AntoniniMarch 1, 2010

Golf, Italian Style

The win by Edoardo and Francesco Molinari in the 2009 Omega Mission Hills World Cup didn't put Italian golf on the map, but it did give the sport more stature in the country. "Up to then golf was really a minor sport," said Edoardo at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. "Since the World Cup, the situation has changed. Almost every day there is some golf news in the newspapers."

Italian-Americans, from Gene Sarazen (Saraceni) and Doug Ford (Fortunato) to Fred Couples (Coppola) and Rocco Mediate have long established their place in the game's annals, but native Italians haven't been so prevalent. Italy has fewer than 300 golf courses, including just 130 of 18 holes, and about 100,000 golfers. There are about 500 teaching pros in the country according to Fulvio Golob, editor of Il Mondo de Golf, Italy's Golf Digest affiliate.

The number of golfers has risen steadily, about 5 percent per year since 2000, when there were less than 60,000 golfers in the country. The Molinari brothers and Matteo Manassero won't be the first Italians to play in the Masters -- that honor belongs to Naples native Toney Penna in 1938 -- but over time they might be the best. Here are the most remembered Italian-born golfers.

__Roberto Bernardini:__A fixture at the World Cup in the late 1960s-early 1970s, he was second in the individual competition in 1968 and teamed with Alfonso Angelini to take third place. He played in the 1969 and 1970 Masters.

Alberto Binaghi: Veteran of more than 250 European Tour events in the 1990s, he now coaches the Italian amateur golf team and caddied for Manassero when he won the 2009 British Amateur

Emanuele Canonica: Only 5-foot-5, he led the European Tour in driving distance four times and won the Johnnie Walker Championship in 2005. He played the PGA Tour in 2001.

Baldovino Dassu: Winner of the Dunlop Masters and Italian Open in 1976.

Ugo Grappasonni: Italian Open winner in 1950 and 1954 whose son, Silvio, also played the European Tour. He was paired with Ben Hogan in the first round of the 1953 British Open.

Diana Luna: A member of the 2009 European Solheim Cup team.

Massimo Mannelli: Before Francesco Molinari in 2006, he was the last native to win the Italian Open (in 1980).

Toney Penna: The Naples-born Penna moved to New York at a young age. He won four PGA Tour events between 1937 and 1947 and played in 11 Masters, the last in 1951. Perhaps better known as an innovative golf club designer.

Costantino Rocca: Played in 21 majors in the 1990s and remains the only player to beat Tiger Woods in a Ryder Cup singles match. Best remembered for losing the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews in a playoff to John Daly. A five-time Euro Tour winner, Rocca, 53, is in his fourth year on the European Seniors Tour.

__ Guilia Sergas:__ The highest-ranked Italian-born golfer on the Rolex Ranking. She was 83rd on March 1.

Sophie Sandolo: Ladies European Tour player perhaps better known for her provocative golf calendars.

-- John Antonini