Talking With His Clubs


PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Rory Sabbatini left a gift in Ben Crane’s locker before Thursday’s start to The Players Championship.

It wasn’t a porcelain turtle . . .

Or a tub of slow-churned butter for Crane’s morning muffins . . .

Or a slow-dance CD collection . . .

Or any such reminder of how these two players controversially clashed over slow play at the Booz Allen Classic a half dozen years ago.

“Rory left some sun screen for my wife,” Crane said. “He knew she had gotten sun burned. It was pretty thoughtful.”

Sabbatini and Crane struck up a most unlikely friendship after they settled their differences all those years ago.

Rory Sabbatini
Sabbatini had just 26 putts during his 5-under 67 Thursday.
(Getty Images)
“What happened between us, I think it was good for me,” Crane said. “It really brought the fact that I was playing too slowly to the surface. I needed that. I’ve gotten a lot better. You know, right after it happened, he called me and apologized, and I apologized to him.

“Rory wears his heart on his sleeve. You don’t really have to wonder what he’s thinking.”

Well, actually, we are wondering with Sabbatini back in golf’s spotlight in a big way.

Sabbatini’s 5-under-par 67 in the first round of THE PLAYERS Championship moved him into early contention to win his seventh PGA Tour title. He’s playing some terrific golf. He won the Honda Classic in March, tied for third at the Wells Fargo Championship last week. His level of play is especially impressive when you consider Sabbatini is in the middle of a storm of controversial speculation that puts him in the same bad spot he was following his riff with Crane in ‘05.

Playing amid reports he is facing a possible suspension for confrontations with a player (Sean O’Hair) at the Zurich Classic and with a volunteer at the Northern Trust Open, Sabbatini’s been a rock between the ropes. He seems unaffected.

“I just focus on my job,” Sabbatini said.

If you’re wondering what Sabbatini is thinking about reports he clashed with O’Hair over slow play, you’ll have to wait a while longer. He isn’t interested in addressing any of it.

“People need to stop listening to the knitting circle, because amazingly you get things lost in translation,” Sabbatini said following his round Thursday. “I have to focus on my job and not worry about all the hearsay. I’ll let them concoct their own stories.”

In the meantime, Sabbatini’s clubs are speaking eloquently.

In a round of six birdies and a bogey, Sabbatini needed just 26 putts.

“You have a couple good weeks with the putter, and you develop some confidence,” Sabbatini said.

Sabbatini will need all the confidence he can build to make a weekend run. His record shows this isn’t a course that suits him. In 11 starts at The Players, Sabbatini has missed the cut seven times. His best finish here is a tie for 27th.

Still, Sabbatini’s ability to summon his best amid turmoil bodes well for him this week. The TPC Sawgrass Stadium Course promises a dose of turmoil for every player. There’s so much trouble lurking here.

“I look forward to playing here,” Sabbatini said. “It’s a challenging course, but it’s also a course where there’s a little bit of stress on you. You come here expecting tough conditions and where any errors you make are going to be penalized severely.”

Sabbatini’s got a pretty good answer for handling stress this week.

He's got a hot putter.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMellGC