RIO DE JANEIRO – It wasn’t standing on the podium or hearing “God Save the Queen” being played or even the gold medal draped across his shoulders that was most special to Justin Rose.
It wasn’t the hundreds of text messages he received in the hours after holding off Henrik Stenson to claim Great Britain’s first gold medal in golf or the pride of pulling on his Team GB tracksuit.
No, it was a phone call from his 7-year-old son, Leo, that truly gave the Englishman an idea of the scope of his accomplishment.
“I’ve never seen my little boy in tears,” said Rose early Monday in Rio. “I’ve never seen it resonate so much with him. He’s 7, he’s just starting to understand what sports is all about.”
Rose fought back tears as he explained that Leo brought home a medal of his own from a soccer camp this week and was quick to lay down a challenge.
“He said to me, ‘Alright, Dad, I’ve got mine, now it’s time for you to get yours,’” said Rose, who outdueled Sweden’s Stenson on Sunday in Rio to win by two strokes. “He was crying when I phoned him.”
Leo, you see, was probably too young to appreciate his father’s signature victory in 2013 at the U.S. Open and likely has little idea of how consistent Rose has been in his career, winning seven times on the PGA Tour and becoming a staple for the European Ryder Cup team.
The younger Rose may have a general notion that his dad is a world-class player, but like most children his age the sometimes insular world of golf doesn’t resonate beyond the core audience.
But these were the Olympics and the gold medal that hung from Rose’s neck transcended golf, transcended sport, really. Leo’s reaction may have been the emotional haymaker that made Rio real for Rose, but it was hardly unique.
While many of those around Rose in the Official World Golf Ranking blinked at the prospect of travelling to Brazil in the middle of a busy season, the 36-year-old never wavered. From the outset, Rose became an Olympic ambassador in the truest sense.
He envisioned the podium, the ceremony, the tracksuit, the medal and what it could mean to a wider audience beyond the normal golf circles. He bought into the notion that Olympic golf would be more than just a novelty, and on Sunday before a sold out gallery that optimism was rewarded.
He pounded his chest in the moments after putting out for birdie on the final hole and embraced his caddie, who acknowledged that winning a gold medal may, in fact, reach beyond the importance of a major championship.
But that’s a debate for another day.
What was important to Rose on Monday, beyond what in the world he would do with his gold medal (“Maybe get a mannequin and put a [Olympic] jacket on him with the medal,” he laughed.), was what the competition has meant to golf.
“For me, it would be easy to sit here with a gold medal and tell you this is an incredible experience, but for me it was deeper than just the guys who finished on the podium,” Rose said. “Everybody talked about what an incredible experience it was here in Rio, which tells a bigger picture about this week.”
This year had not been the best for Rose. Although he’d finished in the top-10 five times on Tour, for a player of his stature he measures success in victories. That all changed on Sunday.
“For me this is winning a tournament and this is winning a huge tournament. This has made my season,” Rose said. “It’s a huge win for me, it’s made my season, it’s made my year, it’s made my next four years.”
Rose had planned to fly home to the United Kingdom on Sunday and take Leo to a Chelsea match. Those plans were altered thanks to his near-flawless play for four days in Rio.
“I’ll make it up to him,” Rose smiled.
If the 7-year-old’s tearful reaction to Rose’s victory was any indication, he’d already given Leo something much more meaningful.