KAWAGOE, Japan (AP) —
Xander Schauffele was only four feet from an Olympic gold medal when his golf ball hit the cup, and he couldn’t help but think about it.
It would be as special for Schauffele as winning a major, which has escaped him far too many times, most recently at the Masters.
To return to the present, Schauffele bent his head and closed his eyes.
“I simply reminded myself that this is only a 4-footer,” she added “Sunday, he stated. “You only have to make it.” It’s not a huge deal.”
He was successful. It was a significant event.
With more pressure than he needed, Schauffele won the reward he desired in a dramatic finish to men’s golf that left nine players in contention for a medal as the final three players measured their putts on the 18th green.
Schauffele, who had to lay up short of the water and rely on a wedge and a putt for par and a 4-under 67, had the most important putt.
“I think I placed more pressure on myself to win this than anything else,” he admitted. “And with my father, he committed a significant portion of his life to win a medal, which was taken away from him….” For me, it was more than simply golf. And I’m just incredibly grateful and blessed to be sitting here.”
Rory Sabbatini shot a 61 — with two bogeys on his card — which was nearly good enough to force a sudden-death playoff for the gold. He was overjoyed to bring Slovakia home a silver medal.
What about the bronze? That was a difficult situation.
Hideki Matsuyama’s ambition of adding gold to his Master’s green jacket came to an end on the final nine at Kasumigaseki Country Club when he missed too many putts. On the final hole, he still had a 12-foot birdie putt for the bronze. He also missed it, putting him in a seven-player playoff for the last medal with players from seven different countries.
With a bogey on the first extra hole, Matsuyama and Paul Casey were eliminated.
With four holes to play and less than a month since recuperating from COVID-19, the Japanese star was one stroke off of the lead and finished without a medal.
There will be no gold, silver, or bronze. He’s still wearing his green jacket.
With pars on the third playoff hole, Rory McIlroy, Mito Pereira, and Sebastian Munoz were eliminated. C.T. Pan and Collin Morikawa, the British Open champion, were the only players to shoot 63, and Pan won with an 8-foot par.
Stefan Schauffele, who was crying behind dark shades as his son put the medal around his neck, watched the medal ceremony from off the 18th green.
When the father was 20, he was invited to train as a decathlete with Germany’s national squad. He was struck by a drunk driver, leaving him blind in one eye and unable to participate in the sports he loved.
He eventually discovered golf and taught it to his son.
“After what happened to me, I vowed myself that I would make sure my children knew how amazing they were at anything they were attempting. It was golf in this case,” the father explained. “The fact that I never found out how good I was fueled it.”
Schauffele, whose mother was born in Japan and who has grandparents in the city who were unable to watch him due to the spectator ban, made an appearance.
Sabbatini capped off his round with a fist-pumping birdie on the 18th. He was now one shot behind Schauffele, who had six holes left and two strong scoring opportunities.
Then, all of a sudden, one swing altered everything.
On the par-5 14th, Schauffele’s tee shot went wide right of the fairway and into the bushes. To get out, he had to take a one-shot penalty, then three more strokes to reach the green, where he made a 5-foot putt for bogey.
He was tied for first place with Matsuyama, who was one shot behind him.
Schauffele kept his California calm in the final round, making two clutch putts.
“I was simply trying to keep cool,” Schauffele stated. “However, it was quite stressful. And when I holed the putt, it felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.”
With silver, Sabbatini had a lot to be thrilled about. He was born in South Africa and opted to become a Slovakian citizen at the end of 2018 through his wife, Martina, who had a relative who ran the little Slovak Golf Federation.
This week, his wife caddied for him.
As a result, he was qualified for the Olympics, and Slovakia now has its third medal in the Tokyo Games. In the women’s trap, it won gold, while in the men’s kayak, it won silver. Sabbatini is the first golfer from Slovakia to compete in the Olympics.
Sabbatini explained, “The main goal of it was to develop future generations of Slovak golfers.” “It’s not the most popular sport in Slovakia for youngsters to grow up and want to play, so hopefully we can inspire future Olympians.”