On the Hot Seat: Rory Sabbatini
OAKMONT, Pa. -- They don't make 'em like Rory Sabbatini. Not in professional golf, at least.
While most PGA Tour players will go out of their way to eschew controversy by heaping effusive praise on their peers, Sabbatini -- quite literally -- lets his mouth do the talking, even creating a recent firestorm with some biting comments about Tiger Woods.
When he's not busy speaking his mind, the 31-year-old South African is usually busy climbing leaderboards. He owns five top-10 finishes in 15 starts this season, including his fourth career tour victory at the Colonial last month.
|The Sabbatini file|
Birth date: April 2, 1976
Height: 5-foot-10 Weight: 165 pounds
Turned professional: 1998
Joined PGA Tour: 1999
PGA Tour victories: 2007 Colonial; 2006 Nissan Open; 2003 FBR Capital Open; 2000 Air Canada Championship
Sabbatini recently took a spin on the Hot Seat to discuss his thoughts on Woods, his image and his new positive attitude toward major championships.
Q: Your special interests are listed as "collecting DVDs, boating and becoming a Texan." How's that last one working out for you?
A: [Laughs] That was my wife's sense of humor. She's definitely trying to help. She's even got me drinking Coors Light now.
Q: You've got that "Don't mess with Texas" attitude down, don't you?
A: If you ever watched "The Family Stone," it says, "Everyone has a freak flag, so fly your freak flag proudly." So that's kind of the way I am.
Q: There's a long-standing belief that professional golfers are supposed to be stoic, nonconfrontational types of people. How does it feel to be breaking that mold?
A: I think over the past couple of years I've really been painted to be the bad boy on the PGA Tour, so I'm just living it up. I guess I'm kind of the Tony Stewart of golf.
Q: Is that an image you like to portray?
A: You know, I'm a person who doesn't get offended by much, and I don't spend a whole lot of time getting concerned with much. I'm pretty much a person who believes that 99.99 percent of the world's population is not going to agree with my point of view, and I don't agree with theirs. I live by my perspective; I know who my friends are.
Q: Tell me three words that describe Rory Sabbatini.
A: Determined, persistent and caring.
Q: How about confident?
A: Oh, well, I think that kind of goes with the first two -- the determined and persistent.
Q: How about cocky?
A: No, I wouldn't say I'm cocky. I'd say I'm confident in myself, but wouldn't say cocky.
A: That was actually the first time I had ever really seen Tiger struggle with his game in the final round and really struggle to win a golf tournament. For so long, Tiger has really been such an absolutely unbeatable competitor in the fact that when he gets in a certain position, his determination, his willpower and his ability -- there's pretty much nothing you can do to stop him. That was the first time that I've really seen the side of Tiger that had to struggle for the victory.
Q: Did you feel like your comments were blown out of proportion?
A: I definitely think that the media took what I said into a different perspective. But you know what? That's what media does. They look for the nice, little sizzling aspect that will create interest and sell copies, so I don't spend a whole lot of time getting too concerned with what the media says.
Q: Tiger responded by saying, "I've won nine out of 12 and I've won three times this year, the same amount he's won in his career." What was your reaction when you heard that?
A: It kind of gave me a little more fire to go out and win more golf tournaments. I guess, in a way, he's kind of called me out. So I'm enjoying it, and I'm going to definitely be gunning to win more golf tournaments and get him again in the final round.
Q: The next time you two run into each other in the locker room or on the first tee, are there going to be any kind of ill feelings?
A: Oh, no. I think Tiger and I are both two mature adults. I think at the same time, Tiger was having a little bit of a jest with them, and I was speaking my mind. I don't think there's anything there that's even going to be something to talk about between us.
Q: Right now, you have an inside track on making your first Presidents Cup roster. If, on Saturday night, Gary Player asks the team, "Who wants to play Tiger in singles?" how fast will you raise your hand?
A: I'll probably be the first one.
Q: You like having that attitude of wanting to take on the best.
A: Well, you know the old principle, if you want to be the best in the world, you've got to challenge yourself and compete against the best.
Q: Where does making the Presidents Cup team rank on your list of goals for the year?
A: Oh, obviously it would be a great honor to be on the Presidents Cup team and be competing for the international team. I'm just still trying to figure out if I ever become a U.S. citizen, will I be eligible to play for the U.S. team, try to be the first person to do that.
