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April 30, 2008

Rory Sabbatini


STEWART MOORE: We'd like to welcome Rory Sabbatini here to the interview room here at the Wachovia Championship. Looking at your season, you really got off to a good start, runner up finish in Hawai'i, played well in San Diego. You haven't played as well as you would have liked the last couple weeks. What seemed to be clicking early in the year that necessarily is not right now?
RORY SABBATINI: Well, unfortunately after San Diego I got sick and got that flu that was going around with a bit of pneumonia, and by the time I got to the end of the West Coast Swing by the end of the Match Play I was having a hard time walking 18 holes. So that kind of wiped me out and took away a lot of my energy and focus. Maybe some things just crept into my game that weren't there to start with, and I've just kind of tried to work those bugs back out of the system.
We're close, we're getting there. It feels like the ball-striking is there, feel like I'm hitting it well. We've just got to get everything clicking together.
STEWART MOORE: We go back a year to 2007, this was the third of three weeks that I believe you finished Top 3 at The Masters, Byron Nelson, Wachovia; a few weeks after this you won at Colonial. I believe you finished 6th on the Money List, 4th in FedExCup points. Do you get some good vibes here at Quail Hollow?
RORY SABBATINI: Definitely. I think this is a great golf course. I think it's one of the, if not the best golf course we play all year. It's just the conditioning, the preparation, just everything about it is just a phenomenal golf course. It's a golf course that's readily available to host a U.S. Open on short notice, and that's the beauty about this course. I think it can play as gentle as they want, and they can make it play as hard as they want to make it. So it's definitely going to give a lot of variety of setup, and it's an entertaining golf course not only for the players but for the spectators.
STEWART MOORE: Before we get into some questions, I know Kym Hougham and the staff wanted to make it play firm and fast. We got so much rain on Monday. Is that going to happen this week? What are the conditions like out there?
RORY SABBATINI: The conditions are still very favorable for firm and fast conditions. Obviously they've got the fans on the fairways trying to dry them out. It's just -- I think if we get favorable conditions for the rest of the week, hence no more rain, I think the course could definitely, Saturday or Sunday, be playing extremely fast and it would make it very interesting.
But honestly, the course from tee to green and around the greens, everything I saw out there today, the course is in the best condition I've ever seen it. I think it's going to be a good week.

Q. I saw a couple putters in the bag yesterday. Just kind of curious what you're looking for there, what you're working on with the stroke.
RORY SABBATINI: You know, I'm always tinkering around, but I always seem to end up back with the same putter. I'm still with the same putter I've been using all year since Colonial last year. You know, I was just -- manufacturers are always trying to get stuff in your bag. They always want you to play their equipment, and some companies have made some very unique putters for me to try and customized them for me. I'm willing to give it a shot; you never know. You can't find anything better if you're not willing to try it.

Q. With that in mind, do you ever get lured into chasing some of the endorsement of playing such-and-such a club because of the bonus money that might come with it, or do you go with what works for you when it comes to a putter?
RORY SABBATINI: No, not necessarily. When I signed with Adams this year, I took a club that I like very much and went to that away from what I was previously playing. That was a situation where I had to go with the product that I liked and suited me best. That's just the way I look at it. If something suits you, then it's there for a reason. I don't think the endorsement part has anything to do with it.

Q. There are some guys, though, that over the years have gotten caught in that a little bit.
RORY SABBATINI: Oh, definitely. It's an easy trap to get caught in. I'd say the only benefit right now is with the economy, companies are a little less frugal to go out there and spend that kind of money on maybe getting a guy to play one club or two clubs. It's not there for the golf industry right now. So I think that temptation is kind of a little past due right now.

Q. Did you lose some weight with the flu?
RORY SABBATINI: No, I didn't really lose any weight with that. We've been basically over the last eight months doing a lot of work on trying to get me physically in better conditioning, and we've been doing a lot of work with that. My trainer has been working me pretty hard, so we're pretty much on about a one-year plan to get me into shape. We've got about another four months left before he gets brutal with me.

