Tokyo, Japan: In extraordinary and unexpected circumstances, Chinese-Taipei’s Pan Cheng-tsung claimed the bronze medal in the Olympic men’s golf competition.
Some 72 hours earlier such an outcome was unimaginable after PGA Tour player Pan, better known by his initials CT, languished near the foot of the standings following an out-of-sorts opening round of three-over 74.
His recovery was as remarkable as his first day was miserable – rounds of 66, 66 and a closing 63 propelling him into a share of third place … and a seven-way sudden-death play-off for the bronze medal at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
“I’ve never been in a play-off with that many people – seven people for one spot, which is pretty crazy,” said Pan, who posted three top-eight finishes in the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, with a best of second place in Thailand in 2012, finishing ahead of fellow-Olympians Hideki Matsuyama of Japan and Australian Cam Smith.
Reigning Masters champion Matsuyama was one of those seven who ended at 15-under 269. As did fellow Major winners Rory McIlroy and Collin Morikawa.
Pan, aged 29, said: “If you look at the field in the play-off, we got Rory McIlroy, Collin, we got I don’t know two, three top-10 guys in the world. And we got me, 200 ranked, shooting three-over on day one. I didn’t know what to do on Thursday.
“But anyway, I told myself, just keep my head down, hit one shot at a time and then I reminded myself just to keep joking with my wife.
“She’s great. She’s a great caddie, but she definitely keeps the mood very light for me and it helps me to focus more. So, I want to thank her for that.”
Michelle was equally ecstatic and she stood proudly by the greenside to watch the medal presentation ceremony and the Chinese Taipei flag being hoisted alongside the US and Slovakian flags. “This feeling is so unreal to me,” she said with tears of joy in her eyes. “After the first round, we were tied 57th. This morning when I woke up, I saw CT packing his uniform quietly and I said: ‘Okay, we still have a chance. Let’s shoot eight or nine under to win a medal … and we did it.
“He was very, very calm. Golf is a game where you just keep playing until the last putt as we don’t know what will happen and you have to stay in the present and focus on each shot, which was what we did until the last putt.”
She was grateful Pan pushed for her to be his caddie, which meant spending time with the Chinese Taipei contingent in the Games Village. It also made up for her not being able to witness his Asian Games gold medal-winning exploits in 2014 and also his first PGA Tour triumph in 2019.
“He won the gold medal at the Asian Games but I wasn’t there. When he won RBC Heritage, I wasn’t there, too. So I’m glad I’m here and I’m all the way with him from the first tee shot till the last putt. I really appreciate CT working so hard to give me this chance to participate in this Olympics. It’s an honour. We’re happy to contribute one medal,” said Michelle.
The gold medal went to American Xander Schauffele on 18-under – one stroke ahead of Slovakian Rory Sabbatini who closed with an Olympic record of 10-under 61.
For Matsuyama, there was only disappointment.
The reigning Masters champion said: “Since I was in contention, I was really hoping that I could win a medal. I’m really disappointed I wasn’t able to realise that.
“My goal was, of course, to win the gold. I needed to hole out the second shot on the 18th hole to beat Xander, which was a bit unrealistic. I knew if I had ended my round with birdie, I was going to get a bronze medal. I’m left with a frustration that I wasn’t able to convert the opportunities. I have no energy or endurance left at this point. But I kept fighting at the end with my heart. Unfortunately, I fell short at the end.”