Italian American Golfers: Part 6
Italian Americans in Golf: Part 6
In this final segment of Italian Americans in golf, we feature three fine golfers – Mark Calcavecchia, Rocco Mediate and Chris DiMarco.
Calcavecchia was born in Laurel, Nebraska in 1960. While he was a teenager, his family moved from Nebraska to West Palm Beach, Florida. He attended North Shore High School in West Palm Beach and won the Florida high school golf championship in 1977. While playing in junior tournaments, he often competed against Jack Nicklaus’ son, Jackie and as a result began a lifelong friendship at the age of 14 with the legendary pro.
Calcavecchia turned professional in 1981 and joined the PGA Tour in 1982. He was at his best in the late 1980s. His most notable achievement was in 1989, when he won The Open Championship (the British Open). Calcavecchia’s only multiple-win season was in 1989 on the PGA Tour, with two other titles complementing the Open. He came closest to winning the Masters in 1988, finishing second by a single stroke and in 1992, he tied the record for the lowest score on the back nine in the Masters with a 29.
Calcavecchia has won 13 times on the PGA Tour and 13 times in other professional events. He spent 109 weeks in the Top 10 of the Official World Golf Rankings from 1988 to 1991. In winning the 2001 Phoenix Open, a tournament that he won three times (1989, 1992, 2001), he set the Tour scoring record at that time by making 32 birdies in 72 holes, finishing at 28 under par for the tournament.
On July 25, 2009, Calcavecchia set a PGA Tour record by getting nine consecutive birdies during his second round at the RBC Canadian Open at the Glen Abbey Golf Course in Oakville, Ontario, Canada. The previous record of eight consecutive birdies was held by six golfers including J.P. Hayes, who was one of his partners at the time Calcavecchia achieved the new record. He still plays a limited PGA Tour schedule that includes The Open Championship. During his professional career, he won 13 PGA Tour events.
Rocco was born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania on December 17, 1962. Mediate turned professional in 1985, but from the start, his golfing career has been marred by back trouble. Early on, he compensated by using a long putter. In 1991, he became the first player to win on the PGA Tour using a long putter when he won the Doral-Ryder Open. He picked up another victory at the 1993 KMart Greater Greensboro Open, but he then had a long layoff due to a ruptured disk.
At the 2006 Masters, Mediate was in contention to win the event on the final day until he had an absolute nightmare on the par 3 12th hole. He took a septuple-bogey ten and with it went his chances. His best finish in a major championship was a second place showing at the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines South Course. Tied with Woods at -1 after regular tournament play, then tied again at even par through the 18-hole playoff, Woods finally bested Mediate on the first hole of sudden death. It was only the third time a U.S. Open playoff had gone to sudden death. Mediate’s performance gained him 111 spots in the world golf rankings, moving him from 158th to 47th place and turned him into a crowd’s favorite underdog.
Mediate earned his first win since 2002 at the 2010 Frys.com Open. During the tournament, Rocco holed out all four days. He started on Thursday with a hole-in-one on the 189 yard 3rd hole. On Friday, he holed out from 160 yards on the 4th hole for an eagle, followed on Saturday with a hole-out from 111 yards on the 15th hole, also for eagle. On Sunday, he was tied for the lead on the 17th hole when he holed from 116 yards for eagle to take a two shot lead. He also became the oldest wire-to-wire winner on the PGA Tour since 1970.
Mediate joined the Champions Tour for 2013 after turning 50. He won in his debut at the Allianz Championship. In May 2016, Mediate won his first senior major championship at the Senior PGA Championship, with a three stroke victory. His winning total of 265 (−19) broke the previous record by three and was the first wire-to-wire victory at the event since Jack Nicklaus in 1991. His victory was sealed when he holed out from a greenside bunker on the 71st hole of regulation play for birdie. For his career, Rocco has won six times on the PGA Tour and three times on the Champions Tour.
Chris DiMarco was born in Huntington, New York in 1968 and moved to Florida with his family at the age of seven. He accepted an athletic scholarship to the University of Florida in Gainesville. In 1989, he shot a three-round score of 209 to win the Southeastern Conference (SEC) individual title, while leading the Gators to an SEC team championship. He was also SEC Player of the Year in 1990 and an All-American in 1988 – 1990. He turned professional in 1990 and had mixed results during his early years. He finished ninth on the second-tier Nike Tour in 1993 to earn his PGA Tour card for 1994, but he was not always able to maintain his place on the Tour. It wasn’t until 1997 that he won his first professional tournament on the Nike Tour – the Nike Ozarks Open. As he moved into his 30s, he continued to improve, capturing his first trophy on the PGA Tour at the 2000 SEI Pennsylvania Classic.
His second PGA Tour victory was the 2001 Buick Challenge, where he sank a 15-foot birdie on the 18th hole to tie leader David Duval. DiMarco then won on the first hole of a sudden death playoff. He won his third PGA Tour event at the 2002 Phoenix Open, which featured an infamous moment – as DiMarco was addressing a pressure putt at TPC Scottsdale’s 16th hole, one of the fans yelled “Noonan!” (a reference from the movie Caddyshack). DiMarco maintained his concentration and sank the putt, then pointed at the fan and demanded that a tournament official eject him. By 2004, he had finished in the top twenty on the PGA Tour money list for five straight seasons and had tied for second in the PGA Championship, losing the title in a three-way playoff. In 2005, DiMarco lost a sudden-death playoff with Tiger Woods to finish second in The Masters. The result moved him into the top ten of the Official World Golf Rankings. DiMarco finished as the runner-up in a major for the third time at the 2006 Open Championship at the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.
Arguably, DiMarco enjoyed his most consistent success from 2002 to 2006, when he was ranked in the top ten of the world rankings for 61 weeks, going as high as number six in the world in 2005. He was also a member of the U.S. national team in the 2003, the 2005 Presidents Cup and the Ryder Cup competitions in 2004 and 2006. In 2007, he disclosed that he was suffering from a chronic shoulder injury, but despite undergoing surgery, he still finished among the top 25 in six tournaments. During his career, DiMarco has won seven tournaments as a pro, including three PGA Tour events. His last full year on the tour was 2012 and now is a frequent contributor to Morning Drive on Golf Channel.