GUIDONIA MONTECELIO, Italy — A 60-foot birdie putt from the Valley of Sin at St. Andrews to force a playoff with John Daly at the 1995 British Open.
A front-row seat to history while paired with Tiger Woods in the final round of the 1997 Masters.
Then a career-defining singles victory over Woods later in ’97 that helped Europe win the Ryder Cup.
It’s been nearly three decades since Costantino Rocca put Italian golf on the map and it’s hard to imagine the Ryder Cup being held near Rome this week would have happened without him.
“I hope to have contributed, because I’ve always said I was the first,” Rocca said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “Thirty years ago I wouldn’t have even thought that I would achieve what I did.”
The first Italian to play for Europe in the Ryder Cup, Rocca appeared in three editions. He remained the only Italian to play in the event until Francesco and Edoardo Molinari appeared at Celtic Manor in 2010.
Francesco Molinari went on to win the 2018 British Open and then became the first European to go 5-0 at a Ryder Cup by clinching the decisive point over Phil Mickelson later the same year outside Paris.
Now the Molinari brothers are both vice captains — a role that Rocca was never granted — and the only Italian members of Europe’s team.
“It’s really a shame not having an Italian player in Rome but let’s hope that in two or four years from now we have at least one again,” Rocca said.
Maybe some Italian kid attending this Ryder Cup at the Marco Simone club just outside the capital will develop into the country’s next standout.
“These things seem like they don’t count for much but they do,” Rocca said.
While Rocca got into the sport as a caddie, golf remains a game for the elite in Italy.
“It’s still fairly costly and unfortunately we don’t have public courses where people can come to just try it out,” he said. “Let’s hope that after seeing the Ryder Cup something changes. … There are only two or three clubs left in the country that have caddies.”
At 66, Rocca still lives in his hometown of Bergamo with his wife. He has two children and two grandchildren and still plays “one or two” senior tour events per year.
At the 1997 Ryder Cup at Valderrama in Spain — the first time the event was held in continental Europe — Rocca soundly beat Woods, 4 and 2.
“I was the only one who didn’t want to play against him,” Rocca said. “He was too good for me.
“But when it came down to the match I just focused on my own game and I had the good fortune of playing first on most of the holes. And with his distance off the tee, I also played most of the second shots first, so I was able to put him under pressure,” Rocca said. “That’s one of the advantages of match play.”
Where does that win rank in Rocca’s career?
“The most important thing was winning the point; who it came against wasn’t important,” he said. “But having done it against Tiger definitely made it mean more.”
Rocca made his Ryder Cup debut in 1993, which remains the last time the United States won in Europe. Davis Love III beat Rocca on the final hole to secure the trophy for the Americans.
“I three-putted on 17 and then I lost 18. But it was a learning experience,” Rocca said. “We were ahead on the last day and then we lost three or four matches. That’s what hurt the most.”
Rocca would never be on the losing team again and at the 1995 Ryder Cup, he made a hole-in-one at No. 6 at Oak Hill.
Two years later, Rocca entered the final round of the Masters in second place and paired with Woods but nine strokes behind his playing partner. He ended up 15 shots back in a tie for fifth as Tiger won his first major at age 21 with a 12-shot advantage over Tom Kite for what remains the tournament’s biggest margin of victory.
“I didn’t take advantage of some shots on two or three holes and I couldn’t get near him,” Rocca said. “And then he took off.”
Woods was too good for him that day — he was too good for everyone over the next decade — but Rocca is among two players to have beaten Woods in singles at the Ryder Cup. That was worth a trophy for all of Europe.
AP Golf Writer Doug Ferguson contributed to this report.