A PGA Star Wins Gold in Golf, an Event Unmoored From the Games

A PGA Star Wins Gold in Golf, an Event Unmoored From the Games
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A PGA Star Wins Gold in Golf, an Event Unmoored From the Games

A PGA Star Wins Gold in Golf, an Event Unmoored From the Games

KAWAGOE, Japan – There was little evidence that the Olympic men’s golf tournament had anything in common with the 32 other sports at the Tokyo Summer Games.

Among them were the Olympic ring-shaped tee markers, the special need to hold a tiebreaker for third place (awkwardly, among seven golfers) and the shiny gold medal hanging from the neck of the United States.

Beyond that, walking through the calm, sweltering grounds of a suburban Japanese country club, it could have been mistaken for a midweek workout in New Jersey.

The Tokyo Olympics already give the impression of taking place on a series of television sets, devoid of fans and atmosphere, inside and out. But no place has felt so disconnected, physically and spiritually, than the men’s golf event, hosted at an exclusive private club over an hour’s drive from downtown and contested primarily by tourism pros in spectacular fashion. rich and famous.

Returning to Tokyo on Sunday, near the heart of the pandemic muted Olympics, medals were awarded to mostly unrecognized athletes in sports like fencing, swimming, weightlifting, gymnastics and BMX. On Friday, in a BMX discipline, a British gold medalist competed only because she had financed her training in a participatory way.

The latest group to start at Kasumigaseki Country Club, meanwhile, included ScHotele, Hideki Matsuyama and Paul Casey, who have combined career earnings of $ 90.8 million, according to the PGA Tour. Behind them was Rory McIlroy, No.6 on the career list, with $ 56.9 million in career money.

But only ScHotele, ranked fifth in the world golf rankings and having come closer to a series of major tournaments, can claim the Olympic gold medal as the highlight of his career.

“I might have put more pressure on myself wanting to win this more than anything else for a while,” said ScHotele.

Among those he fended off was Matsuyama, who won the Masters in April when ScHotele was his playing partner for the final round. The tables were turned on Sunday, as ScHotele led suddenly to the first tee and Matsuyama never caught up.

ScHotele needed a 4-foot putt on the 18th hole to finish under-18, a stroke past Rory Sabbatini, 45, who shot a 61-under-10 on Sunday. Born in South Africa and a resident of Florida, Sabbatini represented Slovakia, the kind of team-swapping quirk that made golf feel a little more Olympian than usual.

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The tournament took a wacky turn at the end, with a seven-a-side playoff needed to determine the lone bronze medal recipient. Ultimately, CT Pan of Taiwan claimed it in a one-on-one battle with Collin Morikawa of the United States.

Golf was reintroduced for the Rio 2016 Games after an absence of 112 years. Justin Rose won for the men, Inbee Park for the women, but it was hardly popular and not particularly memorable.

Late Olympics later, it still looks like a weird adjustment.

In most Olympic sports, athletes spend years fighting for the right to compete. But in golf, many of the best players in the world refused to come, unwilling to adapt to their schedules, nonetheless the Olympic movement.

Players who have come can return home as lawyers. American Justin Thomas, disappointed to be tied for 22nd, said he has been to the Olympic Village several times and is happy to have participated. He compared it favorably in terms of meaning even to the Ryder Cup.

“I’m more proud to be here than I thought,” he said.

But most golfers did not participate in the usual Olympic festivities, such as living in the village or walking during the opening ceremony. They remained sequestered near the course, as they would with any other tournament. How to link them more closely to the rest of the Olympics and to the spirit of the Olympic movement remains a dilemma.

Kasumigaseki is the most revered course in Japan. Built in 1929, it was the site of an international team tournament in 1957 won by Japan. That year, Torakichi Nakamura crushed a squad that included Gary Player and Sam Snead. His victory helped start the golf boom in Japan.

Comparisons with Augusta National, home of the Masters, are appropriate. Kasumigaseki only allowed female members in 2017, four years after being named host of the Tokyo Olympic tournament. The women’s Olympic event will be played there from Wednesday.

The rules of the club’s Etiquette and Fellowship Committee are serious and precise. Shorts can be worn on the course, but only with high socks and not at the finish. (“Anything that is too long or too short is not allowed.”) Shirt collars may be turned up during play, but “the collar must be down in the clubhouse”.

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Sweating is a concern: “In the heat of summer, players are kindly requested to change shirts and pants before entering the dining room, to avoid leaving a wet seat for the next guest, ”according to the club’s dress code guide. .

Kasumigaseki is a place of dignity and ambulatory tradition. “A caddy will accompany each group during a round, which as a general rule must be played on foot,” the club specifies. “Golf carts are available, for example for players over 80 years old. “

(President Trump used a cart in 2017 when he performed here, along with Matsuyama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Trump was 71 and, according to media reports, followed his tour “with a plate of burgers.” )

The players on Sunday had caddies, of course, with Olympic logos on their bibs. The players wore shirts in the colors of their country, some more declarative than others. Those from Germany, Belgium and India, for example, had the name of their country in big letters on the back.

Other signs were subtle, beyond the stands left empty by the state of emergency in Japan. The players hit balls into the greens surrounded not by fans, but mostly by more empty grass.

There was a large, colorful set of Olympic rings planted near the green outside the clubhouse. Another set of rings was sprayed white between a T-shirt and a water hazard. It could have been mistaken for a confusing drop zone.

It was a bit like redecorating a lavish mansion with a few new cushions. Volunteers in blue shirts bravely tried to inject some Olympic spirit. When Japan’s Rikuya Hoshino hit the tournament opener on Thursday, the t-shirt was surrounded by volunteers, who then scattered around the course to their posts.

On Sunday, Matsuyama, the last hero of Japanese golf, received an equally robust start from the first tee, on a course where he played and won big events as a junior.

His group was followed in the heat and humidity by a hundred people, mostly photographers and reporters, others part of the volunteer squad. Next to the fourth tee, a few dozen people stood in front of a chain link fence, trying to get a glimpse.

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Matsuyama needed encouragement. The birdies were sandwiched by the bogeys, and he missed several small putts in the final holes that could have won him bronze, if not better.

Hundreds of volunteers gathered at the 18th green, where other volunteers were holding plastic signs asking for masks (no problem) and social distancing (a bit of a problem) in hopes of seeing Matsuyama win a medal .

Instead, he joined the playoffs – which included McIlroy, Casey and Collin Morikawa – and came out quickly, coming away without a medal.

Pan eventually won bronze on the 18th green, the fourth hole of the playoffs, in the shadow of the late afternoon.

ScHotele and Sabbatini already knew the color of their lots. ScHotele had broken the tie with a birdie at 17 and clinched the title with a normal putt at 18, in front of hundreds of volunteers hoping to see Matsuyama win more than a “T3” in the standings.

More than most, ScHotele was excited about the prospect of an Olympic title. He had arrived with an Olympic back story.

His father, Stefan Sc chaudele, had hoped to compete in the athletics Olympics decades ago when his car was hit by a drunk driver in Stuttgart. Stefan survived, but was blinded in one eye by a piece of broken windshield, putting an end to his sporting hopes. Stefan, who was cleared to participate as a coach, followed his son to the course on Sunday. He hugged his son shortly after the victory and sat near the front of the room during the post-match press conference.

Sc Chauffageele’s mother, Ping-Yi Chen, was born in Taiwan and raised in Japan. Without the pandemic, ScHotele might have had 100 other parents in the gallery.

Instead, he moved mostly in the heat and silence. Important titles in the era of the pandemic have been won in various environments.

But it was the Olympics, at least in name. He says it, right on the gold medal.

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