8 November 2017

Francesco Molinari – golfer

Second win in Italian Open gave him unique status

Francesco Molinari lining up the putt that won him the 2016 Italian Open golf championship at Monza
Francesco Molinari lining up the putt that won him
the 2016 Italian Open golf championship at Monza
Francesco Molinari, one of two golfing brothers who have advanced the cause of the sport in Italy more than anyone in the modern era, was born on this day in 1982 in Turin.

He and Edoardo, who is 21 months’ his senior, won the Mission Hills World Cup in China in 2009, the first time Italy had won the two-player team event.

And when he sank a 5ft (1.5m) putt to beat the Masters champion Danny Willett to win the Italian Open in Monza in September last year, Francesco became the first Italian to win his country’s open championship twice since it became part of the European tour in 1972.

He had won it for the first time in 2006 at the Castello di Tolcinasco course just outside Milan, which gave him his first European tour victory at the age of 23 and made him the first Italian to win the tournament since Massimo Mannelli in 1980.

The success made such an impact in Italy, and in Turin in particular, that Francesco was asked to be one of the official torch carriers on behalf of the host nation at the 2006 Winter Olympics, which were staged in Turin.

With four titles to his name on the European tour, Francesco has yet to win a major but went close in this year’s PGA Championship at the Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, finishing in a three-way tie for second place just two shots behind winner Justin Thomas. He might have won had he not made a bogey at the 16th hole in the final round.

Molinari at the 2013 French Open
Molinari at the 2013 French Open
In terms of European tour victories, he now stands just one behind Costantino Rocca, the most successful male golfer Italy has produced.

Rocca, who plays now on the seniors tour, contested 21 majors in the 1990s and remains the only player to beat Tiger Woods in a Ryder Cup singles match. He was beaten to the Open Championship at St Andrews in 1995 only in a play-off against the American, John Daly.

Golf is not a widely played sport in Italy, with fewer than 300 courses in the whole country, less than half of which have the full 18 holes. Yet the Molinari brothers grew up in a golfing family, following their parents and grandparents in taking up the clubs.

Francesco began playing at the Circolo Golf Torino, an exclusive club about 25km (15 miles) northwest of the centre of the city and host to the Italian Open three times, at the age of eight and as he matured he became a star on the amateur circuit.

After graduating in economics and business at the Luigi Einaudi Faculty of the University of Turin, he turned professional in 2004.

His best season so far as a professional, even considering his achievement at the PGA Championship this year, was the 2010 campaign, when he won his first world tour event, defeating Lee Westwood by one stroke to win the WGC-HSBC Championship in Shanghai, China. The win moved him into 14th place in the world rankings, his highest to date. He also recorded eleven top-10 finishes including two runner-up spots.

Francesco's brother Edoardo Molinari
Francesco's brother Edoardo Molinari
In October of the same year, he and Edoardo became the first brothers to appear on the winning side in a Ryder Cup match as Europe beat the United States 14½–13½ in a thrilling contest at the Celtic Manor Resort in Wales.

It is thought that Francesco and Edoardo are largely responsible for seeing the number of participating golfers in Italy rising at a rate of roughly five per cent per year since 2000, when there were fewer than 60,000 active golfers. The sport is still seen as rather elitist, yet the numbers are up to more than 100,000 now and Italy will host the Ryder Cup in 2022

Francesco is married to lawyer and photogapher Valentina Platini, with whom he has a son, Tommaso. Despite his roots in Turin, Francesco is a fan of the Milan football team Internazionale. Encouraged by his veteran English coach, Denis Pugh, he has declared an allegiance also to the English Premier League club, West Ham.

UPDATE: In July 2018, Molinari became the first Italian to win a major golf championship when he held off a cluster of star names to claim the Open Championship at Carnoustie in Scotland. He finished two shots ahead of four players who tied for second place with the all-time great Tiger Woods one shot further behind.

The Castello di Tolcinasco golf complex, near Milan
The Castello di Tolcinasco golf complex, near Milan
Travel tip:

As the name would suggest, Castello di Tolcinasco, a small community about 20km (12 miles) south of Milan on the edge of the Milan South Agricultural Park, is notable for its 16th century castle, which was built for the protection of farmland and food stores.  The golf course, one of few in Lombardy with 36 holes, including 27 of championship standard, was designed by the great American golfer, Arnold Palmer.

The Reggia di Venaria Reale palace, once a hunting lodge owned by the House of Savoy
The Reggia di Venaria Reale palace, once a hunting lodge
owned by the House of Savoy
Travel tip:

The Circolo Golf Torino club is located in a beautiful area of parkland known as La Mandria, which was once the Royal House of Savoy’s game reserve, and is only a short distance from the Baroque splendour of the Reggia di Venaria Reale palace, a former royal residence. The palace was commissioned by Duke Charles Emmanuel II and built in 1675 by the court architect Amedeo di Castellamonte, as a base for the duke while he was participating in hunting expeditions in the hills north of the city.

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