Xander Schauffele made a clutch saving par on the final hole after driving into the trees to shoot a closing 5-under-par 67 and win the gold medal in the Olympic Games men’s individual stroke play at the Kasumiegasek Country Club in suburban Tokyo, Japan.
Schauffele’s first win since early in 2019 was anything but easy as his 18-under total of 266 was only one better than Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini, who had an eagle and 10 birdies in an Olympic record 61.
A bogey at the par-5 14th hole dropped Schauffele into a tie with Sabbatini, but he regained the lead with a 4-foot birdie putt at the 17th hole and then saved par at No. 18 with a pitchout from the trees, a terrific wedge from 98 yards to 4 feet and one putt to become the first individual American men’s golfer to win gold since Charles Sand at the Paris Olympic Games in 1900.
It was an especially satisfying victory for Schauffele because his mother was born in Taiwan before being raised in Japan, where his grandparents still live.
Ping Yi and French-German Stefan Schauffele met at San Diego’s International University and married three months after they met. Stefan moved to the United States after his dreams of being an Olympic decathlete ended with an eye injury sustained in a car accident in 1986. He has been Xander’s only swing coach and was understandably moved to tears when his son clinched the gold.
Schauffele certainly wanted to win a gold medal for himself, but this one was more to make a dream come true for his father.
“It’s special,” said Schauffele, who moved to No. 4 in the world rankings after his gold medal win. “That’s a word that’s thrown around a lot, especially for us golfers.
“I mean it’s so different for us, we’re used to playing for money and we play a normal schedule, and this is every four years and it’s just kind of a different feel to it. And you’re wearing your country’s colors and everyone’s just trying to represent to the best of their ability.
“So it does have that sort of special and different feel.
“To have my dad here as well is really special. I gave him a hug off the back of the green there. I know this means a lot to him, so I’m just happy to sort of deliver this.
“Man, it feels good. It really is a special deal, standing on the podium with these two boys (Sabbatini and bronze medalist T.C. Pan Chinese Taipei), with our flags being raised, the ceremony, I think people talk about why the Olympics are such a special thing to them and we’re fortunate enough to be a part of a ceremony and I think we can all see why people say that. So I think we’re all very happy to be here right now.”
Stefan couldn’t hide his feelings.
“I felt like I was out there playing,” Stefan told Golf Digest, holding back tears. “No, I’m not that good. You’re very proud. I think the real moment where the emotions come to the surface will be on the podium, when the anthem plays.
“Talking about this previously, I got choked up. I know that’s going to be a big moment. Very proud.”
Sabbatini took the silver medal with a 17-under 267, while won the bronze medal after a four-hole playoff to break a seven-way tie for third at 15-under par.
Team USA’s Collin Morikawa was second to Pan in the playoff after a final-round 63. Local hero and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama, Rory McIlroy and Paul Casey were also in the playoff.
“Yeah, you (have) to earn it,” Morikawa said. “It was a long four holes, and I thought my shot was going to be all right and just mishit it and C.T. played great and we had to shoot 8-under for both of us to get in this playoff for bronze.
“So it sucks, but hopefully it’s not a last and hopefully we’ll be back in four years.”
The two other members of Team USA, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed, each shot 65 to tie for 22nd at 274.