At the Italian Open, Francesco Molinari Hopes to Make It Two in a Row
Francesco Molinari remembers a sense of calm washing over him as he lined up a 5-foot putt to win the 2016 Italian Open.
“It was a strange feeling,” he said. “It never really went through my mind that I could miss that putt.”
Molinari stepped up and stroked the ball into the hole for a closing round of 65, 22 under for the tournament, to beat the Masters champion Danny Willett by one shot. He lifted his arms in celebration and became the first Italian to win his national Open twice since the event became part of the European Tour in 1972.
Victory in front of an adoring crowd was the perfect boost for a golfing nation that is already prepping to host the 2022 Ryder Cup in Rome. Molinari, 34, and his older brother, Edoardo, have been Italy’s unofficial golf ambassadors for more than a decade in a country where golf is still viewed as an elitist diversion.
“It’s pretty hard to change the culture of a nation,” Francesco said, “but golf’s getting more popular.”
There are more than 90,000 registered golfers in Italy according to the Italian Golf Federation. The Molinari brothers were exposed to the game at a young age, trailing after their grandparents and parents — their father is a dentist, and their mother is a homemaker — on weekend trips to the course in the Alp-fringed city of Turin, host of the 2006 Winter Olympics. (Francesco even carried the Olympic torch for a stretch.)
The brothers, born 21 months apart, have been feeding off each other’s games ever since they dominated their local club championships at the Circolo Golf Torino as teenagers.
Edoardo won the 2005 U.S. Amateur Championship, the first European to do so since 1911. Francesco picked up his maiden professional victory when he won the Italian Open in 2006, becoming the first native-born champion since 1980.
In 2009, the Molinaris teamed up to win the World Cup for Italy — a competition for two-man national teams staged in China — and were partners on Europe’s winning Ryder Cup team a year later. In doing so, they became the first brothers in 47 years to play on the same Ryder Cup team. Since then, their fortunes have diverged.
Francesco was the only Molinari on Europe’s victorious Ryder Cup team in 2012, and he has climbed to No. 18 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and No. 7 in the European Tour Race to Dubai heading into the fifth Rolex Series event at the Golf Club Milano starting on Thursday.