Francesco Molinari’s crowning as Champion Golfer of the Year at Carnoustie was the product of long hours honing a game that would hold up under the most immense pressure. However, the Italian Golf Federation deserves credit for creating an environment that helped Molinari make history by becoming his country’s first major winner.
Other national golf associations could learn from Italy, particularly those in the British Isles.
In April 2010, I sat down with Molinari at The Wisley Golf Club in Surrey, England to get to know the man who would go on to become Italy’s first major champion. I came away not only with a deep respect for the quiet Italian, but for a system that helps players such as Molinari flourish.
Molinari’s amateur career was no different from most Europeans. His talent was recognized at an early age, and he was pushed through the same sort of system most European countries use. Players receive financial help travelling to tournaments, get funding for coaching and equipment, everything needed to help them make the grade. Where the Italian system differs from the British and Irish systems is that support carries on into the professional game. Elite amateurs in the British Isles are basically cast out on their own once they jump into the money game. There also isn’t much association between elite amateurs and established professionals.
“The Italian Golf Federation paid every expense I had when I was an amateur,” Molinari said. “When I turned professional they helped me for the first two years. When they knew I was doing well they stopped the funding to help other players.”
Molinari benefitted from having former and current tour players to call on for advice. The Italian Federation organizes camps where tour pros and amateurs mix, with the professionals mentoring the youngsters. Indeed, when I sat down with Molinari he’d recently taken part in one such Italian Golf Federation camp where he’d mentored young amateurs.
“Golf in Italy is quite a small environment,” Molinari said. “If you play decently then you get to know the best professionals when you’re an amateur. You know everybody. It was a really good thing for us to spend time with tour players like Alberto Binaghi and Silvio Grappasonni, because they could tell us how to think on the golf course and how to handle ourselves.
“What the federation is doing with the amateurs and professionals gives us an advantage over other countries who don’t mix the two. The great thing about Italy is that it is one big happy family where we mix well and support each other.”
Binaghi spent 18 seasons on the European Tour before becoming Italian national coach. After mentoring Molinari, he helped Matteo Manassero become Italy’s first British Amateur Champion (2009) and guided the youngster to four European Tour victories. Binaghi is still a presence on the European Tour, switching his time between the pro and amateur game.
Molinari never dreamed large when he was growing up. Anyone who’s met this modest man won’t be surprised he began with small goals and simply built on them as he progressed. When I met him in 2010 he only had one European Tour win to his name, albeit it was his home Open, which he won in 2006. He went on that season to win the WGC–HSBC Champions in China.
“I thought probably being an average tour player I would have been satisfied with that,” he said. “As the years have come and gone you realize you can do more, and if you work harder every time then you can get better.”
He showed at Carnoustie just how much better he’s become. Thanks in part to a system that fully encourages young talent. Expect that talent pool to grow following Molinari’s major win, and rest assured the 37-year-old will give as much back to Italian golf as he received when he was growing up. Gwk