Speaking together ahead of their first appearance in the Olympic Games, Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood discussed both their pride at being part of Team GB and how they finding inspiration in other athletes.
When Justin Rose earned a gold medal on golf’s return to the Olympics in Rio in 2016, it overturned a lot of initial opinions some had about the sport’s reintroduction to the Games. Players were quick to express what it meant to them to have been there, and Justin Rose proclaimed “This feels better than any tournament I've ever won”.
It hit a chord with Paul Casey. He’d been disappointed he hadn’t made the Olympics last time around, but for Toyko, he made it a goal.
And now that he’s in the team and about to make his debut, the 43 year old is full of pride and focused on living up to the legacy left by Rose. He'll be doing it alongside Tommy Fleetwood, as Rose - along with fellow 2016 medal winners Henrik Stenson and Matt Kuchar - did not qualify for this year's Games.
“I was a massive fan of the Olympics as a kid growing up and loved watching it during the summers. Never thought I would be sitting here as an athlete in the Olympic Games until seeing golf’s inclusion back in Rio and then Justin’s brilliant performance," said Casey, who has three top ten finishes in his last five starts - which includes at both the U.S. Open and US PGA Championship.
“I guess we’ve got a lot to try and live up to. We’re defending gold, technically, Team GB. I couldn’t be more proud to be included in this great Team GB team.
“Honestly, even this week I feel kind of invigorated and I feel passion and pride to be wearing this shirt and to be competing and I couldn’t think of anything greater than winning a gold medal as a golfer.”
For Casey, the only other achievement that has come anything close for him was making it back into the Ryder Cup team in 2018 after several years away.
“I was disappointed I didn't make the team and knowing that the window of opportunity that I've got was rapidly closing,” Casey reflected on the 2016 Olympic games, and said he would have been in a similar situation if the games had happened when they were originally supposed to last year.
“I was actually in a position, I was on outside looking in if the qualifications had ended last year, and so strangely, Tommy's probably the other way around. You were in last year and then the pandemic, if anything, helped me because it gave me a little, it gave me an extra year. And I was nervous at Torrey Pines. I thought I had missed the cut and was angry and upset and then realized I made the cut and I had a great weekend and I honestly went out in that final round at U.S. Open only thinking about this.
“And then to be here, this is, it's interesting, my priority has now shifted from I just want to be an Olympian and go to the Olympics to now I'm here and I'm taking this, and I was always going to do that, take it incredibly serious and perform at my best and try to win a medal."
Alluding to the Ryder Cup, he added: "It's, very few things in my career have been as rewarding as those two achievements.”
A huge part of the reward for the Englishman, and the feeling of invigoration, has come from being surrounded by other athletes at the top of their sport.
“It's amazing,” he said. “It's so cool to be in that environment. I've never -- you know, I see a little bit of that stuff when I was at college, but I've been out of it for so long it's just amazing to be surrounded by the world's best athletes.
“I'm going to go out there and give 100 percent. There's, at no point so far this week have I felt any pressure from Team GB. It's just amazing support from everybody in our camp. At our performance lodge down the road, within the village, I think they realize as athletes we put so much pressure on ourselves and we have great expectations and we want to always do our best to represent Great Britain and our friends and our family and ourselves. So I think we have got more than enough motivation behind trying to play well this week and trying to win a gold medal or any medal.”
Tommy Fleetwood was quick to agree, and made it clear that the impact of meeting fellow Great British athletes has been something which has really highlighted to him why the Olympic Games are so special.
"I think one of the things that is apparent when you're at the games is every athlete of every sport is on their own journey," he said.
"Some guys are unbelievably excited and happy to have even just made it to an Olympic games, to be an Olympian. There are others that are expected to win gold. There's others that know that if they do well they can win a medal. So I think everybody's got their own agenda. And that is one of the amazing parts with so many things going on about the Olympics is that as big as it all is you're part an of a nation and part of a team but everyone is also on their own quest to get here and the journey is not over until your Olympics is over and we'll see what we can do.
"And we're having a great time. There's various -- you can talk about so many things that go on on a daily basis at the Olympics that either inspires you as a sportsman, either make you happy, either make you proud. There's just so many things going on. I love the attitude of everybody here. I love sport. I love how many things are going on. We were looking up yesterday to meet Matty Lee, who had won a gold, and Lauren in the Taekwondo. She had won a silver and you're watching those guys and you're talking about it to them and just how they are about it, their emotion, how they feel.
"For all the, whatever's happened in the world over the last 18 months, for all the debate on whether the Olympics should be on or not, if you're inside that village, without a doubt there is nothing that means more to these people than competing this week and I think it's very special."
And for Tommy to be there, it's clear that it means a lot.
“It means a lot. I was like so, so happy when I made it to the Olympics.
"I think from the moment I put a shirt on in my garage at home to getting on the flight to arriving here to being around the village, I think all of it is a, for one, it's a very special experience, but I think being surrounded by all the athletes that put so much into this on a daily basis throughout their lives, I think it's inspirational.
"You're both a competitor and like one of the biggest GB fans because, you know, you're in and amongst it and you're with everyone. And so far I've loved every minute. It's great to spend it with friends as well, and it's really, really cool. Obviously, you get to the golf course and it's, you do everything that you normally do. But just what goes around this event, it being the Olympic games, it's something that we have never done before and it's amazing."