As an Olympian, it can’t be easy to feel the weight of your country’s pride on your shoulders, coupled with the pressure of millions of people watching as you compete against the world’s top athletes.
Xander Schauffele knows a little something about pressure on Sunday as he found himself a mere four feet away from his first gold medal. There is no doubt his heart was pounding, and his mind preoccupied with what-if scenarios as he lined up the biggest putt of his career.
A Great Golfer, But Questions Remain
At 27 years old, Schauffele has accomplished so much in is time on the PGA Tour. While he has yet to win any majors, he remains among the top five golfers in the world. Winning himself four titles on tour and consistently finishing in the top 10, it is no wonder Schauffele was selected to be on Team USA. It hasn’t all been great news, however. With over two years since his last victory, the golfer didn’t arrive in Tokyo as a sure bet.
These are the thoughts that can blow a big moment. The ones that make you doubt yourself, even for just a second, and are enough to make even the strongest of competitors feel the heat.
A Positive Attitude
Of course, with only 48 inches standing between you and an Olympic gold medal, one can’t help but think of just how sweet victory will be.
“I think it’s okay for your thoughts to sort of venture into the future, that’s sort of what our brain does, unfortunately,” Schauffele recalled. “I can’t get my heart to stop beating even if I tried my best … So I was just thinking about what if I make this putt and all these things. I tip my head down, I closed my eyes and I just tried to really become more present and just focus on the 4-footer.”
Schauffele made draining the putt seem effortless. After all, this season he has been successful over 97% on his putts up to 5 feet. In speaking with reporters, he admitted his confidence had been lacking leading up to the competition.
— Golf Channel (@GolfChannel) August 1, 2021
“I haven’t won anything in quite some time, that bothered me and my team, they know more than anyone else I’ve been knocking on the door a lot,” admitted Schauffele. “You kind of get that taste of winning and then it kind of gets swiped from you and you’re a little bit sour, even if you’re playing really good golf. So for me it was this was a really big point for me in my career I guess to sort of have a lead and be able to sort of cap it off. I haven’t done that before.”
We must admit that we weren’t sure Schauffele could hold up under pressure as we’ve seen him lose his focus before. Even he couldn’t deny he’s struggled under similar circumstances. “I felt like for the most part of the day I stayed very calm. I usually look very calm but there’s something terrible happening inside at time,” said Xander. “So I was able to learn on those moments where 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.”
For a moment, history seemed to be repeating itself. On the final hole and leading by just one shot, Xander had a wayward shot off the tee that struck a spectator. The golfer managed to overcome the error and hit his wedge solid, lining him up perfectly for the short putt in. “Man, it was stressful,” he said of the final moment. As he watched his putt drop, Schauffele felt as though “a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”
Biggest Moment of His Career
We can’t imagine there is anything quite like being a gold medalist. Schauffele is the first to grab the top spot for Team USA in golf since the year 1900.
“It really is a special deal, standing on the podium with these two boys, with our flags being raised,” Schaufelle reminisced. “I think people talk about why the Olympics are such a special thing to them and we’re fortunate enough to be a part of a ceremony, and I think we can all see why people say that. I think we’re all very happy to be here right now.”