WINTER HAVEN, FLORIDA | Daniela Iacobelli is the John Daly of women’s golf. While she doesn’t rock a mullet and drink Diet Coke like it’s going out of style, D, as she prefers to be called, is a long ball hitter, complete with the steep, across-the-line backswing that made Daly famous, and often has a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth as she walks down the fairway. She cusses, she drinks, she says what she thinks. But she’s approachable too, a combination that’s made her a fan-favorite among both the devout mini-tour fan and staunch traditionalists, not an easy feat in golf’s modern era.
“People who meet my family, they're like, ‘I get it.’ My dad's side is Italian and we’re very loud,” said Iacobelli. “You didn't get in trouble cussing as a kid. You got kind of like, ‘Relax, like, you can't say that word in front of these people.’ And no one in my family was ever health-conscious. We ate pasta six days a week for 15 years like that was just our family.
“I grew up around older people, right? So they were always telling stories about their heydays and I grew up wanting all of that and now sometimes when I take a step back, I'm like, ‘D, you're really living it’ because I do have all these stories at 34 whereas my dad was 60 when he had these stories. We're just big and loud and out there right in front of you. We don't hide anything.”
Iacobelli came to the game the way that many do, tagging along with her father on his regular golf course outings, and the game quickly became a hobby through which the family could bond, a good opportunity for D to hang out with her older-than-average parents. As her game got better and she began to realize her potential, golf became a habit, one that now at 34 years old, she still hasn’t kicked.
“My dad was a plumber, and he owned his own company, and he would come home early and get dressed and leave,” Iacobelli recalled. “He actually told me this story this winter, but he came back the second time and I was like, ‘Where are you going?’ and he's like, ‘I'm gonna go golf.’ And I said, ‘I'm going too. Me, too.’ So they bought me a plastic set of clubs. And (golf) was the only thing that we could do as a family because of the age difference.
“I just used to get the biggest kick out of it from what I can remember, and it seemed like the natural path to follow. I’m an addict when it comes to golf. I don't want to give it up. I don't want to do anything else.”
D kicks off her 13th season on the Epson Tour at this week’s Florida’s Natural Charity Classic and her addiction to the game has only grown stronger with each passing day. For most players, particularly those on the mini-tours, reaching their mid-thirties is usually a sign to begin considering retirement, especially when your counterparts start feeling like children rather than playing competitors. Even more so if you’ve only had three professional wins. But Iacobelli shows no signs of slowing down and has zero plans to do so, at least not until she realizes the potential that she knows lies within.
“I've never seen my best yet. I've seen glimpses of it and those were the weeks that I've won. But I haven't had my best season yet. As much as I hate the grind sometimes or constantly searching and trying to find something that works, I love that. I'm going to go to the driving range right now and try to find something because, in my eyes, it's not there yet. I guess I just want to keep proving to myself that I am good enough and that I do have better in me. And then just try to find the better.”
They say that with age comes wisdom and Iacobelli clearly has that in spades. She encourages her colleagues to enjoy what they get to do for a living and to recognize how much of a gift playing professional golf truly is. She also reminds them not to take themselves or the game too seriously.
Over the last couple of seasons, D has taken to hanging with fellow Epson Tour members Sarah White and Bailey Tardy, both of whom are a decade her junior and are in their second and third years on tour. White says that having Iacobelli as a friend has been crucial for her success as a young pro and that their friendship has been one of the best things for her as she learns the ropes of pro golf life on and off the golf course.
“It’s really fun to have a friendship where you can bounce ideas off each other and ask questions,” said White. “Not a lot of people get the brutal honesty we give each other and it’s super refreshing. We can lean on each other in bad rounds and be the loudest cheerleader in the good ones.
“It’s fun to learn from each other but her experience is something I can’t match. When I was a rookie and was missing cuts by one or two shots, she told me it’s normal in your first year to learn a lot and it’s all a part of the process. She helped me get used to the “tour life”. It’s hard when you’re on the road all by yourself but we have definitely learned that our friendship and golf are better together. We have a lot of fun and I’m glad I was her rookie shadow in a pro-am last year.”
Like every player out here, Iacobelli of course has performance goals for her 2022 season. While she won’t get into specifics on what those are until she wins, D wants to spend the year living in the moment, pausing to realize where she is, where she’s come from and where she’s set to go, taking the time to soak it all in and appreciate the incredible opportunity she continues to have week in and week out on tour.
“This year, I want to take things slower and take things in more. I've created a United States bucket list of things that I want to see on our way around. I've really enjoyed traveling. I love going to small towns, I love going to the town dive bar, meeting the people and talking to them. That stuff is so fun for me. I want to keep building relationships.
“The season goes by slowly but come October you're like it went by in the blink of an eye. So I want to make sure that I enjoy it and that I take my time with it. Just literally smell the roses.”