PGA of Slovakia Member and PGA Tour professional, Rory Sabbatini, has written a new line in the history books after earning a silver medal for Slovakia in the Men’s Olympic Golf event at Tokyo 2020 – something that looks set to change golf in Slovakia forever.
After starting his final round at seven-under par in T-17th position, Sabbatini dug deep to card a course record-smashing, ten-under par 61 for sole second.
Rory Sabbatini 4 days ago… “If things work out and I was able to medal, it would be extremely impactful on Slovakian golf…”
— Confederation of Professional Golf [CPG] (@cpg_golf) August 1, 2021
“I was out there…just trying to remind myself, okay, don’t think ahead, don’t think ahead, just enjoy the moment that you’re in because you don’t know when it’s going to end, just enjoy every hole as it comes,” Sabbatini said.
“It just seemed like every time I kind of had a hiccup out there I was like, oh, maybe this is the end of the run, but okay. And then all of a sudden, I kicked back into gear. So, it was a lot of fun and it was just one of those rare days that you have on the golf course.”
Any Olympic medal is undoubtedly special, but the legacy of this silver medal may well live on a bit longer than most. Slovakia is a modest golfing nation – 45 PGA Professionals working across around 30 facilities with 8-9,000 golfers – so a role model such as Sabbatini securing a spot on the podium is something that, until recently, may have seemed a long way off.
That was until a family connection sparked the idea of a change in citizenship to match that of his Slovakian wife and caddie for the week, Martina [pictured, above], and an idea from her cousin and President of the Slovak Golf Association, Rastislav Antala.
“You know Slovakia did not have anybody, so he [Rastislav] started saying there has got to be a great opportunity to create some interest in the game of golf and to get more kids involved and hopefully develop future generations of Slovak golfers,” explained Sabbatini at the beginning of the Olympic week.
“We are using it as a springboard to hopefully get some corporations, and the government, behind golf to develop future golfers. Before I came over to Tokyo, I was in Slovakia for a week and spent a lot of time with junior golfers and they were so extremely excited about it. Being able to medal means it will be extremely impactful and raise the excitement even more for these junior golfers.”
Antala [pictured above celebrating with Sabbatini] was on hand throughout the Olympic week and was able to give an idea of just what kind of impact the Olympian would have:
“For us it is a huge milestone. A few years ago, we had not even thought about it but here we are…getting a lot of messages from very excited people and ready to go.
“The interest is there, and this is exactly what we hope to accomplish…basically grow the interest for the sports in our country and hopefully get young kids to start playing and to see Rory as a role model.
“I have been involved in Slovakian golf since it started this new era of the late 90s, so it is a very young sport and I remember how we were simply trying to raise the money to basically just participate in amateur championships. Now we are more professionalised, are trying to move ahead and grow the number of people…we honestly did not even dream about this one – it is beyond or dreams to be here.”
Sabbatini’s work in promoting golf in the country was also well underway well ahead of the Olympics, after competing in, and winning, the Slovak Open in 2019:
“We met Rory in 2015, when he did his first charity event at Penati Golf Resort,” explains PGA of Slovakia General Secretary, Peter Petrovič. “After he became an official Slovak citizen and was at the Slovak Open, we agreed that he would be part of the PGA of Slovakia organisation as a Member.
“We are extremely proud that one of our Members has been able to compete at the Olympics…and it will only open the door to others – maybe not today or in a year, but we believe that we will raise the successor of the first golf Olympian.
“In the last two seasons we have had an increase in children and their parents becoming golfers. Hard work and everything you need to inspire children to play and win is encouraged, so we believe that new hopes worthy of the Olympics will emerge…children have to have stars to look up to and now we have Rory – he wants to help Slovak golf, and we are there to help as the coaches that will raise these future stars.”