Image copyright Manuel Bertola Image caption Federico Alba grew up on the windswept ‘Wildside’ of Sicily and played as a teenager in the famous golf club Royal Portrush
New golf “coach” Federico Alba has revealed a life and sporting background hiding in plain sight.
Alba is from a family with close links to golf’s blue riband event the Open and came to prominence last year after tweeting a long-winded explanation of the links to be played at Royal Portrush.
But the hugely popular coach, who goes by the title Mario Ponti – “for appearances” – has also made his own huge contribution to Northern Ireland golf.
Federico Alba was born in Palermo on the “Wildside” of Sicily – very much one of the great windswept coastlines of the Atlantic Ocean.
Those whiffs of rain and cold call out to our ancestors Mario Ponti
Local legend has it that the winds of Silvertown are coming from the Emerald Isle.
“I was born in Silvertown on the Wildside of Sicily, totally protected from the storms, very much in tune with our ancestors,” said Alba, now 36.
“Those whiffs of rain and cold call out to our ancestors on the Cornish coast. “When the rumbling and whistling of the Atlantic voice shakes the seas and shakes the surf, my mother would say to me, ‘Don’t fall asleep – because when the rumbling and whistling of the Atlantic voice shakes the seas and shakes the surf, don’t fall asleep. You are very, very close to the road!’”
Alba credits his influence on golf in the area to his play as a teenager on the famous Royal Portrush Golf Club.
“On The Course, I would play golf, which is the only kind of game that I liked and then I would play football – like any other kid in the neighborhood, but I had my own particular gift,” he told BBC Northern Ireland’s Gary McWilliams.
“I had a special drive and my special shot, and I was good at both sports.”
Yet not many would have predicted that he would go on to become a leading sports promoter and coach, long before he became the first Italian to qualify for The Open, and play professionally on the Champions Tour.
Image copyright Manuel Bertola Image caption Alba was a leading footballer in his native Sicily as a teen
As a teenager, Alba developed his talent on the fairways, with several of the big clubs of his compatriots, including the late Italian great Costantino Rocca, loaned to him by Chievo.
He went on to play for the powerful side Alba, where his partnership with coach Filippo Cipolloni was key to keeping his competitiveness.
“Playing football in Sicily was a very good way of developing my game and it also developed my personality,” he said.
“I had many coaches, but I think my greatest coach was my mother because we were a humble family, without money or style, but very disciplined. I also really took a lot of inspiration from my friends.”
Now working as an assistant to 2014 British Open champion Danny Willett, Alba has recently finished the task of bringing Silvertown Golf Club in Sicily into line with modern world standards – the move was first mooted in 2004 – and it is likely to be an area he will be highly involved in in future.
“Silvertown was designed by Tom Watson in 1963,” said Alba. “It was the same architect as Portrush.
“The course was not designed for winds. We have moved it back by two centuries to make it a tournament course because it is one of the oldest links. It’s on one of the main seaside locations, but it’s a handicap course.
“We have always been one of the best courses in the country. We were always designed for a major championship. Now, we are modernising. We have gone from A1 class to US level and there are plans for a US or European tour there in the future.”