The world’s best golfers are in Springfield, N.J., this week for the season’s final major, the PGA Championship, which was pushed up a couple weeks to accommodate golf’s return to the Olympics.
The four men set to represent the U.S. – Bubba Watson, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar – attended an Olympic meeting, where they were able to try on their Team USA gear and speak with an Olympic legend, speed skater Dan Jansen. Watson left inspired.
“He’s a legend; he’s a legend for America,” Watson said. “Some of the things that he battled, he talked about what he battled. Not just winning. Who cares about winning a medal. Just what he battled trying to get there, what he battled in family life and things like that. It was pretty amazing to hear his stories and how he came through it.”
Jansen won a 1,000m speed skating gold medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, the shining moment in a career that had previously been defined by disappointment. He finished fourth in the 500m in 1984, and fell in both the 500m and 1,000m in 1988. Those mishaps came after he learned of the death of his sister, Jane, who died of leukemia the morning of the 500m final.
He just missed a medal again with a fourth-place result in the 500m in 1992, where he finished 26th in the 1,000m. Two years later, after the Winter Games shifted to be in even years not coinciding with the Summer Games, Jansen placed eighth in the 500m. But in the final event of his Olympic career, he set a 1,000m world record en route to his first and only Olympic medal.
Jansen acknowledged that the golfers didn’t grow up dreaming about playing golf in the Olympics since it wasn’t in the program until recently. But now that they’re going, they’re representing their country just like everyone else on Team USA.
“All four of us are pretty passionate about it,” Watson said. “Any time you can play and represent your country to that level; obviously we represent our country this week, but to that level, a higher level, it’s pretty special.”
Watson reiterated his stance on having no reservations about going to the Rio Games, while the top four golfers in the world, and many others, pulled out, mostly due to concerns over the Zika virus.
“I mean, if they would have asked me to be the towel boy, I would have went to the Olympics. But again, my situation is different than everybody else’s. I can’t have kids. We adopted our kids and I’m not fearful of crime or anything like that. So there was no fear at all. It was a go,” he said.
The U.S. golfers are getting their custom USA gear ready: