Oct. 28, 2006
by Jim Daves
Assistant Director of Athletics for Media Relations
When Andrea Signor made the long trek from Italy to play college golf in America, he was anxious about the variety of experiences he would encounter. New friends to make, news places to visit and a whole new culture to explore. Little did he know the thing that would have the biggest impact on his new life was a force of nature.
When hurricane Ivan roared through Florida on Sept. 16, 2004, it was regarded as the most powerful Atlantic storm on record. The category five hurricane wrecked havoc across the state and left 16 dead. Just 35 miles from the storm's eye wall was Pensacola, where Signor was a student attending West Florida and a member of the Argonaut golf team.
Like most of the students at the school, he evacuated inland and rode the storm out in Orlando. When he returned to campus, he was shocked at the results from the storm that included peak winds in excess of 125 miles an hour.
"Everything was gone," Signor said. "Even bridges, whole bridges, were gone."
A native of Vittorio Veneto, Italy, Signor had enrolled at West Florida in the fall of 2003. He had a stellar freshman season capped off by being named the NCAA Division II Phil Mickelson Freshman of the Year. He picked up a number of honors during the season and set the school tournament scoring record when he shot 4-under 206 at the NCAA Division II South Regional.
It was during the fall of his sophomore season that Ivan swept through the region, shutting down the University for several weeks. With so much free time on his hands, Signor evaluated his situation and decided to transfer at the conclusion of the spring term.
It was an easy decision. He chose Virginia.
During his first year at West Florida, Signor was allowed to join his teammates on the Italian National squad to play in a tournament at Virginia. The Cavalier Classic that year was played to honor former UVa standout Andrea Brotto.
A native of Carimate, Italy, Brotto was a Dean's List student who lettered four years for the Cavaliers. A top amateur competitor on the European circuit, he eventually returned to UVa to attend the Darden School. At the age of 26, he died suddenly of a heart attack.
Former Cavalier coach Mike Moraghan arranged to have Brotto's father travel with the Italian team and serve as an honorary coach at the tournament.
Ironically, Signor won the tournament, defeating North Carolina's Dustin Bray in a one-hole playoff.
"It was like it was written to be that way," said Signor, who walked off the 18th green into the arms of Brotto's tearful father.
The connection Signor made during his week in Charlottesville was enough to draw him to Virginia to finish his education and complete his collegiate golf career.
Now a senior, Signor is a regular in the UVa lineup. Last season he was the Cavaliers' top finisher in two tournaments. Ironically, his worst outing came in the Cavalier Classic, where he was 30th overall.
Signor's goal this season is to help the Cavaliers back to a NCAA Regional appearance. Head coach Bowen Sargent has scheduled the team in a number of tough events this fall to prepare the players for their spring season. He sees Signor as a key component to the team's success.
"Andrea is a player with a great deal of experience, not just on the collegiate level, but he has played in a number of very tough international events," Sargent said. "Most importantly, he's won before, and he understands what it takes to accomplish that. He can be a leader on this team, because he is a very steady, consistent player."
Making the jump from a Division II program to the higher level of Division I play has not translated into the same level of individual success for Signor; he feels his game has significantly improved.
"I've gotten much better with my putting," Signor said. "Coach Sargent has really helped me there."
Signor feels his consistent ball striking is the best part of his game. He even carries a one iron in his bag but admits he has never heard the old golf joke that "even God can't hit a one iron."
Signor will graduate in the spring and will return to Europe to pursue a career in golf. While there are not a lot of Italian golfers in the professional or even college ranks, he is proud to bring up the name of Costantino Rocca and the success of the European squads in the Ryder Cup competition.
In 2005, countryman Edoardo Molinari won the U.S. Amateur Championship, earning an entry into the Master's. Signor accompanied him to last year's tournament, serving as a one-man gallery.
According to Signor, there are just over 300 golf courses in Italy. He was amazed the first time he traveled to play in Myrtle Beach and discovered more than 200 courses located along the Grand Strand. Still, more and more college programs are finding players in Italy. Signor has found himself playing the role of counselor to some of those prospects.
"They will call or e-mail me and ask me what I think of the schools." Signor said. "I didn't have anyone to do that for me. I just knew I wanted to play somewhere in the south. I didn't really know a lot about American colleges until I got here."
That would include a new appreciation for hurricanes and the impact they can have on one's life.