While the first three days of golf at the Tokyo Olympics were less than inspiring, the final round of the men’s competition delivered the goods. The United States’ Xander Schauffele, the 36- and 54-hole leader, fired a final-round 67 to take the gold medal. Slovakia’s (*wink*) Rory Sabbatini earned silver, and C.T. Pan won bronze for Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). Men’s Olympic Results
Starting with a one shot lead on Sunday morning at Kasumigaseki Country Club, Xander Schauffele didn’t waste any time taking control of the tournament, making three birdies over his first five holes. But just when Schauffele seemed to be on his way to an easy victory, Collin Morikawa, C.T. Pan, and Rory Sabbatini entered the picture. All three players ended up shooting 63 or better. But Schauffele was up to the challenge: his birdie on the short par-4 17th put him one stroke ahead of Sabbatini, and he secured the gold medal with a clutch scrambling par on No. 18.
Winning in Tokyo means a lot to the 27-year-old American. His maternal grandparents reside in Japan, and his mother spent most of her childhood in the country. Schauffele says his family’s connections to Japanese culture gave him an appreciation of international perspectives. “I think that me being very international, it’s taught me a lot about different cultures, and it’s made me very understanding of different cultures,” he said. “I think that if everyone sort of had the ability to travel more and experience other cultures, they would be more willing to get along, potentially.”
Adding to the significance of Schauffele’s win is that his father Stefan was pursuing his own Olympic dream as a decathlete 40 years ago before a crash with a drunk driver blinded him in one eye. Stefan was on site at Kasumigaseki to watch his son take the podium, another kind of dream come true.
For Xander, this is his first official victory since the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions. He’s had a lot of close calls over the past two years, and while these events must have left a bitter taste in his mouth, nothing tastes as sweet as a bite of the gold medal (see photo above).
It was a triumph years in the making. Rory Sabbatini, representing Slovakia, finished with the lowest round of the event (61!) to rocket up the leaderboard and finish one shot behind Schauffele.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rory Sabbatini citizenship saga, 1) subscribe to The Shotgun Start because you’re missing out, and 2) we can’t wait to fill you in. South African by birth, Sabbatini recently acquired Slovakian citizenship through his wife Martina. Sabbatini claims he did this not to give himself a better chance of qualifying for the Olympics but rather to help grow the game in Slovakia. So perhaps it’s just a coincidence that Martina’s cousin is vice president of the Slovak Golf Association.
“We thought this was an opportunity to bring more kids into the game of golf because they really haven’t had exposure on a national stage to follow golf,” Sabbatini explained. “This decision was never made to play in the Olympics. This decision was made to support my wife and stepson and to open the door for golf development in Slovakia.”
Yes, the circumstances around his qualification for the event were odd, but the fact remains that Rory Sabbatini went out and fired a 61 to claim a silver medal. That’s incredible. What this will do for golf in Slovakia is anyone’s guess, but we can’t help but feel happy for the Boy from Bratislava.
Here’s one of the best things about golf in the Olympics: players and fans really care about third place. This year, the men’s contest ended in a seven-way tie for the bronze medal, triggering a playoff to remember. The participants included hometown hero Hideki Matsuyama, four-time major winner Rory McIlroy, and this year’s Open champion Collin Morikawa. With birdies on the third playoff hole, Morikawa and C.T. Pan made themselves the last men standing. Morikawa bogeyed the next hole, allowing Pan to lock up bronze with a par.
Have you ever stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to see who would come third in a golf tournament? We did yesterday, and it was great. There’s a lesson here. Money and exemptions into other tournaments are all well and good, but the stakes are simply higher when a medal—with so much tradition and international recognition behind it—is on the line. Olympic golf has had its issues since returning in 2016, but it might just have staying power.
Annika Sorenstam dominated the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, winning by eight shots over Liselotte Neumann at Brooklawn Country Club. This was Sorenstam’s first start in the event, and the win gets her into the 2022 U.S. Women’s Open at Pine Needles, where she won the title in 1996. Results
Pajaree Anannarukarn knocked off Emma Talley to win the women’s side of the ISPS Handa World Invitational, while Daniel Gavins came from behind to win the men’s portion of the event. Jennifer Kupcho finished one shot out of the playoff with Anannarukarn and Talley. Women’s Leaderboard, Men’s Leaderboard
Stanford’s Michael Thorbjornsen defeated stiff competition on his way to victory at the Western Amateur at Glen View Club outside Chicago. After earning medalist honors in stroke play, Thorbjornsen defeated Maxwell Maldovan, Ricky Castillo, Austin Greaser, and Gordon Sargent to claim one of amateur golf’s most coveted titles. He’ll enter the U.S. Amateur at Oakmont as one of the favorites. Western Amateur Results
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Shotgun Start: A Boy from Bratislava grows up to be the Silver Slovak
A triumphant Monday episode begins with some “we’ll always remember where we were” reminiscences about a legendary Saturday night and Sunday morning at the men’s Olympic golf competition. Andy and Brendan discuss all the delightful elements of the Boy from Bratislava’s record-setting round of 61 that earned the golf-loving nation of Slovakia a silver medal. They hit on the actual golf, the absolute shotmaking show, the jubilant middle-of-the-night party on Twitter, the broadcast having to acknowledge and lean into the Slovakian story, the true “love story” that delivered this country a medal, some unconfirmed reports about Sabbo’s Saturday night out, and much more. Of course, they also hit on the actual gold medal winner and the weight and import the competition seemed to carry. They recap the 7-man playoff and the other Rory’s attempt at a bronze. The glowing reviews from JT to Morikawa to the other Rory’s change in tune are also discussed, as well as their own impressions from a great late-night watch and what it might mean for Olympic golf going forward. There’s also recaps of all the other golf, including Annika’s absolute dominance at the U.S. Senior Women’s and a Western Am phenom playing the most grueling test in amateur golf in between visits to Lollapalooza. Listen on iTunes, Stitcher, and Spotify.
The streets of Bratislava are alive with song and dance! You can join in the fun with a Shotgun Start t-shirt celebrating the BFB and his triumph in Tokyo. Get yours today!