Q. How have you been able to handle the recent struggles, knowing how well you have played, and you're in a bad stretch? How hard is that, testing your patience?
RORY SABBATINI: You know, the funny thing is, as I said to my caddie last week after we missed the cut, it's funny thing was it's one of the first times on a long time that I've been on a golf course and the score didn't bother me because just the enjoyment of the quality of golf shots that I was hitting was amazing. It was just the feeling of striking the golf ball, of hitting the shots I wanted to, shaping them the way I wanted to. It may not have turned out the way I wanted them to, but ultimately, just the shot-making and the creativity is back in my game. I'm using a new set of irons that I switched to last week, and the performance of them is just unbelievable. It's just a matter of time of adjusting to those.
As I said, everything is right there, it's just a matter of it all clicking right now. You can play as good as you can on any given day and shoot even par, and you can play awful and shoot under par. There's no rhyme or reason to it. Golf is just unfortunately a game that you have to have some luck in it. It's inevitable.
You know, how many times have you heard a player saying, God, I hit the ball wonderfully but shot one or two over par, and a guy comes off the golf course and shot 4-under, and you go, man, you played phenomenally, and the guys goes, no, I didn't. That's how golf is. I don't look if I have a bad week or two bad weeks or a bad month that it means anything. It's just a situation that golf is a game of cycles, and cycles wear out, too.

Q. Could you talk about the last three holes here, statistically the toughest finishing stretch in golf and sort of having that on the horizon as you're making your way around this golf course, knowing before you can get the hell out of here you've still got to deal with that?
RORY SABBATINI: You know, the situation is you've got three quality golf holes there. 16 is a deceptively tough par-4 in the fact that even though the fairway appears to be fairly forgiving in regards to width, on the right side of it, it drops off so it feeds into the rough. So really it's an optical illusion, kind of like a false front on a green. It makes it a lot tougher to visually pick out your target on a hole. You know you have to put the ball in the fairway because if you don't, your approach to that green is one in which the green is angled perpendicular to the fairway, so it makes it very tough to get a ball, first of all, on the green, keep it on the green and put it close to the hole. And there is really no easy area around that green where you can put a ball to leave yourself an easy up-and-down. Your best opportunity is probably going to be in the bunkers.
And then 17, very simply, is just a good, tough par-3. I think they've made it just a little bit more fair this year. They dropped the right side of the green down a little bit, leveled it out, so now to actually have that back right pin placement again, which I know they've probably been dying to use for a couple years now, to have that ability there, it's made it a little easier with regards to hitting a shot in there, landing on the green and not going off into the water on the left side. I think they've definitely given us a little more room for error there.
Then 18, just very simply, is a tough driving hole. You've got the creek all laid out on the left side. And again, it's a hole that -- I think 18 is less important than it is on 16 to hit your drive long and straight because on 18 I don't think there's any necessity for hitting it long on that hole. It's just put it in the fairway, and the green is going to give you enough room to work with.
It's very simply three holes that if you can stick to basics of golf, put it in the fairway, put it on the green, make your par and get out of there, you're going to come out ahead of the pack.

Q. Could you jump ahead a week and talk about 16, 17 and 18 at THE PLAYERS?
RORY SABBATINI: 16, 17 and 18. 16 I think is your opportunity to make any advances up the leaderboard if it comes down to it late on Sunday.
17 is your opportunity to fall way down the leaderboard very quickly on Sunday.
And 18 is a good opportunity to chip in and win the tournament (laughter).

Q. Is there a different feeling this week with Tiger not here? This would have been the first tournament he would have played if he hadn't had the knee surgery.
RORY SABBATINI: Actually that's funny. I didn't even know he wasn't here. I didn't even pay any attention to it. That's the first I've heard of it. I completely forgot. Sorry, I don't pay a lot of attention to what Tiger does. Seriously, I didn't know. I completely forgot about that.

Q. He's not here.
RORY SABBATINI: Oh, okay. My chances just went up (laughter). At least I won't have to deal with all of his fans.
It was this time last year that the media butchered me, so hey, maybe it'll be a new year. Can we do a Tiger's new year? How about that. We've got the Chinese new year, we've got our new year, how about we do a Tiger new year?

Q. Has it died down?
RORY SABBATINI: No, it hasn't, and honestly, I can understand why Vijay doesn't like the media. It's easy to generalize the whole media because whether it be good or bad, it's just unfortunately the repercussions of everything that occurred were just something that -- you know what, I think the Dixie Chicks summed it up. I'm just not ready to make nice.

Q. Very Texas way of putting it.

Q. Are you still hearing it from the fans?
RORY SABBATINI: Oh, yes, every week. Oh, yeah.

Q. How are you handling that?
RORY SABBATINI: You know what, you try and deal with it and you try and ignore it and you try and go on.

