Italian system aims to create top pros

Italian brothers Edoardo Molinari (left) Francesco Molinari celebrate after winning the World Cup of Golf at the Mission Hills Golf Club in Shenzhen, China on Nov. 29, 2009.

Don’t be surprised by the recent success of the Molinari brothers, Francesco and Edoardo.

Thank the Italian Golf Federation.

More countries could benefit from following the Italian model.

While the brothers possess an abundance of talent and have been driven by sibling rivalry, they’ve also blossomed under the largesse of the Italian Golf Federation.

The Italian system identifies players at an early age and nurtures them through the professional ranks. Amateur golfers in other countries aren’t so lucky. Good players in most countries have to fend for themselves once they reach the pro ranks.

That’s how Italy used to work.

“I had all the support I needed as an amateur,” said former Italian star Baldovino Dassu, who turned professional in 1971. “The minute I turned pro I was rejected. The (Italian Golf) Federation didn’t have any policy to help professionals.”

Nowadays, the Italian Federation doesn’t differentiate between professionals and amateurs.

“The good thing about Italian golf right now is that it is one big happy family,” Edoardo Molinari said. “The Federation is very good at helping young players. They want to get more Italians into the world rankings and onto the European Tour. So they make it as easy for us as possible.”

That includes financial help for young professionals when they first turn professional.

“The federation helped me for the first two years and then stopped when they knew I was doing well,” Francesco Molinari said. “It is a huge thing not having to worry about money and only having to focus on playing golf. Not every player from every nation has that sort of backing.”

Francesco’s point is borne out by the national golf unions of the British Isles. The English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh Golf Unions all fund elite amateurs, but the money runs out the day they turn professional.

Former European Tour pro Massimo Scarpa now works for the Italian Golf Federation as national team manager for the professionals. Alberto Binaghi, another ex-tour pro, is national coach for the amateurs. Their job is to get more Italians into topflight professional golf.

“I don’t really want to put a price on what we spend but our players have no expenses,” Scarpa said. “We pay for everything. If they play 20-25 tournaments, then the expenses of playing those tournaments are covered, whether it’s on the European Tour, the Challenge Tour, the Alps Tour or the Ladies (European) Tour.”

The Italian version is clearly working. The Molinari brothers are proof of that. They made history last year when they became the first Italian team to win the World Cup. They could make further history this year by becoming the first Italian brothers to play in the Ryder Cup.

Following in the Molinari footsteps is young Italian professional Matteo Manassero, the first Italian to win the British Amateur Championship. He is currently playing on the European Challenge Tour, and has been identified as a star of the future.

In the Molinari boys and Manassero, Italian golf looks to be in pretty good hands.

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