Q: I don't think you can.
A: Well, I don't know. That's something that we're going to have to look into.
Q: Switching gears a little bit, entering this season you had never finished in the top-25 in 21 career majors. How come?
A: I think I just hadn't gone into it with the right frame of mind and belief in myself that I truly could compete in majors. This year I've really just said, "You know what? I'm going to do it and nothing's going to stop me." And that's kind of the approach I've taken every week, that I'm going to win every week now. If you go in with that belief and you believe that nothing is going to stop you, good things are going to happen.
Q: Is that what led to that T-2 finish at the Masters?
A: Oh, definitely. When I went into Sunday's final round, I went in with the approach that this is my day and I'm going to win and regardless of what happened, nothing was going to spoil it. That's kind of the approach I've taken the last six, seven weeks.
Q: What did it feel like to be in contention on the back nine on Sunday at Augusta National?
A: Obviously, it felt great. Augusta this year was a different type of golf course than I've played in the past. It was a really tough week and it was something that I enjoyed. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from it.
Q: You were recently asked about this year's remaining three majors and said, "I'm looking forward to winning all three of them." You really believe you can do that?
A: Oh, I believe I definitely have the capability of doing that.
Q: Is that an attitude that every golfer should have?
A: You know, one of my favorite sayings is, "You lick the lollipop of mediocrity once and you'll suck forever." I'm not willing to be mediocre, so I'm going to go out there with the determination and belief that I'm going to go in there and win 'em.
Q: With a handful of top finishes in the weeks leading up to your win at Colonial, could you feel that victory coming?
A: Definitely. I've had a lot of opportunities, I've been playing consistently well and, funny enough, at Colonial I didn't feel like I played very well, but I kept the ball in play and I did the right things. Colonial is also a golf course where I know you can go out there and shoot low numbers. Obviously, I wasn't in position going into the weekend, but Saturday's round got me back in position, and I know that's kind of the way golf is. It only takes one good round to get yourself right back in it.
Q: Winning at Colonial and Riviera in back-to-back years is going to get you a rep as one of the best ball strikers out there, isn't it?
A: Actually we were just wondering how many guys have won at both Hogan's Alleys. I couldn't think of too many, but it's something that was pretty interesting to me. Obviously, to be associated with Ben Hogan on two different trophies now is an absolute honor and something I'm going to enjoy for the rest of my life. Every time my son goes out there to Colonial, he'll see my name on the wall over there. As long as he lives and as long as I live, my name will always be on that wall.
Q: I know it's been two years, but I've got to ask you about the 2005 Booz Allen Classic and your incident with Ben Crane. If you had those final two holes to do over again, would you do anything differently?
A: You know, I think if you spend your life looking behind you, you forget what's happening at the time. I'm a guy that lives in the moment and looks to the future, and that's the way I am. It was never a situation about Ben Crane; it was a situation about slow play. The way I look at it is I didn't play ahead of him, he just decided to play behind me.
Q: Can you and Ben laugh about it now?
A: Oh, definitely. It's behind us, it's one of those things. I've learned from it, I've learned to be a little more patient and a little more tolerant. That's all you can really do out of those situations is learn and continue to go on.
Q: Do you think that incident helped shine the spotlight on slow play? Has it made an impact?
A: It definitely put the spotlight on it, but I don't know if it's made an impact. I'd say there's still a huge issue with slow play out on tour, and it's going to continue to be until they either make the penalties more severe -- fines aren't good enough. I think they're going to have to start doing shot penalties and something that can make a huge impact on the round. Until they do that and are willing to enforce it, then nothing is going to change.
Q: A recent survey showed that 25 percent of PGA Tour players voted for you as their least favorite playing partner. Your reaction?
A: There's probably 25 percent of guys on the tour that I don't want to play golf with, either, so I guess it's just mutual.
Q: Last question: Put yourself in commissioner Tim Finchem's shoes -- or maybe his fancy blazer -- for a day. What are three things you would change about the PGA Tour?
A: There's not a day long enough to do all the things I want to do.
Q: Your top priority, then?
A: I'd say probably compensating the rules officials properly to make sure that they're capable of being able to enforce the rulings as they need to.
Q: Rory Sabbatini, you're off the Hot Seat.
A: Thank you very much.
Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com
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