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Sexy calendars and improving game has golf world watching Sophie Sandolo

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
Sophie Sandolo
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Her decsion to make a sexy calendar has benefitted Sophie Sandolo on and off the golf course. (www.sophiesandolo.it)

In 2004, Ladies European Tour player Sophie Sandolo was battling some nagging injuries, sitting in 44th place on the Order of Merit, and seeing her golf career stagnate. Something had to be done.

"I was nobody in Europe," Sandolo said. "I really wanted to change something and I figured I needed to do something big to promote myself and golf."

Mission accomplished.

Sandolo, who had previously dabbled in modeling, was approached by an Italian magazine to do her own calendar. Interested in using the idea as a promotional tool, Sandolo decided she didn't want her 2005 calendar to be run-of-the-mill.

"In Europe, when you go to the beach topless, it's not a big deal," said the 29-year-old Sandolo. "So I though that if I do something, I wanted it to be big. That's why I decided to do the photos topless."

The resulting calendar, featuring Sandolo showcasing her lean, 5-foot-6 frame in golf-themed photos, was an immediate sensation, garnering Sandolo and European women's golf wide attention from golf and non-golf sources.

"If I am going to do something, I'm going to do it for golf," said Sandolo, whose father accompanied her to her first calendar shoot for support. "I wanted the journalists and the press to pay attention. It was a big thing because it got them talking about women's golf. Journalists who knew nothing about golf would come to talk to me."

As if a sign from above that the sexy calendar was a good idea, Sandolo went out on tour in 2005 and had by far her best season as a professional. In making more than 100,000 Euros, including a second-place finish at the Catalonia Ladies Masters and a third at the BMW Italian Open, she ended the season No. 15 on the LET Order of Merit.

Luckily for fans of women's golf, as well as fans of leggy French-born Italian girls, the concurrence of the calendar with her best professional season wasn't missed by Sandolo, who has now released her 2006 calendar (available at www.sophiesandolo.it for 16 Euros or $20 including delivery).

"Everything started with the great worldwide success of my first calendar, then I had my best golf season," Sandolo said. "How could I refuse the offer to make a new calendar?"

It has been a mercurial ride for Sandolo, who was born in Nice but grew up in Italy and then went to America to attend UCLA in California, where she picked up her bachelors degree in marketing (no surprise there) as well as an all-American nod for her work with the golf team.

In California, the cheerful Sandolo also picked up some distinctly West-coast flavor to her Italian-accented English, sprinkling phrases like "cool!" into her speech.

"It's great to have so many people interested in me and golf," Sandolo said. "I have a lot of American fans who ask for autographed calendars, and I thank them for that. It's really cool."

Starting her athletic career as a tennis player with ambitions of turning professional, Sandolo suffered a defeat at a big tournament at the age of 14 that led her to give up her tennis dreams, and then went to try golf with some friends.

"I was playing a girl I knew I could beat but she just chased everything down and beat me," Sandolo said. "I knew then that I just wasn't athletic enough for tennis."

Spending four years training at legendary golf coach David Leadbetter's academy, Sandolo had a stellar amateur golf career, culminating with a victory in the 1999 European Championship. Turning pro in 2000, her career has slowly gained momentum, as she has worked her way from 62nd on the Order of Merit to her current No. 15 spot, putting her in position to make a run at representing Europe in the 2007 Solheim Cup.

Still, Sandolo has yet to score her first professional victory, though she — as well as many golf insiders — believes 2006 will be the year she breaks through to the winner's column.

"I just need some more luck, because I really improved a lot in my game," Sandolo said. "I was really close last year and if destiny had been kinder I could have won maybe two tournaments."

While the link between her calendar and her career's upswing is eye-catching, Sandolo seems to have a solid take on what's most important to her — her golf.

"The calendar is part of my life and my image, but it's a hobby," Sandolo said. "My goals for golf are depending on my game. I don't like to reveal them, but I think I'm playing good and very I'm very enthusiastic."

Sandolo's American fans may get a chance to see her back on U.S. soil this year, as she has been working to get an invitation to one or two LPGA events. Don't expect her to come to the U.S. looking to cause a sensation, however.

"When I come to the U.S., I won't be wearing a short mini-skirt when I get off the plane," said Sandolo, laughing. "I won't be naked."

About Sophie Sandolo

Born: July 20, 1976
in Nice, France
Resides: Monaco
Best 18: 66
Career top 10s: 11
Languages: French, Italian, English
Interest: Sports, windsurfing, shopping, dancing, Internet

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William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

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