Rory Sabbatini plays for Slovakia

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HONOLULU (Swing Update) – Rory Sabbatini has been playing the Sony Open for 20 years, and this one was different before he hit the ball.

Start with the flag sewn on his golf bag.

And when he arrived at the first tee on Thursday, he heard words never spoken on the PGA Tour.

"From Bratislava, Slovakia, Rory Sabbatini."

Golf enthusiasts know him as the 42-year-old South African with a lot of spunk and enough to have won six times on the PGA Tour, which competed in the Presidents' Cup and was ranked 8th in the world. .

This changed at a ceremony in New York last month, when Sabbatini became a naturalized citizen of Slovakia, at his wife's house, Martina.

He is now playing under the Slovak flag.

"Just to support her and support our son," Sabbatini said. "Getting Slovak citizenship is important to them, just as much as getting US citizenship. I support her and her cousin is the Director of Golf Development in Slovakia and we thought it was an opportunity. "

One of the benefits is the Olympics, although Sabbatini said it was not his main motive.

After a ceremony at the Consulate General of the Slovak Republic in New York, Sabbatini said that he hoped that playing for Slovakia would be a source of inspiration for young players from a country that only counts eight other players in the official ranking of world golf. the amateurs.

The next Slovak behind Sabbatini is Petr Valasek at No. 1,930.

The Olympics do not take more than two players from each country – a maximum of four are ranked among the top 15 in the world ranking – until reaching the 60 players. So, while Sabbatini is No. 201 in the world, his Olympic ranking this week is at No. 49.

"Obviously, if things were going as they could, it would be fantastic," Sabbatini said. "But I think the return of golf to the Olympics is a huge advantage for golf around the world. I really hope that we can really develop the program in Slovakia and that if the Olympic Games stimulated it, it would be fantastic. "

His wife's cousin is Rastislav Antal, vice-president of the Slovak Golf Association. At the ceremony in New York, he said last month at the ceremony that he hoped that Sabbatini would spark interest in the country so that children would take themselves to golf.

There are more golf courses in the country of Palm Beach, where Sabbatini lives, than in Slovakia. Among the best, Penati Golf Resort is a project of Jack Nicklaus in which the European Challenge Tour had organized an event in 2016. The winner was the Norwegian Espen Kosfstad and his victory qualified him for the Olympic Games 2016 in Rio.

An Olympic golfer playing under the Slovak flag seemed unlikely until Sabbatini became a citizen.

"His cousin had the idea," Sabbatini said. "This is an opportunity to get more kids involved in golf because they really have not had visibility on the international stage to really have someone to follow. They have a lot of hockey players, skiers, tennis players, all sports. But nobody in golf. "

Sabbatini, who won the World Cup with Trevor Immelman for South Africa in 2003, won his last PGA Tour victory in 2011 at the Honda Classic. It was there that he met his wife a few years later.

"It was my first event and I wanted to see the professional level, how they were, what their routines were," she said. "That's why I came there."

Sabbatini said he went three or four times to Slovakia, a country in central Europe that shares borders with Austria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Ukraine and Hungary. Bratislava is near the Austrian border, one hour from Vienna. They have a place that they rent when they are there.

Where does it lead? Sabbatini does not know.

He played at University Golf in Arizona, went on the PGA Tour on his first try and won his second year. He has never played more than two European circuit tournaments in one season and his last appearance was the Czech Masters in 2016.

"My wife and I talked about maybe playing a few other events in Europe, but for 21 years, I mostly played in the US tour," he said. "I did not make a specific decision about where we are going. We always try to organize everything and go in the right direction. "

To be introduced from Slovakia was different, then the routine took over.

"I have been here for 21 years. I went there every day and did the same thing, "he said. "Try to win a golf tournament."