Francesco Molinari still likes to gaze at the Claret Jug to boost his confidence, but there was never any chance of the Open champion walking into Europe’s team room in France with even a hint of a swagger, writes Martin Dempster.
That’s never been his style and nothing has changed since the Italian , pictured, become a major winner at Carnoustie in July.
Molinari is a man who prefers to do his talking on the golf course, as he did when overcoming no less than Tiger Woods in the final round in Angus to claim one of the game’s most coveted prizes. In one fell swoop, his stature in the game rocketed. As far as Molinari is concerned, though, it’s business as usual heading into this third Ryder Cup appearance.
“My life hasn’t really changed since I won the Open because I’m fortunate enough to have a wife and two kids that bring me down to earth pretty quickly,” said the 35-year-old, smiling. “But you can see how big it is and also how nicely it was received. For the few weeks afterwards the Claret Jug was with me all the time but now I’ve learned to leave it behind, at least sometimes. I’ve been asked a lot of times if I’ve drank out of it, and I’ve not done that yet but there’s going to be a time for that. This week was still a massive focus.
“I probably needed a few weeks after the Open to kind of settle down and get back to the new normality. Since then it’s been about really preparing for this week and trying to get here in the best form possible.”
Playing on the same team as his older brother, Edoardo, Molinari helped Colin Montgomerie’s side to victory at Celtic Manor in 2010. Two years later, he played his part in the “Miracle at Medinah”, earning a half against Tiger Woods in the singles shortly after Martin Kaymer had holed a putt to ensure Europe retained the trophy in the match ahead.
“You won’t believe me, but it’s nowhere near,” said Molinari as he insisted that playing in this event is greater than trying to close out his breakthrough major. “Carnoustie was nowhere near Medinah or in any Ryder Cup matches. That’s hard to believe, but it’s probably because you play for a team. You play for a continent in our case, and you know about the tradition and what players have done in the past. But it’s different coming into this after a season like I’ve had. I think I’ve improved a lot as a player since my last appearance in 2012, and I hope to show that on the course this week.
“But, on the other hand, it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done so far because it’s about those three days and the kind of golf you can produce.”
On the back of his stunning return to winning ways in the Tour Championship on Sunday, Woods will be hoping to not only inspire a first US victory on European soil but also only his second success in this event in eight appearances. If it comes down to him and Molinari again on the last day, the Open champion won’t be fazed. Not in the slightest.
“The biggest challenge (at Carnoustie) was when the draw came out on the Saturday night,” admitted Molinari of finding himself in the same group as Woods. “If I’m completely honest, I wasn’t hoping to be paired with Tiger – not because I don’t like to play with him but because of the hype with him being in contention in a major. I knew it was going to be noisy with a lot of people. So, the most challenging part was that moment when the draw came out. But I quickly managed to think ‘whatever, I don’t really care. I’m here to do a job, and they can’t really influence how I do my job’.
“So, for me, that’s going to be the same this week. Obviously the crowd is going to be on our side, but I think each one of us needs to really focus on the job in hand and focus on doing the things that make them successful. “I like playing with him.
It’s hard to say that you like playing with Tiger in the last match in a Ryder Cup like it was at Medinah because it’s pretty intense. There’s a lot of pressure. But the memories of the day were seeing the guys go out first and doing an amazing job to get us back into the Cup. Then the last few holes, it was really about keeping the ball in play and trying to keep the match alive for as long as possible.
“I don’t know if I’ll draw him again this week but, if so, I’ll do my best like I always do. He’s in great form and it was nice to see him winning last week because he really deserved it after the season he’s had. But this week it’s a different story, and, in 18 holes, anything can happen. So, if I do face him, I’ll do my best to get something out of it.”