Why an injured Rory Sabbatini performed unusual, chivalrous act at Bay Hill

rory sabbatini at bay hill

Rory Sabbaini not only kept walking with his playing partner but he also raked a bunker for him.

Golf Channel/PGA Tour

This won’t surprise you, any of you who are longtime Rory-watchers:

Rory Sabbatini, Olympic medal winner and evolving golfing statesman, performed a most uncommon and chivalrous act during the third round of last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

He withdrew from play after 13 holes with an inflamed right knee. His scorecard was nothing to write home about. (Sabbatini, who was eight over for the day, can call Slovakia, South Africa and the United States home.) Intra-round withdrawals happen much more commonly now than they once did.

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But here’s something that never happens: from 14 to the house Sabbatini kept walking with his playing partner, Anirban Lahiri, the 34-year-old veteran from India. Sabbatini’s purpose was simply to keep Lahiri company, to keep his scorecard and to slow down Lahiri’s pace. That way, as a single golfer, Lahiri would not be nipping at the heels of the two players in front of him, Lucas Glover and Dylan Frittelli. It’s ironic because Sabbatini is a famously fast-playing, and one might say impatient, golfer.

“To be honest about it, there’s only about 20 percent of the guys out there that I would do that for,” Sabbatini said Monday afternoon in a phone interview. “But Ariban is obviously one of them. He’s such a gentleman. I would definitely consider him a friend.

“In fact, it was Ariban who first asked if I should be playing, because my knee was blowing up and I couldn’t really make a proper swing. On 11 he mentioned something to a rules official, that I was in pain.”

After Sabbatini went WDWK (a new term for withdrawing from a tournament but continuing to walk with your playing partner) Golf Channel coverage showed Sabbatini carefully raking a greenside bunker. That was on the par-3 17th after Lahiri needed two shots to get out of it. The broadcaster and former player Peter Jacobsen noted in his many years in the game he had never seen a player withdraw and not head into the clubhouse. Jacobsen is 68, by the way. He’s seen a lot of golf.

“I sent my caddie with my bag in after I withdrew,” said Sabbatini, a six-time winner on Tour. “I figured if I raked the bunker, it would give Ariban and his caddie a little more time to read the green.” Ariban made a six-footer to salvage a bogey.

Sabbatini raked the trap with considerable care.

“I’ve always enjoyed [bunker raking],” Sabbatini said. “I was taught as a junior fix your ball mark and one other and leave the bunker better than you found it.” Sabbatini said that sometimes, in competition, he likes to rake his own bunker for a moment of contemplation.

He’s an interesting guy.

Sabbatini said he was not aware that short news accounts and a brief clip of his bunker raking had made an impression on various golf websites and social-media channels. “I don’t really follow that stuff,” he said.

“I did hear an ignorant comment from somebody in the gallery, like ‘Way to go, Rory, faking an injury to get out of the tournament, Arnold Palmer would be really proud,’” Sabbatini said.

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If you know anything about the life and golfing times of Arnold Palmer, you know he would have done anything he could to stay in the tournament. He would have surely applauded Sabbatini’s courteous act. Sabbatini noted how much he admired Arnold, and how much he enjoyed playing in the tournament that bears Arnold‘s name.

Sabbatini was limping noticeably Saturday on the unusually flat Tour course but said the act of walking did not make his injury worse. He said it was the tension of the swing that was the cause of the knee issue. He said he was consulting with a doctor about his knee and considering a cortisone shot.

He is not in the field for the Players Championship this week. He hopes to play next week in Tampa but said he does not know if he will be able to do so. He is 45 and has had a long and fruitful career but also an injury-prone one.

Lahiri shot a third-round 76. Sabbatini said Lahiri simply thanked him for staying on the course and keeping him company. On Sunday, Lahiri, a former Presidents Cup player, shot 82.

“I’ve had plenty of rounds where I’ve played by myself and if you’re first off it’s fine,” Sabbatini said. He could recall being in a threesome where one player withdrew, leaving two golfers. He could not recall ever being in a twosome where one player withdrew.

“If you can keep the other guy company, I think it’s a good thing to do,” Sabbatini said.

He may have started a new tradition, Saturday afternoon at Bay Hill. The WDWK. Rory Sabbatini has made it a thing.

Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at Michael.Bamberger@Golf.com

Michael Bamberger

Michael Bamberger

Golf.com Contributor

Michael Bamberger writes for GOLF Magazine and GOLF.com. Before that, he spent nearly 23 years as senior writer for Sports Illustrated. After college, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first for the (Martha’s) Vineyard Gazette, later for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He has written a variety of books about golf and other subjects, the most recent of which is The Second Life of Tiger Woods. His magazine work has been featured in multiple editions of The Best American Sports Writing. He holds a U.S. patent on The E-Club, a utility golf club. In 2016, he was given the Donald Ross Award by the American Society of Golf Course Architects, the organization’s highest honor.

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