May
4
2011
Jury Still Out: Sabbatini and O’Hair Face Disciplinary Action After Altercation at Zurich (Updated)
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Rory Sabbatini and Sean O’Hair, who were paired together in the first two rounds, along with Pat Perez, had a heated exchange (limited to words — sorry, no punches thrown) during the second round of last week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Both players will likely receive disciplinary action — determined at the discretion of the PGA Tour — but the severity of their punishments is expected to differ, according to sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

O’Hair, whose friends describe him as “non-confrontational,” will probably be slapped with a lighter punishment than Sabbatini, whose infamous temper has led to multiple run-ins (to his credit, he’s significantly simmered down). Word is Sabbo may face a multiple-week suspension, which he then has the option to appeal.

According to the handbook, players have up to 14 days from the time they’re notified of the punishment to respond with “facts or evidence of mitigating circumstances.” If he’s suspended and subsequently appeals (assuming the wheels have yet to turn), the (alleged) disciplinary action does not go into effect while awaiting for a response from the Tour. The handbook reads, “An appeal shall stay the effective date of any penalty, except from a tournament then in progress or scheduled for the calendar week in which the alleged violation occurred, until after the final decision on the appeal.” (Tournament officially begins once the pro-am starts, to my understanding.)

Per the Tour’s policy of not disclosing fines or suspensions, a media official declined comment on Tuesday.

Details to what actually transpired, verbally, are still hazy. Sabbatini could not be reached for comment at the time this was published. Perez chose not to discuss the incident. (A fellow player joked, “(Perez) was actually the calm one [of the group] in this situation.”)

The incident in New Orleans isn’t the first time this year that Sabbatini has lost his temper. At the Northern Trust Open in February, Sabbatini, who also happened to be playing with O’Hair (and Stewart Cink), made a scene when he berated a 16-year-old Shotlink volunteer, sources say. Sabbatini hit an errant drive in the rough and the volunteer marked the spot with an empty container of soda instead of a flag.

When Sabbatini found his ball embedded (conditions were soft and wet at Riviera during the first two rounds due to heavy rain), he blamed the volunteer for the poor lie, saying he caused the ball to plug when he put the soda bottle on it. The teen said it wasn’t the case — he found the ball embedded and just marked it. Then, evidently, Sabbatini lost his temper and berated the kid. O’Hair intervened and tried to get Sabbatini, who eventually missed the cut after shooting 70-76, to back off.

The volunteer wrote a long, detailed letter to the Tour about the encounter. Sabbatini presumably received disciplinary action, but again, a media official would not comment.

Andy Pazder, the Tour’s Chief of Operations, had a discussion with Sabbatini and O’Hair on Tuesday at Quail Hollow, the site of this week’s Wells Fargo Championship. It was not behind closed doors. The evening prior, O’Hair, who won the event in 2009, withdrew. And then on Tuesday, O’Hair called it quits with his swing coach of nearly three years Sean Foley. A spokesperson at IMG, the management agency that represents O’Hair, told this site in an email the withdrawal was due to “personal reasons.”

As of Tuesday evening, Sabbatini is still in the field. Sources say whether or not that continues to be the case is yet to be determined. Stay tuned…

(More on this story: Sabbatini Denies Looming Disciplinary Action)