Sitting in their crisp new Team GB kits, professional golfers Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood appeared on the video call from their different corners of the world, buzzing at donning the new Olympic gear. Fellow pros, Mel Reid and Jodi Ewart Shadoff who are taking part in the women's event, and who made up the other two quarters of the screen, were yet to receive theirs.
All four had qualified to play in the individual match-play tournaments via world golf's ranking system, in an effort to become Olympians, a recent opportunity available to golfers with the re-introduction of the sport at Rio 2016 (the first time golf has been at the Olympics for 112 years).
It was in Brazil that they watched compatriot, Justin Rose, win a pulsating final round in which he was level with Stenson on 15 under par after 17 holes before the Swede bogeyed the last while Rose sank a birdie putt to win by two shots to become Olympic champion. Not only that, Rose was the first-ever golfer to make a hole-in-one at an Olympic Games.
Tommy Fleetwood, who has twice come second in a major, was inspired to make the team after hearing Rose talk about the experience.
“It was really cool, seeing his face light up and hear him talk about how he felt about not only competing in an Olympics but being an Olympic gold medalist," Fleetwood said. "It was just very, very cool, just even watching him talk about it.”
Paul Casey, winner of one major, agrees.
“Maybe one of the proudest moments I've ever had is putting this Olympic kit on. I never thought this would be possible, watching the Olympics as a kid, the great athletes I got to witness, and then for golf to be included back into the Olympics," Casey said. "And I think Tommy and I have seen up close how proud Justin was to win that gold medal and what effect it had on his career and his legacy. So now, to have an opportunity, the four of us, to do what Justin's done is something very, very special.”
Golf being added back into the Olympics lit a fire in Jodi Ewart Shadoff, too. The three-time Solheim Cup competitor never thought the Olympics would be for her until Rio rolled around.
“I've always watched [the Olympics] growing up and always wanted to be a part of it, but since golf was never part of the Olympic programme, it was never really an option for me. But since golf has been added to the Olympics, it's always been a goal of mine to make the team, and to finally be part of the team, it's an honour to represent Team GB, and I'm very proud to go to Tokyo this year.”
“Jodi and me have known each other for many, many, many years,” said Mel Reid, who won her maiden LPGA Tour event in 2020. “We grew up playing together. So it's nice to have her as the second female for GB. But yeah, she's trying to beat me, I'm trying to beat her, but if I don't pick up the medal, I absolutely want her to. So yeah, it’ll be a unique experience, so I think it'll be really, really cool.”
Reid was so keen to play at Tokyo 2020, that she pulled out of a major, The Evian Championship, due to COVID travel restrictions. "I've worked relentlessly with my team and the LPGA to find a way to compete in both but unfortunately at this point, there are no assurances or firm solutions and the risk of missing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete as an Olympian is simply too high,” Reid posted on Instagram.
Reid has battled through more difficult times than this.
In 2012, her mother died in a car crash on the way to watch Reid compete in a tournament. By her own admission she went off the rails for a bit telling ESPN in 2015, that her life was “a mess” and that she was partying a lot and “hitting the self-destruct button.” However, Reid got her life back on track after being introduced to coach Kevin Craggs in November 2014 and is now headed to an Olympic Games.
“I think it's a great opportunity to grow the game,” said Reid. “I think they'll be a bunch of eyes on the golf in the Olympics that have never even seen a golf tournament or heard of golf really. And yeah, I'm just extremely excited and honestly, it’s a huge honour to represent Great Britain.”
Tommy concluded: “I think [the Olympics] transcends far bigger than our sport or anything like that or sport in itself. I think the Olympics, every time it comes on, it just inspires a world of people to take up sport, or do whatever they want to do. Even when we had the kits delivered, just a simple act of throwing a shirt on was a really surreal feeling and one of the proudest moments I've ever had. So it's really cool and to do it with these guys will be really special.”