Fuelled by pride and heritage Xander Schauffele rediscovers winning touch at the Olympics

The American claimed gold after Slovakia’s Rory Sabbatini threatened to pull off a shock and before CT Pan emerged from a seven-man bronze medal playoff.

Doubters of multiculturalism, look away now: the podium at the 2021 Tokyo Olympic men's golf competition was not one that will gladden your hearts.

At one stage it looked as a South African with Scottish, Irish and Italian ancestry, who lives in the United States of America, and competes for Slovakia, would pull off one of golf's greatest-ever coups.

Instead, long-time leader Xander Schauffele held his nerve to make par at the last, clinch the gold medal, and foil the best efforts of Rory Sabbatini, whose consolation was silver.

Schauffele is the first natural born American in his family: his mother's family are Taiwanese and grew up in Japan; his father is French-German.

For some these kaleidoscopic family histories will be mere details, but they genuinely mattered on this dramatic final day.

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Sabbatini has often been mocked for his decision to play under the flag of his wife's home country, but after claiming second he explained that her brother heads the nation's golf federation and they believed he could further the progress of golf in the country by taking her nationality.

One might imagine that golf is suddenly a very big talking point in Bratislava this week. If it is, job done.

Pressure

For Schauffele, his family heritage was undoubtedly key to his triumph.

He had started the final day with the lead, maintained it with four front nine birdies, was set a stiff clubhouse target when Sabbatini signed for a scintillating 61, made a terrible mess of the 14th hole, then finally held his nerve to card a 67 for a winning total of 18-under 266.

Throughout it all, Schauffele revealed that he was thinking of his father, who had dreamed of being an Olympian himself before his decathlon career was ended by an accident, and his grandparents, who still live in Japan.

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"I maybe put more pressure on myself want to win this," he admitted.

"My dad dedicated a big chunk of his life to obtaining a medal and that was taken away from him. And my grandparents living here, my mom growing up here, there's just all these things that sort of motivated me to do better, to be better. I'm just really, really happy and fortunate to be sitting here."

If he appeared a little dazed in the immediate aftermath of his win, it was no illusion because the combination of Sabbatini's brilliance and his own errors had placed him under considerable pressure.

"Just in shock and very relieved," he sighed. "Hit a terrible drive on 18, had to make a sort of sloppy par. But, man, it was stressful. Making that putt was just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders."

Nearly man

Nor was it the distinct pressure of the tournament, the day and that final hole. Schauffele was well aware that he had finished second or third 11 times since his last win in the first week of 2019.

Once admired for his ruthless ability to secure a win, he had become something of a nearly man.

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"I usually look very calm but there's something terrible happening inside at times," he admitted. "But I was able to learn from those moments when I've lost coming down the stretch, where I hit a bad shot or a bad wedge or a bad putt and sort of lose my cool.

"It's bothered me and my team, knowing that I've been knocking on the door a lot. When that taste of winning gets swiped from you, you're a little bit sour, even if you're playing really good golf."

He was also knew that he started the day 0-for-5 at converting 54 hole lead into victories.

"This is a really big point for my career, to have a lead and cap it off," he said. "I haven't done that before and it was hard.

"I needed to get over the hump. You need your head in the right place, but at the end of the day you look at guys who win, they just get it done."

Embrace

And when he did get it done he was able to turn to the man who inspired him: his back room team leader, his physical coach, his mental coach, his mentor, his dad.

"It really was a nice embrace," Schauffele said. "I thought of him as soon as I made the putt. I knew he was going to be crying, luckily he had shades on. It was really cool.

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"This whole experience has been really, really special and to have him here is even better."

The champion was hoping to see his grandparents, but he expected not to - that it would be safer to Facetime them instead.

But the Schauffele family's cosmopolitan connections were not yet done.

While he and Sabbatini celebrated their successes, an epic playoff was being conducted to discover the identity of the bronze medal winner.

Paul Casey and Hideki Matsuyama fell at the first extra hole; Mito Pereira, Sebastian Munoz and Rory McIlroy fell at the third; and Collin Morikawa lost at the fourth.

Chinese Taipei's CT Pan therefore joined Schauffele on the podium and that made the winner chuckle.

"My fellow countryman right next to me," Schauffele said. "My mom was born there, so actually by blood I'm half Taiwanese."

A suitably wordly end to a frenetic day when golf continued to re-embrace the Olympics.

READ MORE: Niall Horan's golfing festival set for 3-way conclusion: World Invitational final round preview

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