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Olympic medals are forever

August 17, 2016

The moment felt as historic as it gets in women's golf.

Stacy Lewis won the Women's British Open at St. Andrews with a birdie-birdie finish, the last one set up by a classic links shot when she used a putter from 40 yards short of the green to get through the famous Valley of Sin.

She was beaming as she posed with the trophy on the 18th green at the Home of Golf.

And that was the last she saw of it.

''They take your picture, and then they take it from you, and you get a three-quarter sized replica in the mail,'' Lewis said Tuesday morning.

She laughed at the memory from 2013, and there was a point behind it as Lewis prepared for what she considers the biggest opportunity of her career.

Olympic medals are forever.

''After you win a medal, what do you do? You take it home with you,'' Lewis said. ''You don't ever have to give it back.''

One week of golf's most excellent Olympic adventure hasn't solved the question that has lingered over the sport even before it was allowed back into the Olympic family, at least through the Tokyo Games in 2020.

Is it the pinnacle of sport? Is Olympic gold more valuable than Augusta green?

That no longer seems relevant.

Justin Rose was in the best position to provide an answer because he now has one of each - the silver U.S. Open trophy from Merion in 2013, an Olympic gold medal from his victory Sunday at Olympic Golf Course that came down to the very last shot.

There is no comparison, and there doesn't need to be.

''I think they should live in separate columns and different worlds,'' Rose said. ''Obviously, major championships right now have all the history. But I feel like this was an opportunity not to be missed. I feel like it resonated far wider than maybe my U.S. Open victory.''

Golf careers are not defined by the Olympics. Not yet. Probably not ever.

It was not part of the Olympic program when Bobby Jones was feted with a ticker-tape parade in New York for his ''impregnable quadrilateral'' of winning the British Open, British Amateur, U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur in 1930. There was no talk of Olympic gold when Arnold Palmer cooked up the notion of the modern Grand Slam in 1960, or when Jack Nicklaus set the gold standard in golf with his 18 professional majors.

That's too much history to catch.

Golf has been its own tiny village, and it was invited into a much larger world of sport in Rio, where all athletes are respected equally.

If anything, golfers had to earn their place.

Padraig Harrington couldn't wait to see table tennis when he arrived at the Olympics, and he was asked if he considered table tennis players to be athletes.

''I've never questioned whether a table tennis player is an athlete. I believe they are. Fantastic athletes,'' he said. ''I would even put them before golf. You don't see too many overweight, smoking table tennis players.''

Rose didn't show up at Olympic Golf Course, work on his putting and chipping, post the lowest score over 72 holes and go home with the golden prize. He took in the full Olympic experience. He felt part of the British nation of athletes and wanted to do his part. He was among five British athletes to win gold on Sunday. His appeal went beyond golf, beyond sport, to an Olympic audience that reaches all corners of the globe.

So many other Olympians don't have the Masters or the PGA Championship to look forward to next year. One mistake, one false start, one slip and the next chance at glory is four years.

That's made golfers appreciate what they have.

''We should never complain again,'' two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson said. ''We're always going to complain about three-putts, but we should never complain about what we have and what we don't have and all these things. We're so blessed. When you look at these other countries, and these athletes that train for years - not just hours, years - and they got 30 seconds or they got a minute or they got under ten seconds. And I get to show up at Augusta every year from now on because I won there.

''So it's humbling, for sure,'' he said. ''This is the greatest thing I've ever done.''

And he didn't even leave with a medal.

Rose did, and his biggest dilemma is what to do with his Olympic gold.

''Maybe I'll get a little mannequin with a podium jacket for it,'' he said.

He only knew he didn't have to give it back.





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