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The Rock
Rick Reilly
September 25, 1995
Life wasn't supposed to be perfect for Costantino Rocca—it just turned out that way
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September 25, 1995

The Rock

Life wasn't supposed to be perfect for Costantino Rocca—it just turned out that way

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"I think, Where this shot come from?" In Italy, Antonella held her hands to her face and moaned, "Oh, no!" If it took two months of agony to get over a putt, what would this take? Her husband would live a life of next-table whispers and down-the-practice-range chuckles: Costantino Rocca, the most famous gag artist ever. But, wait....

The Putt of Redemption: "C'mon, just make it," said Doran, bravely. But Rocca was not thinking about making this one from off the green. His hands were shaking, and his knees wanted to go somewhere and sit down. He wanted to two-putt. If he three-putted, he would finish in a three-way tie for fifth. Do you know how many lire there are between finishing second and tied for fifth? (142.4 million lire, or $88,067, to be exact.) "I do not try to make this putt," Rocca admits.

He hit it hard, probably too hard, but, he says, "as it gets five or six meters away, I see Michael moving his body like crazy, and I think, Maybe!" And sure enough, it dived into the hole, and bowls of potato chips flew off laps all over the world, and Antonella wept, and Daly clutched his wife's head to his chest as if the judge had just said, "Guilty."

Rocca smiled at this, too. He stared up at God and then collapsed, facedown, pounding the sweet Scottish earth.

As it turned out, the four-hole playoff was a wipeout. Rocca says a gust pushed him just as he putted on the first hole, and he blew the ball eight feet by the cup and made a bogey. Then Daly made a 30-foot undulating work of art on the second. At the Road Hole, Rocca hit his second into the face of the Road Bunker and had no chance to come out toward the hole—but tried anyway. The ball didn't come out. He tried again. It didn't come out. On his third attempt, he made it out and clapped heartily for himself.

Rocca emerged from that deep bunker as the most wonderful sport in golf, a man who has the right idea: Compete with laughter and grace, and if you must lose, lose with laughter and grace, and then give away everything in your bag for good measure. In fact, he was so distraught afterward that all he could do was cook pasta and drink whiskey with 16 friends, laughing nearly until the sun came up.

He has gone from being the Ryder Cup's goat to one of its top dogs. He finished fourth among Europeans in Ryder Cup points and is coming off a second at the British Open, a 17th at the U.S. PGA Championship and a tie for second at the European Masters. Rocca as in rock.

"Why should I fear the Ryder Cup?" he says, wide-eyed. "I love it. Is like nothing else in golf, not even a major. For me to play is a...a...miracle."

How does a man learn such things?

"My father say to me, 'Respect everybody, and your life, it will be perfect,' " Rocca says. "Then, even if you are poor on the outside, on the inside you are rich."

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