Xander Schauffele enjoys a golden moment for Team USA

To the players who decided to stay home from the Tokyo Olympics, Xander Schauffele showed them on Sunday what they were missing out on

If you believed that the Olympic golf tournament didn’t matter, that professionals who make millions of dollars on a weekly basis had better things to do than fly halfway around the world to play in a spectator-less event that doesn’t count as a major or award any money, then you didn’t see the smile on Xander Schauffele’s face.

You didn’t see his embrace of the man whose Olympic dream he was living. Nearly 40 years ago, Schauffele’s father, Stefan, was an aspiring decathlete on the German national team and training for the Olympics when a drunk driver hit his car head-on. Stefan lost sight in one eye and, in a flash, his hopes were dashed.

Four decades later, his son got the chance to experience the moment he never did. Schauffele’s birdie from a greenside bunker on the 17th hole on Sunday at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo got him to 18-under for the tournament. His par save after a deft chip shot from the fairway on the 18th won the 27-year-old from San Diego an Olympic gold medal.

He immediately sought out Stefan, watching from behind the 18th green, as father-and-son enjoyed a big hug. His father has been the only coach he’s ever had. He was able to be at the course to watch his son play. The rest of his family had to stay home. Schauffele’s Taiwan-born mother was raised in Japan; his grandparents and dozens of relatives still live there. But it was the red, white, and blue of Team USA that Schauffele had emblazoned on his shirt.

He’s won four times on the PGA Tour, but it was the ability to represent his country that makes this one all the more special. There were many top players who choose not to come to Tokyo for their own reasons. Maybe they were preparing for the FedEx Cup playoffs or didn’t want to spend a week away from their families. Or perhaps they just didn’t appreciate what the Olympics mean, something Schauffele does.

“Yeah, it’s special. That’s a word that’s thrown around a lot, especially for us golfers,” he said. “I mean, it’s so different for us. We’re used to playing for money and we play a normal schedule and this is every four years and it’s just kind of a different feel to it. And you’re wearing your country’s colors and everyone’s just trying to represent to the best of their ability. So it does have that sort of special and different feel.”

Rory Sabbatini charges up the leaderboard to take silver

If you needed further proof of what this tournament means to the men who came over, look no further than the man Schauffele beat out for the gold. The South African-born Rory Sabbatini became a naturalized citizen of Slovakia, his wife’s home country, in 2018 and was playing for a nation where golf is usually an afterthought.

At 45 years old, he’s more than a decade removed from his last win on the PGA Tour. He hasn’t had a top-three finish in more than two years. He began the final round on Sunday well back in 17th place. Then he went out and had the round of a lifetime.

Sabbatini made 10 birdies and an eagle in an Olympic-record round of 61. Faced with a 12-foot putt for birdie on the 18th hole to get to 17-under, he started fist-pumping while the ball was barely halfway there before it fell in the center of the cup. Then he went to the practice area, preparing for a potential gold medal playoff and watching the scoreboard as Schauffele, recovering from a bogey after taking a drop off the tee on the 14th, pulled ahead and stayed there.

Sabbatini has played nearly 1,800 career rounds on the PGA Tour dating back to 1999. He has never shot a round of 61 or better. Whatever was inspiring him, whether it was representing his adopted home country or trying for one final grand moment in his career, it worked.

Sabbatini is ranked 204th in the world rankings; the next highest-ranked Slovakian is 848th. The country has only two players in the top-1200 in the world. They now have an Olympic silver medal.

“You know, it’s funny, because I was out there today and I kept just trying to remind myself, okay, don’t think ahead, don’t think ahead, just enjoy the moment that you’re in because you don’t know when it’s going to end,” he said. “It just seemed like every time I kind of had a hiccup out there I was like, oh, maybe this is the end of the run, but okay. And then all of a sudden I kicked back into gear. So it was a lot of fun and it was just one of those rare days that you have on the golf course.”

Then there was the race for the bronze medal. On the PGA Tour on a weekly basis, the player who finishes in third place is usually a footnote. Don’t tell that to the seven players competing for one Olympic medal in a sudden-death playoff.

Collin Morikawa won the Open Championship two weeks ago, but how he was focused during the playoff it seemed like he was playing for another Claret Jug. Rory McIlroy has four major championships and was playing for his first medal like another major was on the line.

Hideki Matsuyama was trying to win one for his home country on native soil. They couldn’t be there on the course, but 125 million Japanese fans were cheering him on from home. They all came away empty-handed as C.T. Pan of Chinese Taipei beat Morikawa on the fourth extra hole to join Schauffele and Sabbatini on the podium.

The experience this week in Tokyo should convince the other players on the PGA Tour that this competition matters, that it is worth taking time from their busy schedules to represent their country. The Olympics isn’t a major and won’t be included on Schauffele’s list of PGA Tour victories.

It was much more than that.