Italy’s most decorated golfer Costantino Rocca revisits his European Challenge Tour roots in this week’s Mugello Tuscany Open hoping to provide some inspiration for the country’s next generation of players.
Rocca was a trailblazer for Italian golf in the 1980s and 1990s, winning five times on The European Tour including the 1996 PGA Championship, competing in three Ryder Cups and losing to John Daly in a play-off for The Open Championship in 1995. He has also won twice since joining the European Senior Tour in 2007.
Before all that success came his way, the 53 year old honed his talent on the Challenge Tour, winning three times en route to finishing third in the inaugural Rankings in 1989 and sealing his place on The European Tour.
That may all be a distant memory now but ahead of taking on the future stars this week, Rocca maintains his time on the Challenge Tour paved the way for the glittering career that was to follow.
“I was on the Challenge Tour more than 20 years ago and there are some big differences now!” said Rocca. “The players are younger! To play with them again might make me younger.
“It’s bigger than when I was on it but some things are the same. It has changed for the better but in terms of being somewhere players can get some experience it is exactly the same.
“When I played in 1989 it was the start of my career. I won three tournaments that year and it gave me confidence and from there I went on to bigger things. Maybe an Italian here this week can go on to do the same. I see a lot of them hitting the ball well – they just need the experience.”
Italian golf is arguably now in better shape than ever, with Edoardo and Franceso Molinari both in the World’s Top 50 and 17 year old sensation Matteo Manassero making his first strides in the professional game. Rocca feels there is more depth to that Italian talent on the Challenge Tour and he is looking forward to sharing some of his knowledge and experience with them this week, in the first of three events in his homeland on the 2010 Challenge Tour schedule.
“It’s a different challenge for me this week playing against the youngsters,” he said. “It’s good to see the younger players coming up and I think there are a lot of good players here this week and it’s good to play against them.
“In Italy we have some very promising players and they just need a little bit of experience. The Challenge Tour is a great place to get that. It is very important for the youngsters. The level of the competition is very good and they get some good experience before going on to The European Tour.
“Some of the younger Italians have come up to me and asked for some help and advice. It’s nice. But I can only give advice, they need the experience in their own skin and the Challenge Tour is great for that.
“I want to beat them this week though! The most important thing is to the beat the course but I want to win as well!”
Rocca, who famously defeated Tiger Woods in The 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama , plays in the Pro-Am at UNA Poggio dei Medici Golf Club alongside his friend Francesco Brogi, who is the Club President. They are also joined by Claudio Cesare Prandelli, Coach of AFC Fiorentina, Florence’s Serie A football team, although when Saturday comes, of course, Rocca will be cheering on his beloved Inter Milan in the Champions League Final against Bayern Munich.
“Franceso is the president of the club and I come here quite a bit,” said Rocca. “I was here in November and January for a clinic and I enjoyed a nice Florentine steak too! I have good friends here.
“I know this course well – it is a nice course with a good hotel.”
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