Xander Schauffele always watched the Summer Olympics growing up. He had no choice. His father, Stefan, is a former Olympic hopeful for Germany in the decathlon.
“My dad loved to watch the track and field,” Schauffele said.
Stefan’s Olympic aspirations ended nearly 40 years ago when his car was struck by a drunken driver and a piece of windshield lodged in Stefan’s left eye. Despite multiple surgeries, vision in the eye was never restored. Stefan was 20.
“His dream was swiped from him,” Xander Schauffele, who is fifth in the men’s world golf rankings, said in an interview last week. “As a young golfer, I could relate to a situation where something you’ve worked at for so many years is taken away. It was tragic.”
When golf returned as an Olympic sport in 2016 after a 112-year absence, Schauffele, who had just joined the PGA Tour, suddenly had a new goal beyond his hopes for major titles. Qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics would be a chance to fulfill a family ambition.
Or as Stefan, who has been his son’s lifelong swing coach, said last week: “Sort of like a full circle of my own dream.”
In Japan on Thursday (Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Eastern time), Schauffele will tee off in the first round of the men’s Olympic golf competition. Because of protocols established to stage the Games amid the pandemic, he was only allowed to bring one person with him from his native San Diego to the Olympics. Stefan made the trip to Japan.
That decision may have seemed obvious, but for the Schauffeles there were other considerations. Xander’s mother, Ping-Yi Chen, who met Stefan when both were San Diego college students, was born in Taiwan but was raised in Japan and has nearly 100 relatives living in the Tokyo area.
Xander has made 15 trips to Japan and has remained close with his maternal grandparents in Tokyo, although he is uncertain whether he will get to visit them during, or after, the Olympics. Interactions between participating athletes and the Japanese citizenry have been restricted.
“But I’m going to keep asking about seeing them,” Schauffele said. “Hopefully, we can work something out.”
More than 40 of Schauffele’s relatives living in Japan had planned to attend the four rounds of the men’s Olympic golf tournament until a rising number of Covid-19 cases caused officials to prohibit spectators from the events of the Games.
In America, the pandemic has also led to escalating violence against Asian people. Acknowledging those crimes last week, Schauffele wondered if the Tokyo Olympics could help play a beneficial role.
“There’s a lot of this Asian hate coming out now that has been under wraps,” Schauffele said, adding: “With social media it comes to life quicker. I do think it’s a good thing that we are going to Japan and competing — you know, spread the love. It’s straight competition that has nothing to do with race. Which is why I do enjoy sports in general.”
Schauffele will be one of four Americans at the Olympic golf competition and a favorite to win a gold medal at the Kasumigaseki Country Club, about 23 miles north of Tokyo, given his track record in major championships. He has been a serious contender at the Masters twice in the last three years, including three months ago. Three times he has been in the top five at the U.S. Open and he tied for second at the 2018 British Open.
Stefan equated a victory at the Olympics with winning one of the four majors in professional men’s golf.
“It is not a fifth major,” Stefan said, “but it is as important as a major.”
Xander Schauffele did not disagree.
“Winning a gold medal is something that no one can take away from you,” he said. “I expect the pressure level will be equal to a big tournament that we play on our normal circuit.”
If Xander has his way, this week’s Olympic golf tournament will be only a beginning. He is already looking ahead to the 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris. Because of the pandemic, organizers asked athletes to arrive in Japan no earlier than five days before their first event, so many competitors did not participate in the parade of nations at the opening ceremony.
With his father in mind, Schauffele wants to attend another Olympics, presumably when a pandemic is not altering prominent rituals.
“To attend the opening ceremony with my father would be really cool,” he said. “That’s probably something he’s dreamed of doing for a really long time. To get to another Olympics and walk in that ceremony with him, I think that would be really special.”
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