Q. That's hard to do, though.
RORY SABBATINI: It is, but you know, I am who I am and that's the way I'm leaving it.

Q. This is the first time you've shown that you're hearing it, and it just makes it worse.
RORY SABBATINI: Well, I don't think you can ever say that you don't ever hear it because if you say that you don't hear it, then you're lying. It's inevitable you're going to hear it.

Q. You just don't acknowledge it?
RORY SABBATINI: Well, it's tough. It's tough. There's times where you have to bite your tongue pretty hard and not say anything. It's funny that the media can create something and people can then take that to almost create your personality of who you are because of something the media has created. It's sad, it is. It's sad.

Q. Based on the perception?
RORY SABBATINI: Well, reality is perception, and unfortunately media creates a lot of perception.

Q. Do you find yourself dealing with it differently than early on when you first started hearing the fans?
RORY SABBATINI: Definitely. You know, there was a couple times where I wanted to bury a few clubs in a couple people (laughter), but now it's just -- you've just got to realize that, you know what, half of them are drunk, and the other half, they're entitled -- everyone is entitled to their opinion. That's the way it is.
I can stand here and tell you that when I watched Reggie Miller play for the Pacers, when he played for the Pacers, I couldn't stand watching him play basketball. I didn't think of him as a bad person or anything like that, it was just that's my opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It doesn't make them right, doesn't make them wrong. It's just unfortunate they have been given this beautiful opportunity that was created out of something.

Q. Speaking of fans unrelated to you, I'm wondering, when you're out there, it seems like the broad spectrum of fans fall into either the Tiger camp or the Phil camp, there's not a lot of middle ground there, not a lot of gray area. The times that you have played with those two guys, do you notice a difference in the way those fans act or behave?
RORY SABBATINI: Definitely, definitely.

Q. Can you give us an illustration or just your perception of that?
RORY SABBATINI: I don't know. I think maybe Phil appeals a little more to the older generations, if that makes sense. Not so much the younger players. Tiger seems to really attract the kids and the teens and everything like that, and I'm not just saying that's the whole demographic that he attracts, he attracts the whole spectrum, but maybe a lot more of the younger kids and the teens. Just that's my perception.
I think that's a wonderful thing that he can make that much of an impact and create that much interest for all these kids to follow in the foot steps of guys that have played golf.

Q. I think Feherty once said that the fans are kind of in awe of Tiger and in love with Phil because he signs all the autographs and maybe shows a little bit more to the fans.
RORY SABBATINI: I definitely think that Phil probably does put more of himself out there. I definitely think that's the situation. As I said, it just seems like Phil has got more of the 30, 40, 50-somethings out there watching him. Tiger seems to have a lot more of your younger kids under the age of 10 and your teens and your 20s, as well as the rest of your demographic out there.

Q. What do you see San Diego like for those guys? I think they've won eight of the last ten or so down there, and they're both So Cal guys. The U.S. Open I'm talking about, seems like those guys could be of rock-star-type capacity during that week.
RORY SABBATINI: I think it's going to be a tough week, you know, for everyone, not just them. You know, it's definitely going to be -- I think Phil might feel the most pressure of all, just very simply, because he is the San Diego golden boy. I think there's going to be a lot of expectations and a lot of maybe anticipation of what he can do around Torrey.
You know, it's never easy to play under those circumstances. It's just a situation that it's always easier sometimes if people have less expectation of you. You know, but at the same time, we both know that they've had wonderful success around that course, so I think it's going to be very interesting because obviously completely different conditions we've ever played in before. We all know the course, but we don't know the course. So it's going to -- I think it's going to be a tough week, and I think we're going to just have to wait and see how it plays out.

Q. What did you hate about watching Reggie Miller play?
RORY SABBATINI: You know, it's the same thing -- there's a couple players in the NBA I just don't like watching because it's like -- there's no rhyme or reason, it's just something about just the way they play the game. It doesn't even necessarily have to be mannerisms. It doesn't even have to be a team that -- there's players on teams that I like that I don't even like; sorry to say it. I love a lot of Arizona Wildcats, but there's a couple out there playing different sports that I'm like, man, I just don't like them. There's no rhyme or reason. But it is; that's your opinion.

Q. You're obviously a strong-headed guy. Isn't there a bit of respect at all for a guy like Reggie, an in-your-face sort of style, and he sticks to it? I mean, you don't back down.
RORY SABBATINI: I don't think anybody ever got in anybody's face more than Michael Jordan did. Mutombo (laughter). You know, it's just -- I'm a true believer that, you know what, go out there, give it your best, play hard. Give it your best shot. Don't go out there and don't do your job and then whine about it. Just give it your best shot and go for it.

