FROM ITALY TO CALIFORNIA

Leonardo Rigamonti

This series is brought to you by United Dairy Industry of Michigan.

Ten years ago, Leonardo Rigamonti never would have predicted where his athletic career would take him.

Growing up in the small town of Eupilio, Italy, Rigamonti was just as soccer-crazed as the rest of his friends.

But, when bad knees caused him to give up the beautiful game as a 12-year-old, Rigamonti found himself playing a sport that’s far more popular in the US than in Italy – golf.

Because his mom had some experience with golf, she encouraged Rigamonti to take lessons and try the sport for himself. For a competitor who had grown somewhat tired of team sports, the individuality and mental fortitude needed to succeed at golf had Rigamonti hooked right away.

And it wouldn’t be long until that passion would take him far away from home.

Heading west

Rigamonti developed as a golfer over the next few years, but that doesn’t mean it was easy to get his name out.

For a small-town golfer who admits his high school career wasn’t “anything big,” Rigamonti knew opportunities lied elsewhere – in the United States.

“I didn’t want to give up on it, and I had some friends that had college experience in the US, and I heard they really liked it,” Rigamonti said. “So, I was really looking forward to the opportunity, and it was one of my dreams to play college golf.”

At first, that led him to King University, a Division II school located in Bristol, Tennessee.

After a successful freshman year, Rigamonti managed to win a tournament as a sophomore and recorded several Top-five finishes. With an eye toward progress, Rigamonti knew he’d need to move schools in order to reach the next level.

A move into the transfer portal was the solution, and University of the Pacific came calling.

As he looked out at brand-new facilities greater than anything he’d ever played on before, Rigamonti knew he’d found his new school.

“It’s where I saw myself improving the most,” Rigamonti said.

Making adjustments

While many athletes can find it difficult to transition to college life in a foreign country, Rigamonti didn’t see the same cultural challenges.

Instead, his challenges were on the golf course.

While the courses in his native Italy usually have soft grass and play slower as a result, many American courses gave Rigamonti a different challenge to conquer.

“I found big differences in the golf courses here in the US, especially here in California. They’re harder for me because of the greens and what’s around them; the slope and the difficult pin locations make it tough to score,” Rigamonti said.

But after a few rounds, he started to figure it out. Rigamonti, who studies applied mathematics at University of the Pacific, recorded a Top-16 finish twice during the shortened 2020-21 golf season before showing considerable improvements in his junior year.

Rigamonti finished second at the Ram Masters Invitational in Fort Collins last season, and recently shot his best round as a collegiate golfer, a six-under finish at Fresno State’s Nick Watney Invitational.

“I just expect myself to be very consistent and put in the experiences that I’ve had throughout these two years here and all my years in golf,” Rigamonti said.

I just expect myself to be very consistent and put in the experiences that I’ve had throughout these two years here and all my years in golf.

Professional dreams

His time as a collegiate athlete will end soon, but that doesn’t mean Rigamonti is done with the game of golf.

Rigamonti has long held a dream of becoming a professional golfer, something that few Italians have accomplished. Conversations with his teammates helped keep that dream going, and Rigamonti is willing to do whatever it takes to turn that dream into reality.

That goal has always pushed him to keep improving relative to his competition, and Rigamonti is now at a point where he feels he can compete at the highest level.

“For me, it’s about my future. I want to go play professional golf after college, so practicing is all about continuing to get better for my professional career,” Rigamonti said. “I feel like this school is offering me a lot of opportunities to improve, so I might as well take advantage of them and be ready for when I’m out of here.”

The fact that Rigamonti is even playing college golf halfway across the world from his home is a triumph in itself.

He left home to pursue an opportunity and a passion.

There’s still plenty of work for Rigamonti to put in before he’s officially a professional golfer, but one thing’s for sure.

With fans in California, Tennessee and Italy, Rigamonti’s golf game is the byproduct of the many challenges that have come his way.

And for the majority of those, they were conquered with confidence.

“I think it’s something very surprising because my family is not really a golf family, and the golf culture in Italy is pretty small. I’m from a small town where nobody plays golf, so just being here in the US and playing Division I golf is a big success and very different from what usually happens at home,” Rigamonti said.