While millions around the world watched Xander Schauffele putt for Olympic gold, those that gathered at the 18th green were keenly focused on his dad.
Stefan Schauffele was cruelly robbed of his own Olympic dream 40 years ago when a car crash in Japan ended his athletics career and left him blind in one eye. So, it’s impossible to imagine the mixture of feelings as he saw his son win Tokyo gold 20 yards away.
Xander’s reaction was understated, he smiled widely and acknowledged the applause of volunteers around the green while Stefan looked to the sky and took it all in. It was a good job he was wearing dark glasses.
The pair then embraced, father and son, coach and student, their lives partly shaped by the Olympics 40 years apart in the same country.
“I really wanted to win for my dad. I am sure he is crying somewhere right now. I kind of wanted this one more than any other,” said Schauffele, whose mother grew up in Japan and grandparents live in Tokyo.
“You are trying to represent your country to the best of your ability and then you add family stuff on top of that. I’m probably going to have a nice call with my grandparents tonight.
“Everyone is back home watching. I was feeling the love from San Diego and Las Vegas this whole time. I’m a little speechless right now, quite honestly.”
For Xander, this win has been coming. He’s been knocking at the door of a major victory for the past few years – with nine top-tens since 2017 – and though the Olympics might be unloved in some quarters of the game, try telling 2016 champion Justin Rose that this does not mean as much as a Masters, Open or even the US Open he won. Or try telling Stefan.
Rory McIlroy, who lost in a seven-man play-off for bronze, has previously discussed his hesitance at competing, the Games raising an identity headache he’d rather do without.
But after nailing his colours to Ireland’s mast and trudging off without the medal he craved, McIlroy was visibly gutted and said he’s already circled Paris 2024 in his calendar.
Chinese Taipei’s CT Pan eventually took bronze, beating the recently-crowned Open champion Collin Morikawa at the third extra hole, while Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini – who was born in South Africa but changed nationality two years ago to the home country of his wife and stepson, partly with competing at the Olympics in mind – took silver.
At one point, it looked like Sabbatini was going to win it. He shot an Olympic record 10-under round of 61 to finish on -17, his name at the top an unexpected twist on an enthralling day’s play, live on Eurosport and discovery+ .
Schauffele, who led overnight, played beautifully too. He birdied the first two holes and four of the front nine to take control before nerves set in after the turn.
A shank off the 14th tee flew into some bushes, forcing him to take a drop. He eventually scrambled for bogey and that dropped shot, coupled with Sabbatini’s charge, saw them tied at the top.
But Schauffele birded the 17th to take the lead again and then saved par on 18 after another wayward tee shot to win gold.
Paul Casey, who played with Schauffele in the final round, was also a victim in the seven-man play-off after a frustrating day, while Tommy Fleetwood, who started four shots back, faded to T16th.
Casey, who went round in a steady 68, holed a gutsy par putt at the last to join Pan, Morikawa, McIlroy, Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz and home favourite Hideki Matsuyama in the shoot-out.
Casey was the first to leave the stage as he bogeyed the re-played 18th, while Matsuyama quickly joined him.
McIlroy, Pereira and Munoz bade farewell on the next hole, leaving Morikawa and Pan, and it was the latter who parred the 11th to seal it.
Casey said: “This is my first Olympics and it’s one of the things I have witnessed a lot this week. There is triumph and there is heartache.”
No-one knows that combination more than Stefan and Xander Schauffele.
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