Italy, by tradition, does not have a great relationship with individual sports, especially with those in which you earn the most. In tennis, despite Sara Errani’s recent glories, we have always expressed a limited number of champions, as well as in golf, racing, boxing, and athletics. With some important exceptions (Valentino Rossi above all), in short, we seem in difficulty with those individual sports in which there is a lot of money, while we do better in the humblest but no less important disciplines, such as fencing, swimming, gymnastics.
The root cause of this situation is difficult to pinpoint. Even our sports system devoted much more to team specialties than to individual ones, has its faults. But perhaps more generally we often lack that ability to take the last step, that motivation that in individual sports, in addition to talent, can make the difference. Beyond the sociological analysis, the panorama of Italian golf was disappointing until a few years ago, not so much because there were no good amateurs, but because the players who reached professionalism were few, and even fewer were those who won the tournaments.
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Today things have partly changed. The new generation of Edoardo and Francesco Molinari first and then Matteo Manassero has managed in recent years to bring home excellent results. It has also revived the attention for this sport (which will return to being Olympic in 2016, after an absence that lasted since 1904) on the part of the mass media. Since the most important tournaments on the circuit are being played in recent weeks, we take the opportunity to rediscover five of the greatest Italian golfers in history.
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The Largest in the 1950s
According to the chronicles, the first true Italian golf player was Ugo Grappasonni, who passed away a few years ago and was the patriarch of a real dynasty in the Italian golfing world. Born in 1922 in Rome, Grappasonni was discovered in 1931, barely ten years old, by maestro Pietro Manca in the Roma Acquasanta Golf Club. However, the real debut and the transition to professional took place after the war. Between 1948 and 1954 he won various Open around Europe, from the Swiss one to that of Holland, from that of Ticino to that of Morocco. It also made him the Italian Open, the only Italian ever to have won it twice (in 1950 and 1954), and the prestigious French Open, also in this case the only Italian to succeed in the feat before the triumph of Costantino Rocca. in 1993.
These successes made him one of the most popular and strongest European players of the period. It is no coincidence that he was also summoned to a European representative team hosted at the White House by President Eisenhower, himself a great fan of the sport. After retiring, he dedicated himself to teaching, first at the Villa d’Este Golf Club in Como – where he also had Clark Gable among his students – and then in Rome, where he passed away in 1999. Among the many brothers and sons who became their turn masters of golf, Silvio Grappasonni stands out as a former player of a good level and is now a commentator for Sky Sport.
The Italian Who Won in Wales
If Grappasonni was a sort of pioneer in Italian golf, Baldovino Dassù was the first to take up the legacy, about fifteen years later. Born in 1952, Florentine, Dassù became a professional at a very young age, in 1971, almost immediately entering the PGA European Tour, a circuit that he would play until the mid-1980s. However, his greatest results came in his early twenties. In fact, in October 1976 he won both the Italian Open and the British Masters (an important tournament sponsored by Dunlop that year and played that year in Wales), just one stroke ahead of the more experienced champion Hubert Green who won the following year. would be awarded the US Open.
In addition, in his career, he has won three Italian Professional Championships, an Italian PGA Championship, and a Cerruti Open. After retiring, he set about building new golf courses together with important architects. Among those created, thanks to his contribution are the Argentario Golf Club, the Poggio Dei Medici in Tuscany, and the Brunico Val Pusteria golf club, the latter having 9 holes.
When He Touched the Open Championship
Costantino Rocca, born in 1956 in Bergamo, is also of the same generation as Dassù, but he achieved great success at an older age than his colleague, as golf widely allows. In fact, if Dassù obtained his victories around the mid-1970s, Rocca, just four years younger, won his most important trophies between 1993 and 1999. Certainly, his having played more recently than the great golfers that we met helped him to achieve certain notoriety, but his fame is also linked to his talent, among the best ever expressed by Italy. A talent that has allowed him on several occasions to compete with the strongest in the world.
Rocca won five European Tour tournaments in the 1990s: the Lyon Open, the prestigious French Open (matching Grappasonni’s score), the Volvo PGA Championship, the Canon European Masters, and the West of Ireland Golf Classic. But beyond this Rocca is remembered by golfers from all over the world for two unique feats. In 1995 he was one step away from winning the first major (the Open Championship) for an Italian, losing only in the playoffs to John Daly, while during the 1995 Ryder Cup he made a hole in one that helped the European team to conquer the cup. (and two years later he would repeat himself by beating Tiger Woods in a single). He is currently president of the Italian PGA.
The Winner of the World Cup Paired With His Brother Edoardo
We arrive at the most recent times and the golfers are still in business, those who in recent years have brought this sport back into vogue in our country. Francesco Molinari (born in 1982) is the youngest of a very strong pair of Turin brothers, in the other half is constituted by Edoardo, born in 1981. The two have been able to bring home important victories both as a couple and as a team, but still as singles. Perhaps, however, in this specialty Francesco has won more titles and for this reason, we have decided to dedicate the voice of our five to him.
Professional since 2006, he has won three European Tour tournaments, becoming the second-best Italian ever: in 2006 the Italian Open, which has been the prerogative of foreigners for more than 25 years; four years after the Chinese HSBC Champions (ahead of world number one Lee Westwood, thus climbing to 14th place in the World Golf Ranking); finally the Spanish Open in 2012. But, as mentioned, the young Molinari was also able to assert himself in team play. Paired with his brother Edoardo in 2009 he won the first and so far only World Cup for Italy, always held in China. At the level of the Ryder Cup, however, in 2012 in Chicago he drew the decisive match with Tiger Woods which allowed Europe to win the trophy.
The Child Prodigy of Italian Golf
If Francesco Molinari seemed, until a few months ago, the only one capable of being able to dent Costantino Rocca’s record, today his name has been overtaken by that of a real infant prodigy, Matteo Manassero. Born in the province of Verona in 1993, Manassero has recorded a career that is nothing short of overwhelming in a few years.
At 16, he broke the record for the youngest winner at the British Amateur Championship, one of two major amateur champions. Having turned pro the following year, in October he became the youngest ever winner of a European Tour tournament, winning the Castelló Masters, a result repeated in 2011 (Malaysian Open), 2012 (Singapore Open), and 2013 (BMW PGA Championship, whose new edition is being held in these days). The great promise of Italian golf – in reality already largely maintained beyond the results that may arrive in the future -, in his career he was also in 25th place in the world ranking, even if at the moment he is in a more backward position.