1 August 2021 – Team South Africa’s Olympic Golf challenge ended with Christiaan Bezuidenhout finishing tied 16th and Garrick Higgo tied 53rd at the Kasumigaseki Country Club in Tokyo on Sunday.
Bezuidenhout, who battled all week to read the greens – his usually deadly putting suffered as a result – saved his best for last with a four-under-par 67.
GolfRSA National Squad graduate Higgo, who must be exhausted after a run of form which made him the hottest rookie on the planet, signed off with a one-over 72 in his final round.
It was an incredible final round, including a pressure-filled battle for the gold medal and then a seven-man playoff for bronze.
Former South African and now Slovakian Rory Sabbatini produced an Olympic record of 61 on the final day to take the clubhouse lead on 17 under par and walked away with the silver medal after Xander Schauffele of the United States produced an 18-under total to claim gold.
Extraordinarily, the man who won the World Cup of Golf with Trevor Immelman for South Africa in 2003 in one of six times he represented the country, made two bogeys during his brilliant final round – but an eagle and 10 birdies vaulted him 15 places up the leaderboard.
But the silver will mean the world to him, to his wife Martina Sabbatini Stofanikova, and to her cousin, Rastislav Antal, who is the vice president of the Slovak Golf Association. Whatever the motives for his change of citizenship, 8,002 registered golfers in the country will rejoice. And his annual visit to the country to run clinics will be heralded with much more enthusiasm than usual.
Immediately after the Games, he is flying back to Slovakia, where he is scheduled to visit Trnaya Golf Club, about a 30-minute drive north of the capital city of Bratislava. Over the course of a three-and-a-half-hour clinic, Sabbatini will do what he pledged he would do when he was first granted citizenship: spread the gospel of the game to the next generation of Slovak golfers.
And, in fairness to Sabbatini, he did not steal an Olympic birth from any ‘full’ Slovak. Far from it. The next highest ranked Slovak golfer is Petr Valasek, who is 848th in the world (and that’s after winning a European mini-tour event in Poland a couple of weeks ago).
Amidst the joy in Slovakia, a quiet toast to his success will be made at Royal Durban Golf Club.
Schauffele was one shot clear on 18 under playing the 18th. His drive went far right and he had to chip out short of the green. But his third was perfect as it finished less than a metre from the hole. The American holed the clutch par putt for par to secure the gold medal.
Written by Michael Green and Michael Vlismas; edits GolfRSA