At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Costantino Rocca - golfer

Italian whose success inspired Open champion


Costantino Rocca finished runner-up in the Open championship at St Andrews in 1995
Costantino Rocca finished runner-up in the Open
championship at St Andrews in 1995
Costantino Rocca, who until this year was the most successful Italian in the history of international golf, was born on this day in 1956 in Almenno San Bartolomeo, near Bergamo in northern Italy.

Rocca, who turned professional at the age of 24 in 1981, enjoyed his best years in the mid-1990s, peaking with second place in the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995.

He was beaten by the American John Daly in a four-hole play-off but was perhaps as popular a runner-up as there has been in the history of the tournament after the incredible putt he sank on the final green to deny Daly victory inside the regulation 72 holes.

Needing a birdie to be level with Daly at the top of the leaderboard after the American finished six under par, Rocca appeared to have blown his chance when his poorly executed second shot - a chipped approach that was meant to leave him in easy putting distance of the hole - did not even make it safely on to the green, coming to rest in an area known colloquially as ‘the Valley of Sin’.

It left him 65ft - almost 20m - short of the hole, needing somehow to hole a putt that had first to go uphill and then break sharply to the right.

Watch Rocca's 'miracle putt' at St Andrews




Extraordinarily, he pulled it off, to the delight of the gallery and the astonishment of Daly, who was watching on a TV monitor. Rocca flung his arms back in sheer joy before dropping to the ground and lay flat on his stomach with his face buried in the grass, drumming the turf with his fists, his whole body shaking with emotion.

It was described as a ‘miracle’ putt and when Rocca returned to the east Scotland course in April of this year, he had more than 20 attempts to reprise the shot but could not make it even once.

Costantino Rocca's first job in professional golf was caddying at his local club in Bergamo
Costantino Rocca's first job in professional golf was
caddying at his local club in Bergamo
The 1995 was jointly his best season with 1996, in each of which he finished fourth in the Order of Merit for the European tour.

He won five tour titles in total, the first of which was the 1993 Open de Lyon and the most prestigious of which was the 1996 Volvo PGA Championship.

Rocca's second-best finish in a major was a tie for fifth place in the 1997 US Masters tournament, in which he began the final round in second place, nine shots behind the 21-year-old rising star, Tiger Woods.

He might have expected nerves to affect his young opponent, who stood on the brink of a first major in only his second season on the PGA tour as he and Rocca took to the course as the final pair out of the clubhouse.

Yet Woods remained calm and it was Rocca who struggled under pressure, eventually finishing 15 shots behind the precocious new champion.

Francesco Molinari became the first  Italian to win a major in 2018
Francesco Molinari became the first
Italian to win a major in 2018
Rocca’s position as the greatest Italian golfer remained until this year, when Francesco Molinari not only drew level with and then passed his tally of five European tour wins, but also became the first Italian actually to win a major when he triumphed in the Open at Carnoustie.

For 17 years, Rocca had the proud distinction of being the only Italian to play for Europe in the Ryder Cup, having been selected in 1993, 1995 and 1997.

Rocca had a 6-5-0 win-loss-half record in the Ryder cup, at 53% one of the best winning records in the history of the European team. During the 1995 Ryder Cup, Rocca made a hole-in-one at Oak Hill's sixth hole, only the third ace in Ryder Cup history.

He had a record of 1 win and 2 losses in singles matches.  The singles win came in a crucial match against Tiger Woods in the 1997 event at Valderrama, in Spain, which Rocca avenged his Masters defeat by winning 4 & 2 to help Europe claim the trophy.

Again, it was when Francesco Molinari came on the scene that he lost his unique status among Italian golfers. Molinari qualified for the 2010 Ryder Cup held at Celtic Manor in Wales, with his brother Edoardo Molinari selected as a captain's pick.

Rocca, who worked in a factory in Almenna that produced polystyrene before he took up golf professionally, initially worked as a caddy and then as a caddy master at the Bergamo L'Albenza Golf Club.

He has been married since 1981 to Antonella and they have two children, 33-year-old Chiara, and Francesco, who is 27.  Both work for his Bergamo-based company, Rocca Golf Ambition, which encompasses a golf academy for aspiring players, a clinic for established players looking to improve their game, and support for young professionals.

Rocca played his last tour event in 2015, when he contested the Italian Open, an event which, extraordinarily, he never won in 33 attempts. He still plays on the European Seniors tour, so far winning two titles.

The Rotonda di San Tomè at Almenno San Bartlomeo is a fine example of Romanesque architecture
The Rotonda di San Tomè at Almenno San Bartlomeo
is a fine example of Romanesque architecture
Travel tip:

The town of Almenno San Bartolomeo, which is situated about 9km (6 miles) northwest of Bergamo along the valley of the Brembo river, is well known as the home of the Rotonda di San Tomè, an unusual circular church which is one of the most notable examples of Romanesque architecture in northern Italy. It has been speculated that the church could have been built in the Lombard era, as long ago as the 7th-8th centuries. What is known is that it was rebuilt in around the late 11th or early 12th centuries on the instruction of the Bishop of Bergamo. The building has a central plan with a pyramidal composition, with three cylindrical sections placed one above the other.  Almenna is also the home of L’Albenza Golf Club, where Rocca began his career.

Hotels in Almenno San Bartolomeo from Expedia.co.uk

The enchanting Città Alta in Bergamo is a big draw for tourists, although the Città Bassa is also worth visiting
The enchanting Città Alta in Bergamo is a big draw for
tourists, although the Città Bassa is also worth visiting
Travel tip:

Bergamo in Lombardy is a beautiful city with an upper and lower town that are separated by impressive fortifications. The magical upper town - the Città Alta - has gems of medieval and Renaissance architecture surrounded by the impressive 16th century walls, which were built by the Venetians who ruled at the time. Outside the walls, the elegant Città Bassa, which grew up on the plain below, has some buildings that date back to the 15th century as well as imposing architecture added in the 19th and 20th centuries. While the Città Alta is the draw for many tourists, the lower town also has art galleries, churches and theatres and a wealth of good restaurants and smart shops to enjoy.

Use tripadvisor to find a hotel in Bergamo

More reading:

How Francesco Molinari made golf history in Monza

The former coach of Bergamo football club Atalanta who won Serie A glory with Napoli

Bergamo's world motorcycling champion Carlo Ubbiali

Also on this day:

1154: Nicholas Breakspear becomes the first and only English pope

1798: The death of physicist and biologist Luigi Galvani

1927: The birth of renowned architect Gae Aulenti


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