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Inside golf's return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 with Team GB's leader 

Inside golf's return to the Olympic Games at Rio 2016 with Team GB's leader 

By Mathieu Wood

As the countdown to the Olympic Games reaches 100 days until the start of the men's competition, the DP World Tour speaks to Jamie Spence about his experience of leading the Team GB golf team at Rio in 2016, when Justin Rose won the gold medal.

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Jamie Spence (left) is pictured alongside Justin Rose at the 2016 Rio Olympics

Part of the magic with the Olympic Games is its power to create a sense of national pride and bring together world athletes who feel part of a team.

Golf – traditionally an individual sport – is no different, with those fortunate enough to qualify able to play for a bigger cause.

Ask those who have competed in the Summer Games since golf’s return in 2016 after a 112-year absence, and their view is that it is among their most cherished memories.

But that sentiment is not just held by those who have played the game at the Olympics. Former professional Jamie Spence, a two-time winner on the DP World Tour, led Team GB’s golf team at Rio 2016 and, having carried out the role in a voluntary capacity, his memories are one of genuine pride.

“To be a part of Team GB at an Olympics was something I will never forget,” he tells the DP World Tour.

“It was hard work, but it was very rewarding. I made a lot of friends. It is without doubt one of the highlights of my golfing career."

It is without doubt one of the highlights of my golfing career

Spence was given the job after an application process in which there were 50 or so other candidates. He'd never had to interview before.

His role was a varied one. In advance, he went out to Rio de Janeiro to look at facilities, accommodation and the course - purposefully built for the Games - and attended several sports seminars alongside other counterparts from various sports.

While on site, Spence acted as a chaperone on media runs, liaised with players about their preparations and recovery following each day and supported with logistical queries while also taking in some of the competition along the way.

While golf is played globally, the platform to grow its exposure further through the Olympic movement is unlike any it is accustomed to.

Excitement is building ahead of Paris’ turn to host the multi-sport spectacle, with Tuesday marking 100 days until the start of the men’s golf competition at Le Golf National on August 1st.

American Xander Schauffele is the reigning men’s Olympics champion having won the gold medal at the rearranged Tokyo Olympics in 2021.

Before that, it was Team GB’s Justin Rose who won gold on golf’s Olympic return, making another piece of history with the first hole-in-one at the Games, with Spence enjoying first-hand access.

“Olympic champion? That has a cool ring to it," were among Rose's initial reactions as he entered golfing and Olympic history.

While there was initial scepticism in some parts about the sport’s long-awaited return, and complications caused by the Zika virus, Spence is delighted players can showcase their abilities on such a stage.

“There was a general consensus of 'why is golf in the Olympics?' But I never agreed with that,” he says.

“Justin Rose bought into it straight away. He knew the power of the Olympics and knew the value of a medal, especially a gold medal which he went on to win.”

Rose joined by Danny Willett, who earlier that year had won the Masters, in the men’s event, with Team GB represented by Catriona Matthew and Charley Hull in the women’s competition.

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Justin Rose celebrates winning gold for Team GB at the Rio Olympics

While Rose was the hero of the hour, Hull came one shot shy of being in a play-off for a bronze medal, and Matthew and Willett also performed well.

"To work with all four of them was really special. Despite them all being different characters, you treat them all in the same way," recalls Spence.

"The dynamic of working with a young girl in Charley back then and a seasoned campaigner in Catriona was interesting. I think Charley saw me as her grandfather!

"They were all very professional and a privilege to be around."

Spence, who is a familiar voice to many now as an on-course commentator, says there was one moment that emphasised to him the importance of golf’s presence at the Olympics, even more so than the major championships.

“When you finish a round at our normal events, you have the press guys there and one or two TV interviews with whoever it might be," he explains.

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The world's media will descend on Le Golf National this summer

“There are then the bigger events where you go into the press centre but not even the Majors compare to the Olympics.

“[But in Rio] there was a run of media interviews for every player, not just the leaders, on a platform. We’re talking around 15 camera crews and often a player might stop at everyone.

“And then outside of that, the non-rights holders were outside the fences and wanted to interview the players as well.

“That was when it triggered in my head this is huge. The media coverage was around the world. We often get stuck in our own little world in golf, and you can lose sight of how big the Olympics is.

“It was at the point that all the competitors, especially the golfers, realised just how big a deal it is.

“The players have all realised the value of being called the Olympic champion and carrying the gold medal with you. It is something else.”

The players have all realised the value of being called the Olympic champion and carrying the gold medal with you

Trophies are replaced with medals. Individuality is replaced with nationality.

“You’re not playing for money,” Spence adds. “In this world that we live in where cash is king, here you’re playing for your country, you’re playing for your family and everyone who has brought you to this position.

“You’re also helping to inspire people to play the game, to work hard and forge that Olympic ethic.”

Away from the competition, the Olympics is also about the memories you create and Spence has hundreds. He has a few that he is always only too happy to share.

"Going into the Olympic Village is quite intimidating because of all the various sports represented. I initially went into the wrong apartment when I first got there," he recalls.

"Who was sitting in there but Andy Murray! That is not a usual occurrence. Sharing a lift with Chris Froome and his bike, too.

"The other thing would be the catering tent there... I had my laser with me and being the geek that I am I lasered it. It was 310 yards long and 70 yards wide and it was open 24 hours a day. How about that?"

Spence will forever appreciate his Olympics experience and knows the value golf's ongoing involvement has for the sport.

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