Cooler Rory roars to title

Wife advises Sabbatini to behave, and he takes Honda Classic

March 10, 2011|By Jeff Shain

DORAL, Fla. — Amy Sabbatini sat her husband down Feb. 28 for a little heart-to-heart.

Rory Sabbatini, whose five PGA Tour victories often are buried under a reputation for boorishness, had gotten a little snippy with a volunteer at the previous week's stop in Mexico.

Nothing major, especially when held up against other incidents. But it was a red flag to Amy, who doesn't mind accompanying her husband into hot water but lately has been pushing an attitude adjustment.

"I told him that no matter the circumstance, he has to behave," Amy said.

On Sunday, Sabbatini won the Honda Classic, staving off Y.E. Yang's back-nine charge from five shots out.

Coincidence? Perhaps. But this much we know: Reward can be a powerful reinforcement.

"It does feel like a fresh start in a sense," the golfer said.

Said Amy: "I think he sees if he stays calm on the golf course, it'll produce better results."

In times past, Sabbatini's tachometer too often could push up toward red. The South Africa native plays with passion and speaks his mind, but the frustrations inherent in golf occasionally sent him over the line.

This is the man, you might recall, who ditched playing partner Ben Crane during a 2005 round because Crane is among the game's most notorious slowpokes.

Two years later, Sabbatini harbored a yearlong chip against Tiger Woods. After Woods beat him in Charlotte, Sabbatini called the then-No. 1 player "more beatable than ever." Paired again at the WGC-Bridgestone, Woods turned a one-shot deficit into an eight-shot romp. Later, Sabbatini bolted Woods' Target World Challenge before the final round.

"I've had my moments," Sabbatini said. "I'm not proud of everything I've done out here, but I'm trying to learn. I'm trying to be a role model for my children."

That was the message of that little sit-down with Amy. Oldest son Harley is 7.

"I refuse for my son to watch his dad throw a club," she said.

There have been health scares too. Amy spent four days in the ICU last September, losing six pints of blood while suffering complications in the delivery of younger son Bodhi. Rory needed surgery himself a few weeks later to remove a cancerous bit of skin near his ear.

"I think it absolutely changed everything about his outlook," Amy said. "None of us appreciate our health until something like what we went through."

Fellow pros noticed Sabbatini's change too — especially as he finished off the victory at PGA National.

"Usually if you're in the front," Yang said, "you tend to be a bit nervous. But in Rory's case, apart from (a bogey at No.) 14, he seemed really calm. … Actually, myself as the pursuer was a bit more nervous."

Zen golf, it isn't. But for Sabbatini, there's a new inner peace.

jshain@tribune.com

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