For just the second time since 1904, a men’s Olympic golf champion was crowned yesterday at the at Kasumigaseki Country Club, just outside Tokyo. He’s come close in a few major championships without winning one but on this big-time occasion no one could get the better of 27-year-old Xander Schauffele.
The winner of the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, with the golf competition restored after a 112-year hiatus, had been Justin Rose, who recently told James Corrigan in the Daily Telegraph: “It’s funny. When guests come over to the house, they want to see my [Olympic] medal first and my US Open trophy [from 2013] second. And they ask me as many questions about Rio as they do about the Ryder Cup.”
If the Olympics had been held on schedule last summer, Rose would likely have qualified to make the Team GB line-up. Instead that honour went to Paul Casey and Tommy Fleetwood, but there was no escaping the fact that the covid pandemic hurt the strength of the field, whether that was because players contracted the virus (like Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm) or they had no interest in taking the risk (such as Brooks Koepka and Tyrrell Hatton). The outcome was that only three of the world’s top-10 were competing, all of them American – Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas and Schauffele.
After a first round interrupted by storms, the surprise leader was Sepp Straka of Austria. Would he repeat the feat of his compatriot, Anna Kiesenhofer, who the previous Sunday had pedalled off into the distance to win the women’s cycling road race in a massive shock? Well, no he wouldn’t, but he did finish a respectable tied 10th, four shots behind Schauffele, who got up and down in two from 100 yards out at the last to seal the deal.
By extraordinary coincidence, Schauffele’s grandparents live in Tokyo. “I’m probably going to have a nice call with them tonight,” he said. He also said: “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.”
The Californian finished on 18 under par, a shot clear of the South African born, American-based, now Slovakian citizen, Rory Sabbatini, who closed with a brilliant 61. Behind him there was a seven-way playoff for bronze, eventually won by C.T. Pan of Taipei, which left, among the six players in fourth place, the aforementioned Casey; the aforementioned Morikawa, the new Open champion; Hideki Matsuyama, the Masters champion and home idol; and Rory McIlroy.
“I’ve never tried so hard in my life to finish third,” the Irishman said. “This is not just another golf tournament. It’s bigger than that. I feel like golf has its Olympic Games four times a year but this has a different feeling. I’m already excited for what’s ahead and my next Olympic experience.”
Finally, back to the Daily Telegraph. On the day before the men’s golf tournament got underway in Tokyo, there was a splendidly Colonel Blimp-style letter published in the newspaper from a gentleman in the northeast. “Is there anyone in this country working at present?” he began. “My golf course and the surrounding area suggest not. The course is fully booked every day and we are inundated with people, presumably on holiday.”
I trust he won’t be in your fourball between now and the end of the summer.
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