Of all the people in all the world, maybe the last person you would figure to have cornered the market on happiness is Costantino Rocca, the unfrowning, unsinkable, undieting Italian whom golf keeps discovering.
Rocca, 38, is the Cinderfella who rose from eight years in a box factory to the most glamorous tee boxes in golf—only to fall unceremoniously after missing a putt no longer than a nice piece of linguini to seal Europe's 1993 Ryder Cup loss at the Belfry in England. Rocca as in choke-a.
This did not ruin Rocca. For he came back in July to execute three of the most unforgettable shots in British Open history—an impossible putt, an unforgivable chunk and an unthinkable prayer—and force a playoff with John Daly, who has no feel for operettas about sweet Italians and stomped Rocca flat.
This, too, did not ruin Rocca. You half expected to come to his village of Bergamo, 50 kilometers from Milan, and find Rocca gripping leg tables and towel racks to keep from being dragged back to the Ryder Cup this week, at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. Instead, you find him beaming like a Milanese maitre d' as he says, "You must eat and drink wine with my family and friends."
The wine, of course, is an offer you can't refuse, not when it's the Roccas' own, grown on the vines behind their modest house for years—splendid reds and whites, for family and friends only. Of course, the Roccas have so much family and so many friends, they make 3,000 liters a year. The wine is like Costantino himself: simple, unsophisticated and..."no headache in the morning," he says, laughing.
Costantino, how is it that you are always so happy, no matter how many pianos fall on your head?
"Is just me," he says, shrugging joyfully.
Is just him: Whenever he speaks in public about his wife, Antonella, whom he met when she was 14 and he was 18, and their two children, Chiara, 10, and Francesco, his eyes well up. When he leaves the family for a long trip, he cries. When he is on the road, he writes his feelings on a bedside pad and then gives those notes to his wife upon his return. Time does not pass when I am gone from you, he will write. When children walk in front of him or ask for his autograph, he caresses their hair with his cupped hand, as though each child were his own.
He makes it exceedingly difficult to root against him. It is not unusual, after a round, for Rocca to give away every loose item in his bag—balls, tees, gloves, markers and sweaters. Often he dispatches his caddie, Michael Doran, to the hotel to get a shirt for a child. Sometimes when he's home from the tour, Costantino will come into the house and holler to Antonella, "Don't you have any of my T-shirts or sweaters we can give him?" He is referring to the boy who cleans his clubs, who is waiting on the porch, disbelieving.
Rocca does not do all these things because he is finally rich. Or because he is happy to be one of the finest players in the world despite having come from modest beginnings. Rocca would be doing these things if he contracted a permanent shank virus tomorrow: "Even if I still work in factory, I still eat, drink and laugh, true?"