Xander Schauffele had spoken ahead of the Olympic Games of the heartbreak endured by his father, Stefan, in being denied his opportunity, when aged 20, of the chance to represent Germany at the sport’s highest level.
His son, Xander, brilliantly made-up for his father’s sadness in capturing the golfing gold medal on the Kasumigaseki Country Club course in Japan.
As reported ahead of the Olympic Games, Xander’s German-born father had also dreamed of being an Olympian until his car was struck by a drunk driver some 40-years ago on his way to decathlon training when residing in Japan.
The accident cost Stefan the sight from his left eye.
Stefan married and turned his attention to his family, including son Xander to eventually become and he’s still now, his golf coach. Then in learning Olympic rules stated only one ‘other’ person could accompany the golfers to Japan (aside from their caddy) Xander naturally chose his father to accompany him in returning to Japan for probably what was a 20th visit for the now 27-year-old Olympic champion.
Stefan walked the final round, and as he had done for the three prior days, peering through his monocular as his own dreams were fulfilled through his son.
And to see father and son embrace at the final green was pure gold.
“To have my dad here as well is really special,” Schauffele said.
“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.
“I maybe put more pressure on myself and wanted to go win this more than anything else for quite some time and with my dad. This is what my dad aspired to have one of. That at some point in his life he dedicated a big chunk of his life for quite some time to obtaining a medal and that was taken away from him.
“And my ties here with my grandparents living here and my mom growing up here as well, there’s just all these things that sort of motivated me to do better, be better. And maybe I put more pressure on myself but it was sort of more than just golf for me and I’m just really, really happy and fortunate to be sitting here.
“It’s just so special. 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 colours and everyone’s just trying to represent to the best of their ability. So it does have that sort of special and different feel”.
Schauffele headed into the final round leading by a stroke and got the start he so desired with back-to-back birdies at one and two before a third birdie, and the third in four days, at the fifth. Then, completing a clean sweep of all four days, the American birdied the eigth to take a two-shot lead into the closing nine holes.
It would prove an anxious last nine with South African-born, and now Slovakian citizen, Rory Sabbatini establishing an Olympic Games record low of a 10-under par 61 to set the clubhouse lead on 17-under par and Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama edging closer to the front, much the enormous delight of a small gathering watching the action.
Schauffele then threw the gold medal chase wide open when he bogeyed the par-5 14th however he regrouped, and though tied with Sabbatini with two holes to play, he birdied 17 and then held on to par the last and won by a shot at 18-under par.
“Man, it feels good”, said Schauffele following the medal presentation ceremony.
“It really is a special deal, standing on the podium with these two boys, 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”.
And a message, somewhat for all those top-ranked golfers who chose not travel to Japan, from golf’s newest Olympic Champion as to what it means to win a gold medal;
“It means you’re the champion. It means you beat everybody,” said Schauffele.
“I think we play golf, for me specifically I don’t play golf for money or medals, in all honesty, I just play to be competitive and I want to beat everyone. So for this week I’m lucky enough to be sitting here with these boys, but I’m also lucky enough to be the No. 1 player to beat everyone.
“That’s what it means to me to be an Olympic champion”.