Maybe we do need think outside the box, we always think 72 holes, maybe you could have mixed event over 36 holes and why can’t it be over three rounds?
Maybe golf needs to challenge its thinking a bit, I’d like to see competitors being able to wear shorts and take it to a younger audience.
We could do with being a bit radical and we can get stuck in our ways of what a golf competition should be.
How strange is it to be thrust into an Olympics?
It was amazing to be involved in Team GB but also quite intimidating to be honest as you’re dealing with the head of cycling, rowing and athletics and they’ve been so successful.
You’re in these seminars talking about marginal gains but I tried to stick to what we’re good at in golf and what our guys need to be able to compete.
We tried to treat it like a normal event so I took myself away from that a bit.
When you first go into the athletes’ village it’s definitely daunting, I walked in with my tracksuit on and feeling like a complete plonker thinking what am I doing here and the first person I bumped into was Andy Murray, then Chris Froome came down in the lift with his bike.
Mike Hay was the Team GB leader, he’s a great guy and he helped me through the whole process.
You had quite a mix of characters with Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Catriona Matthew and Charley Hull, what was that like?
You couldn’t get more polar opposites, Catriona is very organised while you would say to Charley to wear blue and white the next day and she’d come down in red and blue but she was just a young kid.
She treated me like her grandad and we got on great and she came really close to winning a medal.
How special was it to be part of something that climaxed with a gold medal?
Justin was such a fitting winner, his work ethic and the way he plays the game is incredible.
It was emotional, Mark Fulcher used to caddy for me so that was also great.
Mark was playing it down but he said afterwards that was the biggest week of his career, he was totally sold by it and Justin bought into it from day one and, to succeed like he did against his best mate, you couldn’t have written it.
I didn’t really celebrate the win, Justin was going out for drinks that night and Charley Hull was coming in so I waited for her.
We had a drink immediately after in a private room before he got his medal and that was enough.
Should the caddy also get a medal?
I don’t know, they should definitely be treated with a bit more respect.
It’s hard to get accreditation for them, they had one so had to pass that on to the next caddy and there was an overlap so that was unnecessary.
Fooch went out every morning two hours before Justin arrived to map the greens and check the flags and to look at the course – that’s pretty dedicated, is that worth a meal? I suppose it is.
Do you know anything about this year’s venue?
I’ve played Kasumigaseki Country Club and it’s terrific, there are 36 holes on site and it’s quite a long way from Tokyo.
It’s going to be very hot but it’s a good strong course.
I’m sort of disappointed that they’ve gone to a big established country club, again maybe we could think a bit differently but maybe in the future we could make it a bit more urban but, for now, it’s a cracker.