INVERNESS, Scotland – As the Bruce Springsteen lyric goes, “From small things, mama, big things one day come.” Francesco Molinari can attest to that.
A small change in his putting stroke has paid big dividends for the Italian, enabling him to shoot 17-under- par over his last two rounds.
The Italian finished last week’s French Open with a 7-under par 64 to jump from 22nd to solo second. He maintained that form in the opening round of the £2.5 million Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
Molinari blitzed the supposedly toughened-up Castle Stuart layout with 10 birdies and no bogeys for a course-record 62, breaking the previous course record by two shots. It gave him the early first-round lead by three shots over Denmark’s Soren Kjeldsen.
“I was feeling comfortable on the golf course, hitting the ball well, and rolling the ball very well with the putter,” Molinari said.
“I got a lot of confidence on Sunday (in Paris), and the greens here are beautiful. So if you roll the ball well, you’re going to hole a lot of putts.”
That might be the understatement of the week. Molinari holed just about everything he looked at. Indeed, he started on the back nine and opened with a 6-under 30, bringing thoughts of a sub-60 score into play.
“I missed a couple of chances on the first few holes on the front nine. It (59) was mathematically possible. It would have been fantastic but hopefully I get another chance in the future sometime.”
He might not break 60, but as long as he keeps rolling the ball like he’s been doing he will be in contention this week, and maybe in next week’s Open Championship. He has short game coach Mark Roe to thank for that.
Molinari has been working with three-time European Tour player Roe on his short game for the better part of two years. Roe recently noticed a slight flaw in Molinari’s putting stroke that had been holding him back.
“He was increasing his grip pressure ever so slightly just before he hit his putts,” Roe explained. “I had him rolling the ball beautifully, but I didn’t notice this little idiosyncrasy until we started working on 30-40 foot putts. I was standing face to face with him when we were working and noticed he increased his grip pressure slightly just before he took the putter away from the ball. It was if he was getting ready to play a full shot, but it changed the putter blade dramatically.”
Roe used a kitchen knife to show Molinari the result. “I held the blade of the knife against the toe of the putter and told him to go through his procedure. When he increased his grip pressure, the toe of the putter closed slightly, pushing against the knife blade. So he might have started by aiming the putter on line, but by the time he took the blade back it was closed, aiming left of the hole.”
There’s never been a question about Molinari’s golf swing. His is one of the best in the game. However, there have been doubts raised about his short game, especially his putting.
In this area, he’s different from elder brother Eduardo. Francesco has the much better golf swing, while Eduardo is superior on the greens. That could be about to change.
“I’ve told Francesco that if he just becomes a good putter, not even a great putter, there are going to be some tournaments where he’s just going to cruise away from the rest of field,” Roe said.
This could be the week when he does just that and wins his third European Tour title, and maybe his first major in next week’s Open Championship at Royal Lytham.
And all because small things matter an awful lot in this great big game.