Sander Schaffel won his coveted Olympic gold medal on Sunday by overcoming more pressure than he could have imagined.
When Schaffel appeared to have lost his firm grip on gold, the 27-year-old American hit a 4-under 67 with two clutch puddles and a shot over Slovakia’s Rory Sabatini. Men’s Golf Tournament.
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One put 6 feet of birds in the lead. Finally put a 4 foot bar to victory.
“In shock,” Schaffle said. “I tried so hard to be quiet.
Tension made the hot air feel even thicker at the Kasumikaseki Country Club. When the last team went to the 18th Greens, nine players were in the mix for a medal.
One of them is Masters Champion Hideki Matsuyama, whose golf-crazy country is not the medal he wanted. He exited the front when he missed putting up a 3-foot bar in the 15th hole. He missed putting a 12-foot bird in the 18th hole for the bronze.
Then he left without any medal.
Matsuyama was part of the seven-man playoffs for bronze, which included Rory McIlroy and British Open champion Colin Morikova. Matsuyama boogie on the first extra hole and was eliminated, ending a week of high expectations.
No gold, silver or bronze. The 29-year-old Japanese star still holds the masters green jacket.
Raised in Japan and having grandparents in the city, Schaefel kept the audience from seeing him under the ban, which seemed to win all the time.
Sabbathini set an Olympic record in 61st place, finishing with a fist-pushing bird in the 18th hole. It put a shot behind Shaffel, who had two good scoring chances between the six holes in front of him.
Then a swing changed everything.
Schaefel sent his tea shot to para-5 on the 14th and to the right of the fairway into the bushes. He had to take a shot penalty to get out, take three more shots to reach the green and make a 5 foot put to minimize the damage to a boogie.
He was tied to the lead and Matsuyama was one shot behind.
Schaefel kept his California cool and hit the driver in a green bunker in the 17th hole, where Tees moved forward to create some excitement. He exploded up to 6 feet high and created birds to gain lead.
One equal to gold. If only it were simpler.
Shuffle sent another drive to the right, got a good kick but was blocked by trees, forcing him to lower himself into the water. From 98 yards, he hit a flap wedge 15 feet behind the pin and saw it turn 4 feet.
He was much more relaxed than he was happy to be after Boot was dropped. This is his first win since January 2019, and the world’s No. 5 player has found the best place to end the drought.
Shuffle first pointed out at the Olympics, especially in Tokyo, since he first joined the elite in American golf three years ago. His father, Stephen, who was born in Germany, dreamed of becoming an Olympian, and the drunk driver lost his left eye on his way to decathlon training in his 20s.
Stephen Schaffel looked at his monocular and fulfilled his dreams through his son.
The warmth they shared was pure gold.
“My dad is so special to be here too,” Shuffle said. “I hugged him in the back of the green there. I know this means a lot to him, so I’m happy to offer this.”
Sabbathini had a lot to be happy with Friday. Born in South Africa, he decided to become a Slovakian citizen at the end of 2018 through his wife Martina, who ran the small Slovak Golf Federation. This week his wife was waiting for him.
It qualified him for the Olympics, and now Slovakia has won its third medal at the Tokyo Games. It is a gold in the women’s net and a silver in the men’s net. Sabathini, the first Slovakian to compete in Olympic golf.
“Its sole purpose is to create future generations of Slovak golfers,” Chapadini said. “This is not a major sport in which children want to grow up and play in Slovakia, so it can inspire future Olympians.”
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