Francesco Molinari is the only Italian golfer to have won a major championship, following his 2018 Open Championship triumph at Carnoustie.
That day, he prevented Tiger Woods winning his 15th major tournament (though the American would gain revenge at Augusta nine months later) and the Turin-born player would pick up an individual title to complement his three wins with Team Europe in the Ryder Cup.
Molinari, 37 talks to RSNG about how he felt during his debut major win, his eventful collapse after leading the Masters event this season, and how changing clubs and equipment can help him climb back up to challenging for the biggest events in the sport.
RSNG Do people understand the real Francesco Molinari? FRANCESCO MOLINARI, GOLFER ‘That is a good question. I always count myself as a very fortunate person and there are actually some people who feel that I may be a little morose, arrogant or egotistical when they first meet me – which is something that couldn’t be any further from the truth.’
‘In actual fact, the reason that I am quite quiet and reserved when I first meet someone is more because I am quite a shy individual and I need to learn a lot about the people I am with before I can really open up and show them who I really am.’
‘It is a challenge for me to be comfortable in some situations – on a golf course though, I am fine!’
RSNG How popular is golf in Italy? FM ‘I think it’s progressing in the same way it is in many other countries, though we have never really had the major tournament winners like so many other countries in Europe.’
‘I accept the fact that sometimes it needs some champions to come through, then the whole nation is invigorated and encouraged to try something new.’
‘I think the success of the national rugby team is evidence of this in recent times. Although it has been tough to get to the level of England, Ireland and Wales, it is true to say the sport has attracted so many new followers, and hopefully my actions, my personality and my victories are, in the same way, encouraging people towards the sport of golf.’
RSNG So the win at Carnoustie was a big thing not just for you, but Italy as a whole? FM ‘I think I went into that tournament with a lot of confidence. Just five weeks earlier I had managed to play in the final pairing with Rory McIlroy on the Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship – which is arguably one of the biggest events on the calendar, outside of the majors – and beat him, winning the trophy.’
‘When we got to July and The Open, I knew that if I could play my way into contention over the four days and it came down to the same happening again, I could do myself justice and playing against the best in the world on level terms.’
‘It was a strange one there in Scotland, though, and if I analyse my week there, I could have actually played better, and I was far from perfect. It’s such a tough place to play golf and it tests every part of your game. I didn’t feel totally comfortable, but I was grinding out a good week and my confidence was building over the four days.’
In sport it needs champions to come through, then the whole nation is invigorated and encouraged to try something new
RSNG You played with Tiger Woods on the Sunday at Carnoustie. How did that feel? FM ‘I think that sort of took the pressure off me a little bit, because the focus was on him trying to win his first major championship since his comeback from time out of the game, and that allowed me to play my own game. It was a great experience playing with him there and obviously being able to win.’
‘But he was great once the final putt went in and he was the first to congratulate me saying something like: “Well done on winning your first major.” My feelings at that point were that it was almost as if I was dreaming – none of it felt real, at all. Especially when one of the greatest players of all-time is saying things like that to you!’
RSNG You changed clubs to Callaway at the beginning of last season. How did that transition work for you? FM ‘I began testing the Callaway stuff around November 2018 and pretty much loved used it from the point I picked it up. Over the course of the season, I was able to explore it a lot more and it proved to be a very smooth transition.’
‘The easy thing to have done and also to have said to myself, would have been to keep everything the same. But I really don’t think that you can stand still in golf and you always have to be improving all the time.’
RSNG Because of how important it is to get the right changing of equipment, do you have any apprehension when you first pick up a new set of clubs? FM ‘You do go in to switching to new equipment with an open mind and you question absolutely everything, because you need to be 100% sure that you’re making the right decision for your own game. But once I started testing the clubs and everything else around it, there were no problems – that was really nice to see.’
‘Once thing which is probably the toughest thing for a professional golfer to change is the ball, but I started testing that out with the driver and found that when striking it a number of times, there was an increase in ball speed. I then started using it on the chipping and the ball was falling softer than it was previously.’
Tiger said, “Well done on winning your first major” – it was almost as if I was dreaming – none of it felt real
RSNG How long does it take before you’re convinced new equipment can work? FM ‘Well look how long it took Rory McIlroy. That was a long time and it’s a complete shift in what you know as a golfer, but as long as you focus on the end goal, and as long as you don’t expect things to change overnight, then it can be worth it.’
‘Obviously everything came together for me a lot quicker than I thought it might, and I am grateful for that, but I won’t rest on my successes and I am always still looking for other ways to move forward and be at the very top of my game, just as every sportsman should.’
RSNG What do you use to make your mind up? Are you a touch and feel type player or do you rely on Trackman to help you come to that definitive decision? FM ‘For me personally, it’s a combination of both things and the first thing I picked up with the new Epic Flash driver and using a Chrome Soft X and checking on Trackman, to see what the numbers were showing as. I saw that jump in ball speed after the contact, so that was the first box ticked.’
‘The touch and feel part of the testing came when I got onto the chipping green and realised how soft the ball was releasing onto the green. When you’re using Trackman, you’re on the range, so the numbers and feel are the first things that you can use to help you make a judgment call.’
‘After that, you take them out onto the course and start playing different shaping of shots, play strokes into the wind, with the wind at your back and with a cross wind on either side.’
‘When you do this, the things that you are looking for and also hoping to see, are that the ball responds well to what you are asking it to do and looking to have the right amount of control. With this equipment, that was very much the case right from the start.’
RSNG How easy is it for you to be able to detect the change in the ball? For example, if you were to hit two golf balls and not be told what you were hitting beforehand, to know exactly which one you’re playing with once you’ve played your shot? FM ‘It would be fairly easy to tell when you are playing shots with the irons and using wedges around the greens, but maybe not so much when you are using a driver. That’s a difference, which you do notice almost immediately, and you can tell this by the type of ball flight.’
‘What I was noticing with the Chrome Soft X ball, this season – especially when playing with the wind – is that that ball is more stable than the one that I was using before. There was less deviation from either side, meaning that the flight was truer and staying straight when you wanted it to.’
WHAT NEXT? Francesco Molinari explains how to hit more greens.