KAWAGOE (Japan): Xander Schauffele had more than thoughts of a medal inspiring him to gold at Tokyo 2020 on Sunday.
The world number five golfer was driven on by his father’s lost Olympic opportunity, and the 30 or more members of his Japanese extended family, including his maternal grandparents, who would have been on the course to cheer his every shot had there been spectators allowed.
American Schauffele won by a shot from surprise silver medallist Rory Sabbatini of Slovakia, with Taiwan’s C.T. Pan taking bronze after an epic seven-man playoff.
The 27-year-old Schauffele, a four-time winner on the US PGA Tour, has a family heritage that straddles the globe.
He says he was brought up culturally more Japanese because his Taiwanese mother was brought up in Japan.
“My fellow countryman (Pan) is right next to me,” he laughed at the medallists’ press conference.
“We got a worldly deal. France, Germany, Taiwan, a little bit of Japan. My mom was born in Taiwan, so actually by blood I’m half-Taiwanese.
“My mom grew up in Japan from the age of four… and my grandparents have been in Japan ever since. So I have a family split between Taiwan and Japan.”
And that means normally it’s family party time whenever he arrives in the Land of the Rising Sun, at least when there are no Covid restrictions or states of emergency in force for his largely Tokyo-based relatives.
But Schauffele’s heritage spans far more than the United States and the Far East. His father Stefan, who is half-French, was a top decathlete for Germany who never got to realise his own dreams of Games glory.
Stefan’s car was hit by a drunk-driver four decades ago on his way to Olympic training, shattering his sporting ambitions in an instant as he suffered multiple injuries including the loss of sight in his left eye.
Schauffele, the 2017 US PGA Tour Rookie of the Year, was proud to have won the medal for Team USA but pointed out he was the only member of his family who is actually American.
“I’m the only natural-born citizen in my family, being born in the United States,” he smiled. Schauffele’s brother, Nico, was born in Stuttgart, Germany, and he says his globe-trotting family background gives him a great perspective on life.
“I think that me being very international it’s taught me a lot about different cultures and it’s made me understanding of different cultures,” said Schauffele, who has made more than a dozen visits to Japan.
“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.”
Silver medallist Sabbatini, born in Durban, South Africa, and now playing for Slovakia, was full of praise for Schauffele.
“Xander, never mind his golf game, probably one of the nicest gentlemen I’ve ever met. Always hospitable, you can tell he was raised right,” said Sabbatini, who shot an incredible final-round 61 to snatch a shock medal.
Schauffele had suffered the agony of losing out in the final pairing of the Masters to Hideki Matsuyama at Augusta, but hoped Japan would forgive him for turning the tables to register his first win since the 2020 Tour Championship.
“I can’t speak for the Japanese people, I’m sure my grandparents are very happy,” he said.
“But they may be the only people in Japan who were pulling for me, rather than Hideki.”