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Bratislava Bash

Slovakia's silver medalist, Rory Sabbatini, may see his PGA Tour season come to an abrupt end

August 03, 2021

Silver medalist Rory Sabbatini holds his medal at the medal ceremony of the men's golf individual stroke play during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.

KAZUHIRO NOGI

Rory Sabbatini may not have much time to bask in the glow of his new silver medal back home in Slovakia. Any ticker-tape parades in Bratislava or tours through the countryside may have to wait for this new national golfing hero. That’s because Sabbatini needs to get on his metaphorical Carpathian pony to play his way into the top 125 of the FedEx Cup to keep his season alive and maintain status for next year on the PGA Tour.

Sabbatini is currently 138th in the FedEx Cup standings, dropping two spots the week prior to his sterling silver performance in Tokyo. A story on the Instagram account of Rastislav Antala, the president of the Slovak Golf Association and a cousin of Sabbatini’s wife as well as the initial architect of the former South African coming to represent Slovakia in the Olympics, shows the silver medalist merrily back home in Bratislava, dining out, holding press conferences, and posing for pictures. With his presence in Europe at the moment, he is obviously not in the field at this week’s World Golf Championship in Memphis (despite the global makeup of that field, the medalist is still 111th in the Official World Golf Ranking) and is also not in the opposite-field event in Reno, the Barracuda Championship. So while he celebrates in Bratislava, he will not accrue any FedEx Cup points this week, one of only two weeks remaining before that top 125 cut is made and the playoffs begin.

That would make it likely, though not confirmed, that Sabbatini will enter next week’s Wyndham Championship in a final attempt to play his way up the standings and into the postseason. But he would have to find some of that final-round magic from Kasumigaseki and post a really strong finish in Greensboro, N.C., to make the jump from the high 130s or low 140s in the standings up into the top 125. As we’ve seen this month already, stranger things have happened.

So what would the Boy from Bratislava turned Silver Slovak do if he missed out on top 125 status? He could go down and play in the Korn Ferry Tour finals to achieve PGA Tour status for next year. He did that in 2016, the only year to date that the remarkably consistent veteran missed out on the top 125 since the 2007 inception of the FedEx Cup (in that inaugural FEC, Sabbatini finished a lofty fourth in the playoffs). He also snuck in on the right side of the bubble at the last cutoff in 2019, finishing 122 in the regular season FedEx Cup standings—earning the status he currently enjoys. But the one year he did miss the playoffs in 2016, Sabbatini quickly graduated from the then Web.com Tour finals back up to the PGA Tour with a T-6 finish in the first postseason event, the DAP Championship at Canterbury Golf Club. The result came in part due to a hole-in-one, which looking back at the tape now, is a bit of an odd time capsule as the then-South African played alongside and celebrated with the then-spindly Bryson DeChambeau, who eventually went on to win that finals event.

Despite his embrace of Slovak culture, Sabbatini is a dyed-in-the-wool PGA Tour member, having played on the tour every year since 1999. He is not a European Tour member, a fact that has been confirmed recently by representatives of that tour queried about Sabbatini’s candidacy for a Ryder Cup position on Team Europe.

So it’s possible we have an Olympic medalist in the Korn Ferry Tour finals this month (and a remote possibility we have two, with C.T. Pan currently 116th in the FedEx Cup standings). But for Sabbatini, there are still a few ways to retain status for next season on the PGA Tour. At 29th all time on the PGA Tour career money list with $35,193,189 in earnings, he has a one-time top-50 career money exemption he could use for next season. With 360 made cuts in his career, he could also opt for the recently created “300-career-made-cut” exemption that J.J. Henry has utilized. There may also be increased sponsor's exemption opportunities given his new international acclaim as an Olympic medalist. The point is, don’t fret for Sabbatini because there should be multiple avenues to getting some status next season on the PGA Tour should he fail to make the playoffs this August.

Or perhaps, he prefers to spend more time back home in Slovakia going forward, igniting the fires of the junior golfers he referenced in his post final-round 61 comments to Golf Channel. Asked about his citizenship switch afterwards, he added, “The sole purpose of it was to generate future generations of Slovak golfers.”

There may be work to be done back home on that front but if he wants to keep playing this season with that silver-medal momentum, there will be plenty of work to do in Greensboro. After watching how he performed in the crucible of Olympics medal contention, it would be unfortunate to see a postseason go on without him.