At 45 years of age, little was expected of Rory Sabbatini as he headed to Tokyo for the Olympics. The attention was on the sport’s biggest stars, all eager to get their hands on a coveted Olympic medal, but in the end, it was the veteran who showed them all up to clinch silver, after a remarkable final round saw him rise up the leaderboard and stun everyone.
In shooting a 10-under-par 61 at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Saitama, Sabbatini set an Olympic record, and it’s fair to say that plenty of the golfing fraternity were rubbing their eyes in disbelief as the events unfolded. It wasn’t quite enough to catch eventual gold medallist Xander Schauffele, but Sabbatini’s meteoric final-round performance consigned the likes of Collin Morikawa, Rory McIlroy, Paul Casey and Masters champion Hideki Matsuyama to a mammoth play-off for bronze, with CT Pan of Chinese Taipei ultimately claiming the prize.
Sabbatini’s silver success certainly upset the golf odds, but few could begrudge him his moment in the sun. His most recent PGA Tour title came in 2011 at the Honda Classic, and over 10 years later, you could have forgiven Sabbatini for losing hope that a triumph of this magnitude would come around again.
It is through his marriage to a Slovakian that Sabbatini was able to compete for the European country, despite been born in South Africa. He came in for some criticism over the decision to adopt Slovakian citizenship, with many seeing it as a ploy to reach the Olympic Games after standing little chance of representing South Africa. Sabbatini has always brushed off these claims, and now he has secured one of the ultimate prizes in sport — an Olympic medal.
Whatever happens in the rest of his career, this achievement is something Sabbatini can always look back on and be proud of. Indeed, there will be little time to bask in his success, as he has work to do in order to rise up the FedEx Cup rankings and secure his place on next season’s PGA Tour. The fact that the 45-year-old is battling for tour survival makes his silver medal and sensational final round in Saitama all the more impressive.
Sabbatini has never been the most popular golfer in the world, with plenty of controversy following him on his travels on the PGA Tour. From accusations of slow play to yelling at course volunteers, there has always been a perception of Sabbatini as one of golf’s villains, but every sport needs controversial characters to gain attention and thrive.
Golf’s return to the Olympic Games has given people like Sabbatini, who may not quite have it in them to win a major championship, an opportunity to earn glory on the world’s biggest sporting stage. This was no fluke either. It takes supreme talent to be able to record a 10-under-par score at any level, and that performance alone was enough to make Sabbatini deserving of his medal.
Following Phil Mickelson’s success at the PGA Championship earlier this year, and titles for Stewart Cink and Brian Gay earlier in the season, golf’s golden oldies are experiencing something of a purple patch. Sabbatini is the latest to defy the golf betting tips and prove that age is just a number, and that silver medal is something he can treasure for the rest of his life.