When you think of golf in Italy you think of … hmmm, well, ahem … odds are you don’t think of much at all. That’s destined to change with the surprising news that the Marco Simone course in Rome has been selected as the venue for the 2022 Ryder Cup. In honor of the big announcement, which we can all agree ranks as the highpoint in the history of Italian golf, here are 10 other significant ties between Italia and the ancient game.
1. Constantino Rocca
The Arnold Palmer of Italian golf, Rocca made his boldest entry into the annals at the ’95 British Open at St. Andrews, where he flubbed a chip, then drained a bomb to earn his way into a four-hole playoff against John Daly. He didn’t win the Claret Jug, but he won over fans with his ground-pounding reaction to that unlikely putt in regulation. Another notable Rocca moment: when he polished off Tiger Woods like so much puttanesca in their singles match at the ’97 Ryder Cup.
2. Francesco Molinari
When we say Italian Open, we don’t mean pop the cork on a nice Chianti. We mean Italy’s national championship. Molinari was the last Italian to win it, in 2006.
3. Edoardo Molinari
Though his younger brother, Francesco, sits higher in the World Golf Rankings, the older Molinari will always hold this record: in 2005, he became the first continental European to win the U.S. Amateur. The victory earned him an invite to the 2006 Masters, where Francesco was on his bag.
4. Sophie Sandolo
On the one hand, her best showing in a Ladies European Tour event was a second-place finish at the 2005 Catolonia Ladies Masters. On the other, have you seen her calendars? No wonder some people get so hot and bothered about sleek-lined Italian design.
5. John Cabot
Bear with us on this one. Born Giovanni Caboto in Italy, the 15th-century explorer was sailing under the British flag when he made landfall in Nova Scotia. Today, a great many landmarks in the province bear his Anglified name, including Cabot Links, which ranks 75th on GOLF Magazine’s list of 100 Courses in the World.
6. Fred Couples and Co.
Like spaghetti and meatballs, they’re not Italian born, but Couples is among a hearty list of Italian-American golf giants, including Rocco Mediate, Gene Sarazen (nee Saraceni) and Ken Venturi. (Couples’ paternal grandparents changed their name from Coppola to ease the family’s path to assimilation.)
7. The Sopranos
While we’re on the subject of Italian-American golf greats, a deep bow of respect to Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini), fictional mob boss and centerpiece of one of the most menacing golf scenes in TV history. Watch here.
8. Toney Penna
The hot-tempered golf pro, who was born in Naples and grew up in New York, made his name on the course as a lively personality and a four-time winner on the PGA Tour. But his greatest claim to fame came through his work in golf club design.
9. World Cup
Italy has won four of them. In soccer, that is. As for golf, the honor has gone to Italy only once. It was the Molinari brothers who pulled off the trick with an emotional victory in China in 2009 that had fans around the 18th green batting back tears.