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The PGA's Players with Pizzazz

Some professional golfers are not cookie-cutter people with robot-like personalities, and they bring those sometimes off-the-wall qualities to every tournament.
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
Armand Assante, Mar/Apr 2008

(continued from page 2)

Sabbatini has made no secret of his ambitions to be the No. 1-ranked player in the world. It's just that there's this guy Woods who stands resolutely, and not a little vengefully, in his way. Woods and Sabbatini were paired in the final round of the Wachovia Championship last year, with Woods emerging the winner by shooting a 69, Sabbatini a 74. The next week Sabbatini said that Woods "was more beatable than ever," that he preferred playing against "the new Tiger." Those statements raised a few eyebrows, and heightened the tension of the final round of the World Golf Championships event at Firestone's South Course last August, when Woods and Sabbatini were again paired. This time it was Woods 64, Sabbatini 75. Asked about Sabbatini, Woods summed it up this way: "Everyone knows how Rory is."

For his part, Sabbatini says that the media misconstrued his comments. "A lot of the conflict that was created last year was exactly that, created by the media," says Sabbatini. "That's the way they ran with it, that's the way they portrayed it. Unfortunately, that's what people read and they don't get the full story. I'm not going to be a person who talks to the media anymore. It seems they have me portrayed in a certain light.

"I just feel the media seem to feel that some players are untouchable, that if someone makes a comment about them, that's not appropriate. They took a very short context about a statement I made and turned it in a completely opposite direction from being a compliment about a certain player; they took it to mean I said he wasn't as good as he once was. That's the way they sell magazines and I'm just tired of it."

But he isn't afraid to say, or express, what he feels, any more than he is afraid to compete. In one tournament he was paired with the notoriously slow Ben Crane. Sabbatini got so fed up with Crane's snail-like approach to the game that he stormed ahead of Crane some 200 yards and waited for him to hit his approach shot at the back of the green. Such behavior did not endear him to his fellow competitors, who voted in a secret magazine poll in 2005 that Sabbatini was their least favorite player to be paired with.

"I'm one of those golfers that the commentators like to say wears their emotions on their sleeves," says Sabbatini. "That's something I've battled with my whole life. I've got a lot of Italian and Scottish and Irish blood in me, so I have a tendency to be a passionate person. My wife's my biggest critic and she gives me some suggestions and so does my caddie. I don't work with a psychologist or anyone like that. I have enough to deal with on the golf course without having to deal with my brain on the golf course."

Off the course, Sabbatini's wife, Amy, describes him as a Boy Scout. Sabbatini travels the Tour with his family—which includes son Harley and daughter Tylie Jo—in a luxury RV. Davis Love III, who has an RV as well, says that Sabbatini is a different man in the RV park than he is on the golf course. "All the families that live in buses become like a neighborhood, and Rory's the friendliest, most helpful guy on the block," says Love.

Sabbatini is generous with his charitable work, contributing thousands to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, which aids wounded soldiers. At a tournament run by fellow Tour player Rod Pampling to raise money for muscular dystrophy research, Sabbatini donated a package of tickets and amenities that was snapped up for $60,000. His offer included four tickets to the Masters and the opportunity to caddie for him in a practice round and the Par 3 Tournament, as well as four tickets to the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

The often in-your-face Sabbatini, who walks a golf course like an angry longshoreman and occasionally dresses for a round in a pseudo-goth style that might include camouflage pants with a belt adorned with a bejeweled skull, says he's the opposite at home. He is working on carrying some of that demeanor on the course.

"My wife's always trying to help her husband be the best person he can," says Sabbatini. "She's got a tough job, a lot of work ahead of her."

Then you have Daniel Chopra. He doesn't wear skull belt buckles, but his hair could be the North Star at night. Chopra is as worldly as they come on the PGA, having been born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Indian father, having been sent to India at the age of seven and raised by his grandparents, having played the Asian tour as his training ground, having played around the globe and having played 132 PGA tournaments before winning his first one at the end of last year, the Ginn sur Mer Classic, then quickly picking up his second at the Mercedes-Benz. Those victories clearly eclipse his most public accomplishment, hitting a ball off the Great Wall of China in 1995.

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