We The Italians | The Italian American stars in US sports: Golf

The Italian American stars in US sports: Golf

The Italian American stars in US sports: Golf

  • WTI Magazine #96 Oct 14, 2017
  • 56

Since 1891, when in Shinnecock Hills, Long Island, the first permanent American course was established (including the spacious club house, despite the fact that there were only 12 players at first), golf in the US has definitely made giant leaps forward.

The United States Golf Association was founded in 1894 and, in the same year, it organized the first US Amateur Championship. In 1895 in Newport, Horace Rawlins won the first US Open which, as for the prestige, would join the same rate of the British Open in just a few years. A significant contribution also came from the American industrial innovation which, at the beginning of the twentieth century, introduced the new Haskell rubber ball and putters.

In 1913, thanks to the exploits of the unknown student Francis Ouimet, who defeated the two English champions Vardon and Ray in the US Open, there was a shift in the interest and activities of golf from Great Britain to the United States. The American advance on the North European greens began in the 1920s and culminated in 1922 with the first of Walter Hagen's four affirmations. Between 1920 and 1934, 11 British Open editions were won by players of American nationality.

Bobby Jones, the American star who at the age of 28 had already won 3 British Open and 3 US Open titles, surprisingly left the competitive golf course and dedicated himself to the grand project of creating the Augusta golf course in Georgia, considered one of the five wonders in the world of golf. Since 1934, the Augusta National became the headquarters of the Masters Tournament, one of the four major world events (together with British Open, US Open and US PGA Championships) that make up the Grand Slam.

Gene Sarazen (real name Eugenio Saraceni), son of an immigrant mason, at some point decided to change his  name "like that of a real golfer", following his passion and vital goal, both grown in a green not far from home while earning some dollars by doing caddy and shooting a few golf balls at dusk. Gene soon turned out to be a real talent and in 1922, just twenty years old, he won in two majors, the US Open and the PGA Championship. During his long career, he won 39 PGA tour events, played 6 Ryder Cups from 1927 to 1939, was the first to make a Grand Slam and was elected in the World Golf Hall of Fame. In the 1930s he was the world's most profitable sportsman.

Anthony "Tony" Manero (true surname Maniero), born in New York, was a professional golfer who from 1929 to 1938 won 8 victories on the PGA tour (including the US Open of 1936) and was selected for the 1937 Ryder Cup.  After retiring from the competition, he devoted himself to the development and management of Manero's Restaurant in Greenwich, Connecticut. He is a member of the Metropolitan PGA Hall of Fame.

The stories of the eldest son Phil Turnesa (born in 1896) and his brothers Frank (1898), Joe (1901), Mike (1907), Doug (1909), Jim (1912), Willie (1914) and his very special family began when his father Vitale (his true surname was Tornese), born in 1875 in Naples, at the age of 14 emigrated to America, where, as an orphan, he found work on the Ferry Boats in service from Manhattan and Hoboken. There he also found his wife, marrying his fellow countrywoman Anna Pascarella. The marriage brought 9 children, 2 females and the 7 males nominated before. In 1908 Vitale went to Elmsford, 26 miles from Manhattan, where the Fairview Country Club was under construction. He applied for a job and stayed with the club for 52 years, arriving at the position of head of the team of the maintenance engineers of the greens and then to that of superintendent. He had a house built half a mile from the club and all his male sons, one after the other, were weaned to the fundamentals of golf by John Inglis, the club's professional. Vitale died in 1960, three years after his wife, and he could see all 7 of his children playing golf at a certain level, 6 of them as professionals. As an amateur, Willie won some important tournaments before graduating at Holy Cross. Joe notched up 21 victories among the pros, 14 of them in the PGA tour. Mike won 9 times among professionals, 6 of them in the PGA tour. Jim won a PGA Championship in 1952 and 9 other tournaments from 1937 to 1968, and participated in the Ryder Cup of 1957. Phil, Doug and Frank were professionals resident in some prestigious clubs. Joe, Mike and Jim were elected to the Metropolitan PGA Hall of Fame.

John F. "Johnny" Revolta, originally from St. Louis but raised in Oshkosh in Wisconsin, began to work as a caddy in the clubs of the area and then he started playing; he took part in the PGA tour from 1935 to 1952, winning 18 tournaments and being nicknamed "iron master" for his particular skill in using irons to escape bunkers.

