Best of Golf 2018: 'Moliwood' shines, brings Ryder Cup glory to Europe

Sep 28, 2018; Paris, FRA; Europe golfer Francesco Molinari celebrates with Europe golfer Tommy Fleetwood after winning their match during the Ryder Cup Friday afternoon matches at Le Golf National. Mandatory Credit: Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Best of Golf 2018: 'Moliwood' shines, brings Ryder Cup glory to Europe

Euro Tour

Best of Golf 2018: 'Moliwood' shines, brings Ryder Cup glory to Europe

white sign greeted European Tour players at the Sky Sports British Masters at Walton Heath. The 3-foot high, 15-foot-wide sign simply read: “Moliwood” in homage to a phenomenon born 300 miles away on the outskirts of Paris in the 42nd Ryder Cup.

Europe’s victory – thanks in large part to the pairing of Francesco Molinari and Tommy Fleetwood – over arguably the strongest U.S. team ever assembled takes some beating when reviewing the 2018 European Tour season. European captain Thomas Bjorn lifting the Ryder Cup pips Molinari’s historic British Open victory.

Few would have guessed two of the humblest players on the European Tour would unite to do what no European tandem had done: win four points in a Ryder Cup. Not even the legendary, practically unbeatable Seve Ballesteros-Jose Maria Olazabal partnership managed that.

Bjorn looks a tactical genius for the pairing, but the Dane didn’t need Albert Einstein’s brains to see this partnership. Molinari has been close friends with Fleetwood since the Englishman arrived on tour.

They once belonged to Rocky Hambric’s Hambric Stellar Golf Limited management stable and were managed by Fleetwood’s wife, Clare (nee Craig), when she worked for Hambric. Both players have  split from the group, but it’s common to see Tommy, Clare, Francesco and his wife, Valentina, dining together on tour.

Molinari’s eldest child is named Tommaso, Italian for Tommy, while Fleetwood and Clare christened their son Franklin when he was born last year. That all took place long before #Moliwood began trending on Twitter.

Talk about the seeds of a Ryder Cup bromance?

Bjorn’s only question was how many times he would pair them, as Molinari’s coach, Denis Pugh, reveals.

“They were put out together in practice on Tuesday, and there were all sorts of discussions on whether to play them just in foursomes, or just in four-balls
or to play them three times,” said Pugh, who has coached Molinari since he was an amateur. “Even with three days to go, it wasn’t glaringly obvious they were going to play all four sessions together.”

Bjorn did what any good captain would have done and went with the flow after they won so convincingly twice on the opening day. It didn’t come down to tactical genius. It was apparent it would have been crazy to split up the tandem.

“It was sort of a Butch Cassidy and the Sundance kid pairing,” Pugh said. “Tommy’s enthusiasm and Francesco’s sort of stubborn, hard-nosed approach gelled together well. Francesco’s proved this year he’s not going to back down from anybody in any situation, and that gave Tommy a lot of assurances to flourish.”

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the partnership is the way the two players conducted themselves at Le Golf National. They didn’t strut around, pump their chests and go bug-eyed like Ian Poulter. There wasn’t the same raw, almost atavistic emotion Jon Rahm showed when he defeated Tiger Woods in singles.

Fleetwood showed an exuberance you’d expect from a 27-year-old making his debut on a winning Ryder Cup team. Molinari enjoyed the celebrations but was more low-key. And if any European player had a right to imbibe and start singing “Ole, Ole, Ole,” it was Molinari.

The Italian’s Sunday singles victory over Phil Mickelson gave him another entry into the record books: He became the first European to win five points out of five. Legends Ballesteros, Olazabal, Nick Faldo, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Ian Woosnam, Colin Montgomerie and even “Mr. Ryder Cup” Poulter haven’t done that.

It was exactly what Molinari deserved after a season in which he made history by becoming Italy’s first major winner with victory in the British Open at Carnoustie. He also won the BMW PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National, his first PGA Tour title that made him the first Italian to win on the world’s top circuit.

“Francesco has done everything a little better this year,” Pugh said. “Three things have been really important: hitting it farther off the tee has
been massive, learning to play ugly golf when he has to, and putting more assuredly. Those factors and a lot of other little things have given him so much confidence and turned him into a truly world-class player.”

The good news for European golf is Molinari is only 35. He’s potentially got more majors and definitely more Ryder Cups in him. Fleetwood’s just 27. Don’t be surprised if Moliwood provides the basis for Europe’s Ryder Cup defense at Whistling Straits in two years.  Gwk


CARNOUSTIE, SCOTLAND - JULY 23: Francesco Molinari of Italy poses with the Claret Jug after his victory in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie Golf Club on July 23, 2018 in Carnoustie, Scotland. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

(Ross Kinnaird/R&A/R&A via Getty Images)

Top 5 European Tour Moments of 2018

5. Chris Paisley, Richard McEvoy and Paul Waring join Pepperell with breakthrough wins to increase English dominance of Euro Tour.

4. Sergio Garcia wins three points out of four to surpass Nick Faldo as all-time European Ryder Cup points winner and justify his wild-card pick.

3. Eddie Pepperell wins twice, the same Eddie P who said he’d “fallen out of love with golf” after a disastrous 2016 season.

2. Georgia Hall wins Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham to become first British woman to win a major since Catriona Matthew.

1. Francesco Molinari (above) becomes Italy’s first major winner with victory in the British Open at Carnoustie.

(Note: This story appears in the November 2018 issue of Golfweek.)

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