Gymnastics, not golf, inspired Justin Rose to become an Olympic champion. As the Englishman produced gold medal-winning shots in Rio three years ago, he was actually picturing himself running full pelt at a vault and being tossed high into the air and making the perfect landing.
The image had been formed by Rose attending the gymnastics event in Brazil to cheer on some of his Great Britain team-mates before getting down to his own business as golf made its return to the Games after 112 years.
“My wife was a gymnast growing up and we went to watch the gymnastics in Rio,” said the world No 8, who is bidding to become just the fourth player in European Tour history to win the same event three years in a row as he sets out today in the Turkish Airlines Open in Belek.
“I could not believe the chaos that they perform in and around. It was the noise, the announcements, the movement of other disciplines going on, trainers literally walking around the bars while someone is running at the vault. This is four years of blood, sweat and tears, and they have to perform and execute their move with chaos and I thought, ‘God, we are soft as golfers’. A marshal just takes one step in the wrong direction and...
“I learned something from another discipline that helped me because the crowd in Rio weren’t a golf crowd, 70 to 80 per cent of them weren’t necessarily that familiar with golf. There was a lot of cameras. There was a lot of noise. There was a lot of movement. But my pre-shot routine was like I’m running for the vault. Once I started, nothing was going to stop me and I was going to play through anything that happened.”
Rose is looking forward to defending his title next summer in Tokyo and will head there almost straight after the Open Championship at Royal St George’s finishes as he wants to be involved in the opening ceremony once again. He added: “I also think the rugby sevens lads kind of made me wish I was a team sport player because the camaraderie in the gym, I could see how much they were getting out of themselves by being slapped in the face while doing a bench press by his team-mate pushing him on saying: ‘come on, one more, one more, one more’.
“It’s easy to not do the last rep when you are doing it for yourself, and you know that is your choice in an individual sport, but in team sport I think the discipline involved is unbelievable. I was also really inspired by watching how the ladies’ badminton players were training. You think badminton, it’s a shuttlecock and this, that and the other, but they were deadlifting. They were looking for that one per cent. They were looking for any advantage.”
Treading on Turkish turf has certainly given Rose an advantage in the past, having won the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final in a field that included Tiger Woods in 2012 before claiming back-to-back victories in the Turkish Airlines Open. He is now relishing the chance of joining Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam and Colin Montgomerie as the only players to have won a regular European Tour event three years in succession, though, whereas his 2017 and 2018 triumphs were at the Regnum Carya resort, this year’s event is back at the Montgomerie Maxx Royal, where he finished third behind Victor Dubuisson six years ago.
“Obviously last year was a first for me to defend [a title] and now it offers me the opportunity to go three in a row, and be in some illustrious company,” said Rose, who is a combined 55-under-par for his 12 rounds in the event.
“It’s definitely a focus for me and an inspiration and something I’m going to enjoy trying to achieve. To rank it is very hard to do. It’s one of those little asterisk moments in your career.”
Rose’s rivals on the Mediterranean coast include the last two Open champions in Francesco Molinari and Shane Lowry, Masters winners Danny Willett and Patrick Reed, as well as Bernd Wiesberger, who is bidding to use the $7 million event to move a step closer to winning the Race to Dubai less than a year after making his comeback from a career-threatening wrist injury.
Since returning to action last November, the 34-year-old Austrian has claimed three European Tour titles, including the Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open at The Renaissance Club in July, to top the rankings from Spain’s Jon Rahm and Lowry with just three tournaments remaining.
“It would be fantastic,” said Wiesberger who is playing in all three of the concluding Rolex Series events, unlike either Rahm or Lowry. “Given the quality of players that have been able to win the Race to Dubai, to have the chance to be amongst them gives me a bit of goosebumps there.
“It’s an unbelievable list of legends of European and world golf that’s on that list, and to have the chance to put my name amongst them would be amazing. Being in that position is tremendous and hopefully we can have three more great weeks.”