Victor J. "Vic" Ghezzi, born in New Jersey, proved his skills winning 17 tournaments, 11 of which in the PGA tour including the 1941 PGA Championship. He was selected for the Ryder Cup in 1939, 1941 and 1943.

Toney G. Penna, born in Italy, in Naples, in 1908 arrived in Harrison (New York) and then lived in Ohio. He too approached golf starting as a caddy in the clubs, and then took advantage of the opportunity to access the green to become a pro golfer. From 1938 to 1948 he won 5 tournaments, 4 of which on the PGA tour and then moved to Florida to design new golf clubs.

Donato Barbaro and Carmela Paternoster emigrated to the US from Barile (in Italy): their son Louis "Lou" Barbaro was born in Harrison (New York) in 1916. From 1941 to 1959 Lou won 5 tournaments (including the New Jersey PGA Championship in 1959). From 1943 to 1945 he fought in the Second World War with the degree of sergeant.

George Fazio, born in Philadelphia, alternated the activity of a professional resident in clubs (for some years he lived in Los Angeles teaching golf to Hollywood celebrities) with participation in tournaments (8 victories from 1941 to 1959, of which 2 in the PGA tour) and the design of new golf courses.

Douglas M. "Doug" Ford (Fortunato was his true surname) was originally from New Haven (Connecticut): a professional since 1949, he won the first of his 33 tournaments (19 in the PGA tour) in 1952. Doug was summoned in 4 editions of the Ryder Cup, from 1955 to 1961, and elected in the World Golf Hall of Fame. A curiosity: he was also a good baseball player, so much so that he received a contract proposal from the New York Yankees.

Felice J. "Toy Tiger" Torza, born in Naples (Italy) in 1920, was a professional player resident at the Aurora Country Club (Aurora, Illinois) for 28 years: from 1946 to 1965 he also won 5 tournaments of the PGA tour and, in 1953, lost the PGA Championship at a match play.

Kenneth P. "Ken" Venturi, born in San Francisco, began a good amateur career culminating in his victory at the California State Amateur Championship in 1951 and then, until 1956, served in the Army in Korea and Europe. As a professional he won 15 tournaments including the prestigious US Open in 1964. His career was interrupted by the aftermath of a car accident and, later on, he became an acclaimed commentator and analyst for CBS Sports over the next 35 years. In 1996 he appeared in the film "Tin Cup" with Kevin Costner, playing himself. He was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

At the age of 18, Frank Cardi won the Ohio Amateur and, during his college years, the 1954 BigTen Championship. He later developed a successful career in golf governance within the PGA until he became president and honorary president at the end of the seventies, contributing to the expansion of professional golf activities.

Edward R. "Ed" Fiori, born in 1957 in California, began his golf career in the team of the University of Houston. He went professional in 1977 and joined the PGA tour in 1978, winning 5 tournaments (the last one in the late nineties).

Mark J. Calcavecchia, born in 1960 in Nebraska, was a pro golfer who won the British Open in 1989. He was summoned to the Ryder Cup US team in 1987, 1989, 1991 and 2002; in his career he won 28 tournaments all around the world, of which 13 in the PGA tour.

Christian D. Chris" DiMarco, originally from New York, moved to California at the age of 7 with a sport-oriented family (the father was a basketball player at college, his two older brothers are athletes, his nephew Patrick DiMarco plays in the NFL). After an excellent career at college - he was inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame as a "Gator Great" - in 1990 he became a professional golfer. He won 7 tournaments, of which 3 in the PGA tour and 1 in the European tour between 1997 and 2006.

Rocco A. Mediate from Pennsylvania, son of a barber of Italian origin, professional since 1986, is known for being the first to win a PGA tournament using a long putter. From 1991 to 2006 he won 6 tournaments in the PGA tour and 3 in the PGA Tour Champions; he arrived second at the US Open in 2008 after an extra-hole against Tiger Woods.

The paternal grandfather, immigrated from Italy, changed his surname Coppola to Couples: and his nephew, Frederick S. "Fred" Couples, distinguished himself in the world of pro golf. His first victory in the PGA tour arrived in 1983 and was followed by 14 more victories in the same tour (until 2012), 3 in the European tour and 13 in the PGA Tour Champions (2010-2016). Honors: 1991, 1992 PGA Player of the Year; 1991, 1992 Vardon Trophy; 1992 PGA Tour leading money winner; World Golf Hall of Fame.