American Xander Schauffele clinched the gold medal at the Olympic Men’s Golf Competition on a tense final day that saw Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini shoot a record-breaking round to take silver, while C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei earned bronze after prevailing in a seven-man play-off.
Schauffele had entered the final round at Kasumigaseki Country Club with a one shot lead, and he stretched his advantage with a birdie-birdie start and added two more before the turn. But his lead was wiped out as he bogeyed the 14th while Sabbatini raced up the leaderboard to record an Olympic record ten under par round of 61.
The 27 year old held his nerve to birdie the 17th to move one shot clear of Sabbatini on 18 under, and a par putt on the last was enough to clinch gold with a four under par round of 67.
“Man, it feels good. It really is a special deal, standing on the podium with these two boys, with our flags being raised, the ceremony”, said Schauffele. “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.”
Schauffele had previously spoken about his family’s Olympic dreams, with his father and coach Stefan’s ambitions to compete for Germany as a decathlete dashed by a car accident, and he was delighted to have him by his side for his golden moment.
“My dad put all his eggs in one basket for quite some time, just like I did for golf, to compete as a decathlete in the Olympics. And life came at him fast, it was swiped away from him, but he saw potential in me to become a good golfer and so he sort of put all his eggs in my basket. For this to come full circle at a pretty young age I just feel very fortunate and just really happy to share this with him. This whole experience has been really, really special and to have him here is even better.”
By clinching silver South African-born Sabbatini realised his ambitions of helping to grow the game in Slovakia, after becoming a citizen in 2018 through his wife.
“Golf in Slovakia is not a big sport in regards to ice hockey, and you got so many different other sports that are bigger sports. So we looked at it as a way to try and create some interest,” said the 45 year old.
“For me to be here today is very fortuitous. I'm just thankful to be here. But it's been such a prideful moment to be up there to represent Slovakia and to see the flag raised. Words really cannot express it. So it's just been a fantastic experience all around for the entire Olympics and I'm just very thankful.”
With gold and silver settled, attention then turned to the fight for bronze as The Open Champion Collin Morikawa of the United States, Japanese Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama, Ireland’s four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey of Great Britain, Chile’s Miro Pereira and Colombian Sebastian Munoz joined Pan in a tie for third at 15 under par.
Casey and Matsuyama were the first to drop out of contention with bogeys at the first extra hole, while McIlroy, Munoz and Pereira were eliminated with pars on the third hole. That left Pan to close out with a par putt on the next after Morikawa’s approach shot plugged in the sand and he failed to convert his putt.
After starting the week with a three over par round, Pan was delighted to close with a 63 and a medal.
“Very satisfying. It came as a surprise to me too. After day one, plus 3, 74, I remember I texted one of my good friends and I was like, the struggle is real. So, it's quite a turnaround for this week winning the bronze medal that I couldn't even think about it, didn't even think about it after Thursday's round. So overall that was a very happy ending.”