Q. For all intents and purposes you're a Texan now, but are you still connected enough with South Africa to gauge the impact of Trevor's win there?
RORY SABBATINI: I think Trevor's win is going to be unbelievable for South Africa. I think it's going to be very interesting to see when he gets back there. I think he'll truly understand the true impact of everything that has occurred when he gets back there and sets foot on his African soil again.
You know, I've known Trevor now, wow, about 14, 15 years, and he's obviously a lot different than when he was a kid. But when I played with him at World Cup, I gained a lot of respect for his game and a lot of respect for him as a person. He's a great kid, got a great head on his shoulders, and it was only a matter of time.
You know, I hope that he can kind of not let things get too out of control, just keep thing under control and stay focused on what he's doing here because we've seen that there have been players that -- something like that occurring so suddenly for them just -- they've kind of tended to not -- I wouldn't say crumble, but struggle after the point.

Q. Ernie said that back in South Africa the Masters is probably the biggest of the majors for whatever reason, more than even the British, the most watched on TV and the one everybody would be the most familiar with, and I guess therefore the biggest one to win. That was his take on it. Do you buy that?
RORY SABBATINI: Well, I can tell you what --

Q. They play the same course every year, that's part of it.
RORY SABBATINI: There were a lot of people in South Africa at 3:00 a.m. in the morning that were very liquored up, I can tell you that, because they were celebrating for him.
I can't say -- obviously I can't speak for all the South Africa, but I think a major is a major is a major. I think obviously to win at Augusta is unbelievable. I think it's -- as I said, it's just a feat that was just a matter of time for him. He's been playing well. He's gone through some difficulties in recent times, but he's overcome them, and I'll tell you what, it's phenomenal to see. As I said, he's a great person and it's fun to be in the situation that I know him, I've seen him kind of mature his way on the PGA TOUR, and it's a wonderful thing for golf in South Africa in general.

Q. You said it's a matter of time until you thought he'd win. Is that because you saw the combination of physical talent and mental toughness? Or does everybody have that toughness?
RORY SABBATINI: Well, I think it's -- put it this way: It's kind of like grass. The seeds are always there, it's just a matter of whether or not you're going to water them and get them to sprout.
You know, he had all the physical capabilities in his game. Mentally on the golf course I think he was very consistent. When I played with him at the World Cup, the reason we contributed so well to each other was I think I made him just a little more aggressive than he normally was, and he made me a little more timid than I'd normally be.
We've all seen that majors, as much as you want to be aggressive out there, you just can't be; you have to be more on the timid side the whole week. That sets up for him. And the way that he plays, the consistency, the control that he has of the golf ball, I'll tell you what, Augusta -- if I had to pick one that would suit him the most, I would have picked Augusta.

Q. Do you believe that until you win the major, there's always a little doubt of mentally whether you can hold up down that final nine holes?
RORY SABBATINI: You know, I don't know if it's really that you sit there and think about that. I think it's more the situation that when you get in that position your brain starts to think too much. I think that's the biggest problem.
I think what you need to do is almost be able to switch it off and just ignore everything that's going on and just focus on the basics. It's just -- that's the toughest thing to do; it's the ability to switch off your brain. I think that's the toughest part of the mental game and the toughest part of the mental game in majors. You know, it's what we all strive to be able to do. We all strive to be in the position of trying to do it.
There's a lot of guys that have come close and you can look at them that they choked, did this, did whatever. You know, you've got to have the personality, you've got to have the killer instinct, and you've got to have the ability to just put everything aside. That's why golf makes all of us out here so selfish. It does, it makes you selfish, because you're an individual, you're competing as an individual, you've got no one else to blame but yourself. I think to win a major you have to be even more selfish.

Q. When somebody that close to you wins a major, does it change your outlook at all in the majors going forward?
RORY SABBATINI: No, it doesn't change my outlook. I'm extremely excited for Trevor. I think it's a phenomenal thing. Obviously Neal is a good guy. Neal is his caddie. I couldn't be happier for the two of them. They make a great pair. Not a couple; I'm saying a pair (laughter). Making sure you guys don't quote me wrong on this one; I don't want to take off a buddy of mine. But it's fun for him. I think it's great for Carmenita. I think it's wonderful.
STEWART MOORE: Rory, thanks so much.

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