05 October 2018

The Latest Italian Hero

Italy is a country obsessed with football and motor racing. However, golf euphoria is slowly spreading through the country after Francesco Molinari’s victory at the Open.

Twenty-three years ago, two young Italian brothers watched their hero, Costantino Rocca, almost win a major at St. Andrews. It was that moment that motivated the pair, Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, to seriously pursue a career in golf. 

At the 147th Open Championship in July, Francesco Molinari clinched his first major, realizing the dreams of his young former self and the many hopeful Italian golfers before him. With a magnificent display of his skills at Carnoustie, Francesco established himself as Italy’s latest sporting hero.

Who introduced golf to Molinari?
Molinari and his brother, Edoardo, who is just 23 months older, learned the game from their grandparents and father, Paolo, a dentist.

It’s often said that Edoardo has played a key role in Francesco’s golf journey but what was the most influential moment?
When 12-year-old Francesco was on holiday in the mountains near Turin, Italy, he and his brother watched Italian golf star Costantino Rocca on TV as he came close to winning The Open at St Andrews. Rocca lost to John Dalu after a four-hole playoff.

“We hugged and cheered when he holed his long putt on the 18th to force a tie and then cried when he lost the playoff,” remembers Molinari.

What is the relationship between the Molinari brothers like today?
The two are brothers in arms. Their relationship is very close and both learned golf together. Francesco was by his brother’s side for most of his early career following a deal they made as children.

“Whoever plays in a major first, the other would caddie,” Francesco explained in an interview with Golf Digest.

The Molinaris played together in the 2010 Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor becoming the first pair of brothers to play on the same side in 47 years.

Costantino Rocca was not surprised to see Molinari win the 2018 Open Championship. When had he first witnessed Molinari’s talent as a player?

The two players met at an exhibition match where Rocca says he knew that the young man was going to reach the top. “I remember thinking Francesco was so good from tee to green, if only he wasn’t so mechanical with his short game. He would putt with his shoulders, and while you can putt like that, how many putts did he leave short? Now his stroke is so much freer, he has everything,” recalled Rocca. “One thing I’ve always liked about his game is his focus. I call it the Francesco attitude — and with that, he can certainly win more majors.”

The Open could be just the beginning for Francesco. How did he reach this peak? 

Just a year before his great golfing display at Carnoustie, Molinari missed the cut entirely at the Open at Royal Birkdale. Motivated by his love of the game and the desire to succeed, he continued to search for his “A game” and finally seemed to have found it at Quail Hollow Club where he finished tied second in the PGA Championship.

Then, after finishing T20 at the Masters, he missed the cut at the Players Championship in Florida a month later but survived at Quail Hollow Club to finish T25 in the second major of the season. He grabbed two trophies at the BMW PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National, his first PGA Tour title before going on to win his first Major. 

What does the Claret Jug mean to Molinari?

“To look at the names on that Claret Jug, obviously, what can you say?” remarked Molinari, as quoted by the Irish Examiner. “It’s the best golfers in history, and to be on there, it’s incredible. For someone like me coming from Italy, not really a major golfing country, it’s been an incredible journey.”

What does Molinari wish will come from his victory?

He really hopes that winning the Open Championship title will encourage other young Italian players to reach their highest dreams.  “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Everyone knows he is my hero, and this win is for him as well as for me. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the Claret Jug.”


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