Showing posts with label Golf. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Golf. Show all posts

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.

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.

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


8 November 2017

Francesco Molinari – golfer

Second win in Italian Open gave him unique status

Francesco Molinari lining up the putt that won him the 2016 Italian Open golf championship at Monza
Francesco Molinari lining up the putt that won him
the 2016 Italian Open golf championship at Monza
Francesco Molinari, one of two golfing brothers who have advanced the cause of the sport in Italy more than anyone in the modern era, was born on this day in 1982 in Turin.

He and Edoardo, who is 21 months’ his senior, won the Mission Hills World Cup in China in 2009, the first time Italy had won the two-player team event.

And when he sank a 5ft (1.5m) putt to beat the Masters champion Danny Willett to win the Italian Open in Monza in September last year, Francesco became the first Italian to win his country’s open championship twice since it became part of the European tour in 1972.

He had won it for the first time in 2006 at the Castello di Tolcinasco course just outside Milan, which gave him his first European tour victory at the age of 23 and made him the first Italian to win the tournament since Massimo Mannelli in 1980.

The success made such an impact in Italy, and in Turin in particular, that Francesco was asked to be one of the official torch carriers on behalf of the host nation at the 2006 Winter Olympics, which were staged in Turin.

With four titles to his name on the European tour, Francesco has yet to win a major but went close in this year’s PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, finishing in a three-way tie for second place just two shots behind winner Justin Thomas. He might have won had he not made a bogey at the 16th hole in the final round.

Molinari at the 2013 French Open
Molinari at the 2013 French Open
In terms of European tour victories, he now stands just one behind Costantino Rocca, the most successful male golfer Italy has produced.

Rocca, who plays now on the seniors tour, contested 21 majors in the 1990s and remains the only player to beat Tiger Woods in a Ryder Cup singles match. He was beaten to the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995 only in a play-off against the American, John Daly.

Golf is not a widely played sport in Italy, with fewer than 300 courses in the whole country, less than half of which have the full 18 holes. Yet the Molinari brothers grew up in a golfing family, following their parents and grandparents in taking up the clubs.

Francesco began playing at the Circolo Golf Torino, an exclusive club about 25km (15 miles) northwest of the centre of the city and host to the Italian Open three times, at the age of eight and as he matured he became a star on the amateur circuit.

After graduating in economics and business at the Luigi Einaudi Faculty of the University of Turin, he turned professional in 2004.

His best season so far as a professional, even considering his achievement at the PGA Championship this year, was the 2010 campaign, when he won his first world tour event, defeating Lee Westwood by one stroke to win the WGC-HSBC Championship in Shanghai, China. The win moved him into 14th place in the world rankings, his highest to date. He also recorded eleven top-10 finishes including two runner-up spots.

Francesco's brother Edoardo Molinari
Francesco's brother Edoardo Molinari
In October of the same year, he and Edoardo became the first brothers to appear on the winning side in a Ryder Cup match as Europe beat the United States 14½–13½ in a thrilling contest at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales.

It is thought that Francesco and Edoardo are largely responsible for seeing the number of participating golfers in Italy rising at a rate of roughly five per cent per year since 2000, when there were fewer than 60,000 active golfers. The sport is still seen as rather elitist, yet the numbers are up to more than 100,000 now and Italy will host the Ryder Cup in 2022

Francesco is married to lawyer and photogapher Valentina Platini, with whom he has a son, Tommaso. Despite his roots in Turin, Francesco is a fan of the Milan football team Internazionale. Encouraged by his veteran English coach, Denis Pugh, he has declared an allegiance also to the English Premier League club, West Ham.

UPDATE: In July 2018, Molinari became the first Italian to win a major golf championship when he held off a cluster of star names to claim the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland. He finished two shots ahead of four players who tied for second place with the all-time great Tiger Woods one shot further behind.

The Castello di Tolcinasco golf complex, near Milan
The Castello di Tolcinasco golf complex, near Milan
Travel tip:

As the name would suggest, Castello di Tolcinasco, a small community about 20km (12 miles) south of Milan on the edge of the Milan South Agricultural Park, is notable for its 16th century castle, which was built for the protection of farmland and food stores.  The golf course, one of few in Lombardy with 36 holes, including 27 of championship standard, was designed by the great American golfer, Arnold Palmer.

The Reggia di Venaria Reale palace, once a hunting lodge owned by the House of Savoy
The Reggia di Venaria Reale palace, once a hunting lodge
owned by the House of Savoy
Travel tip:

The Circolo Golf Torino club is located in a beautiful area of parkland known as La Mandria, which was once the Royal House of Savoy’s game reserve, and is only a short distance from the Baroque splendour of the Reggia di Venaria Reale palace, a former royal residence. The palace was commissioned by Duke Charles Emmanuel II and built in 1675 by the court architect Amedeo di Castellamonte, as a base for the duke while he was participating in hunting expeditions in the hills north of the city.