Rory Sabbatini could face suspension from the PGA Tour for what was described as a profanity-laced argument with Sean O’Hair during last week’s Zurich Classic in New Orleans.
According to multiple players and officials, it was the second time this year that Sabbatini has run into trouble because of his behavior on the golf course. The first incident was at Riviera in the Northern Trust Open, where Sabbatini was said to have spoken harshly to a teenage volunteer who was trying to help him find a lost ball.
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The players and officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the tour keeps all disciplinary matters private.
O’Hair also was in Sabbatini’s group at Riviera. Two people familiar with the incident said the volunteer wrote a five-page letter to the PGA Tour, but Sabbatini escaped punishment by offering to apologize to anyone he offended.
Sabbatini won two weeks later at the Honda Classic.
Stewart Cink also played in the group with O’Hair and Sabbatini at Riviera.
“It was raining. It was hard. We were all stressed trying to make the cut, and I think we might have been behind,” Cink said Wednesday. “There were a lot of factors. And then the incident happened.”
Cink didn’t go into details and said it involved “another player in my group,” without mentioning Sabbatini by name.
“It was embarrassing for me as a golfer,” Cink said. “He did apologize directly to me. I hope he meant it and he moved on.”
Two people with direct knowledge of the Riviera incident said the teenager placed an empty plastic bottle on foot-high grass right of the fifth green where he thought Sabbatini hit his ball. Sabbatini is said to have berated the youth for affecting his ball, although it turned out the ball was not his. The grass was so dense that three other balls were found, none belonging to Sabbatini.
PGA Tour spokesman Ty Votaw said in an email that the tour was aware of what happened in New Orleans, and that it had responded to the Riviera matter.
“We don’t discuss disciplinary matters,” Votaw said.
Two officials said Sabbatini hasn’t been suspended and that he has 14 days to appeal any discipline. He is playing in the Wells Fargo Championship this week and is expected to play next week at the Players Championship.
Another official said a 30-day suspension would be typical in this case, although he did not know how it would be resolved.
Asked by reporters for comment, Sabbatini said, “Comment on what? Those crazy rumors going around? Well, I’m playing this week, so I wouldn’t worry about it too much, OK guys?”
Asked if the tour was going to suspend him, he replied, “You’re going based on rumors. How many times do I have to tell you?”
O’Hair, who has missed his last five cuts on tour, withdrew from the tournament Monday. He recently fired his second caddie in four months, and split with swing coach Sean Foley earlier in the week. He could not immediately be reached for comment.
It was not clear what triggered the argument between Sabbatini and O’Hair on the 14th hole at the TPC Louisiana last week. Both players missed the cut. Pat Perez was the third player in the group, and when contacted Tuesday evening by the Associated Press, he said, “I can’t really say anything. The tour has asked me not to talk about it.”
Two other players who were near Sabbatini’s group in New Orleans said the argument became so heated that Steve Lucas -- O’Hair’s father-in-law and caddie -- stepped in to keep the dispute from getting physical. Lucas is a college basketball referee.
A voice message left for Lucas was not returned.
Player confrontations in golf are not uncommon, although they typically are handled privately between players in the locker room or the scoring trailer after the round. What made this unusual is that it happened during the round.
Not so unusual is that it involved Sabbatini, a spunky South African with six career wins.
Sabbatini showed a quick temper in 2005 at the Booz Allen Classic when he became so frustrated with Ben Crane’s pace of play that he played ahead on the 17th hole and walked to the 18th tee as Crane was still in the fairway.
There was a buzz about Sabbatini at Quail Hollow on Wednesday, unrelated to the allegations from the previous tournaments.
Sabbatini’s wife, Amy, walked with him in the fairway while pushing their infant son in a stroller during a practice round, according to two players who saw it.
If he is suspended, it would come at a pivotal time for Sabbatini. The two tournaments that follow the Players Championship are in the Dallas area, where Sabbatini lives -- Colonial and the Byron Nelson Championship. Sabbatini is a past champion at both events.
Sabbatini is No. 58 in the world and not yet exempt for the U.S. Open. He would have until the Colonial to get into the top 50 and avoid having to qualify.