NCG Meets GB's Olympic Team Leader Jamie Spence
Golf’s return to the Olympics properly grabbed the headlines when Adam Scott set the ball rolling when he ruled himself out. And others followed in droves, the men’s top four in the world didn’t travel, but this was never the case in the women’s game. The women embraced the opportunity from day one and, to be fair to the men who were in Brazil, so did they.
Millions watched it around the world, the on-course crowds were better than other events and we had six winners from six different countries.
At the heart of GB’s effort was Jamie Spence, the Team Leader, a strange term for the manager, in Rio. Forty-three applied for the voluntary role and he got it, it was the first interview he had ever had. And he put everything he had into the position, greasing the wheels for Justin Rose’s gold medal win.
Not that he wants an ounce of credit for it. He’s too modest and down-to-earth for any of that…
Was there a team ethos even though golf was an individual format?
Danny Willett and Justin Rose played practice rounds together but when Wednesday night came around it was pretty obvious that it was an individual thing.
It was great to be a part of Team GB, we had an apartment next to the tennis players and we had the equestrian team down the hall and the first person I met was Andy Murray which was a bit surreal. He spent quite a lot of time with Justin and they sat together on the bus after the opening ceremony and chatted away for any hour.
What was the opening ceremony like?
It was like a queue for one of the best rides at Disney, going up and down the aisles and the ride lasts for about four minutes. It was great to be honest.
How weird is it to be in the Olympic Village?
You see all sorts of people, we had breakfast next to Jess Ennis, Katarina Johnson-Thompson and the boxers. Then you see Chris Froome and Mark Cavendish so you are mixing with those sort of people all the time.
Was it anything like you had imagined?
It was very daunting walking into the village, there are about 16,000 people and it has its own shops. The food hall measured 310 by 80 yards so imagine a short par 4 at your local course. Just eating in that was really weird but, after a while you are walking round in a tracksuit and a pair of shorts and it feels normal, as opposed to the usual pair of chinos and a baseball cap.
Do you feel like golf was welcomed into the Games?
Being a bit paranoid I thought we might be the gatecrashers to the party but Danny Willett stayed in the village all week, and Justin came in for three days, and we joined in everything fully. When Justin won there was a huge cheer in our block so that was great to hear. We had a big point to prove.
How special was it to see Justin win gold?
I won a couple of times on the European Tour and played for England three times, including winning the Dunhill Cup, and to be part of that behind-the-scenes team it compared with winning an event.
It was very special, I played with Justin at Liphook when he was 14 and his caddy, Fooch, caddied for me for a year and a half so I know him very well.
His dad didn’t leave me alone that day at Liphook, asking me all sorts of questions about having a manager and what sort of caddy would be good, he was a great guy Ken. The irony of Justin winning on Brazilian Father’s Day and winning the US Open on Father’s Day, there is something going on there.
What was it like managing Charley Hull?
She’s a one-off character, she just comes in like a whirlwind. I don’t think anything fazes her and she sees every tournament the same; whether it is the Olympics, a Major or a 36-hole event somewhere. She goes out to have some fun and doesn’t really worry about the result too much.
It is a bit frustrating as you can’t really talk much abouttactics as she does her own thing and she and her caddy, Adam Woodward, work really well as a team.
She came out on the Sunday which I wasn’t that happy about as there was a lot to take in but it didn’t faze her at all. She was unlucky not to win a medal, I watched her play with Lydia Ko the first two days and she played as well as Lydia. Lydia and the Korean girls are sharper around the greens than most of the British girls that I have seen but Charley played some great stuff and if a few putts had gone in she would have been on the podium.
How well did you know her before Rio?
I didn’t know anything properly about her really, I had met her at tournaments so it was difficult to have real conversations. She was down the gym every day so she is physically strong and to walk round in practice rounds I got to know her properly and watch her game. She hits the ball great and if she really wants to be she can be in that top five for a long time.
She is a bit like Sandy Lyle used to be, very talented and uncomplicated. When you hit the ball like that where are the problems?
She had to make eagle at the last to tie third, and she knew that, and she hit two great shots to 25 feet at the par 5 so she can pull it out under pressure.
And quite a different character to her team-mate Catriona Matthew?
Catriona is very experienced and a class act. She hit the ball fantastically but, as has been the case the last couple of years, she didn’t hole as many putts as she would have liked in Rio. The way she struck it should have been much higher up that leaderboard. I really think she could have got on the podium and it would have been such a fitting tribute to her career. She and her husband (and caddy) Graeme had a great time. To play in the Olympics at 46 is something else.
What about the medal format that everybody criticized so much before the Games?
I criticized it before like a lot of people but it is difficult to criticize it now. Golf takes a lot of time so to have more golf would be difficult unless you made it a 36-hole event with a team or mixed event and also other countries might not be able to produce two golfers. It’s not easy to come up with another format.
What changes would you like to see?
I’d like to have a time element, I’d like to see the men being allowed to wear shorts like any other sport in the Olympics, that is ridiculous in my mind, and I’d also like the Team Leader to be able to speak with the players. Like they do in the Ryder Cup, that would add a bit more drama with people like Gary Player and Ian Baker-Finch being involved.
How was your day spent during the competition rounds?
I would see the players off the 1st, then have some breakfast, watch three holes of one and then the other and be there when they have finished to help with their media bits. And check whether they wanted any physio which they did every day.
What have you learnt in the past few weeks?
We have only got three girls in the world’s top 100 and that’s not good enough. The ranking points on the LET doesn’t help but the problem isn’t ball striking, they all hit the ball super but there’s something going on in the scoring department.
You need to look at what other people are doing sometimes and think what are they doing that I’m not doing and work on that. It frustrates me that we’ve got a lot of good girls and they should be doing better. I’m not sure what the reasons are but I put it down to just a bit of sharpness around the greens.
When Ko or Shanshan Feng miss the green their next shot is next to the hole, they are very, very sharp.
Now we’ve got a gold will there be more funding for GB’s Olympic golf?
We’re not funded through UK Sport, we’re governed by the British Golf Association which is formed by the home unions and the PGA of Great Britain and Ireland and money’s tight. Putting together a budget to send professional golfers to the Olympics probably isn’t top of their priorities but they supported us as much as they could so I’m grateful for everything the BGA have done.
I think there’s a perception that golf is a very wealthy sport but it’s not when it comes to amateur golf and the BGA and you’ve got to account for every penny.
Justin spent a fortune doing these Olympics. I’m not suggesting we should pay for him to do everything he did but it would be nice if we had some sort of budget that we could help the four athletes a bit more.
Would you like to do it all again in Tokyo?
I don’t know. I never say never but at this point I don’t know. To volunteer for that was a lot.
I love my teaching and I haven’t been able to do any of that this year and I’ve only played two events on the Senior Tour so it takes a lot out of you doing this because you want to do it well and support the guys as much as you can.
I just about got by by the skin of my teeth really. It’s all been a bit of a squeeze and a struggle but you can only do so much can’t you? Whether I do it again, never say never but if I had a gun to my head now I’d say no (laughs).
How did you celebrate Justin’s win?
I met Charley and had a cup of tea and biscuits. Everyone was going to the pub but Charley was getting in that evening and, just as I was walking out, there’s no alcohol in the village, I got a text saying Charley was about to arrive and there’s so much to take in I had to meet her.
So we had a cup of tea and biscuits, I went pretty wild.