LONDON – Francesco Molinari and Georgia Hall have to curb expecta-tions next year if they’re to come close to matching successful 2018 campaigns. Not the expectations of golf fans, but their own.
The pair reached new levels in 2018 after breakthrough titles in the majors.
Molinari became the first Italian major winner with his British Open triumph at Carnoustie. He also had two other wins, the European Tour’s BMW PGA Championship and his first PGA Tour victory at the Quicken Loans National. He spearheaded Europe’s Ryder Cup victory by becoming the first European to win five points out of five. He capped off the greatest year of his life by becoming the first Italian winner of the Harry Vardon Trophy as leading player on the European money list, the Race to Dubai.
No wonder his achievements did the almost unthinkable by knocking soccer off the front pages of the sports sections of major Italian newspapers, even if only briefly.
“It’s great to see that people and the media in general are appreciating what I did this summer,” Molinari said. “Hopefully it will help golf become more popular in Italy.”
Hall’s Ricoh Women’s British Open victory didn’t just elevate her to a new level, it made her more recognizable around the world. She found out during a recent holiday in Barbados.
“I was just walking down the beach and someone said, ‘Good win at the Open.’ I don’t know how they recognized me.”
Both players enter 2019 with the weight of expectations on their shoulders. That brings challenges that have created problems for previous major winners. For example, Padraig Harrington found it hard to deal with his own expectations after winning three majors in 14 months.
“I don’t really think about what people expect from me,” Hall said. “There are a lot of tournaments we play every year, so you’re going to have a bad tournament. It’s going to happen. As long as I know what I’m doing and I’ve prepared for every tournament, that’s fine for me.
“The biggest problem is my own expectations, not anyone else’s. I’m going to try and go out really relaxed and not think about what position I’m going to finish in any tournament.”
Even more will be expected of Molinari, and he knows it.
“For me it’s going to be probably the biggest challenge next year,” Molinari said. “This year I went into the season a little bit under the radar. Even after the first two wins, a lot of people were not really expecting much more from me.
“The challenge for me is going to be, as Georgia said, to keep everyone else’s expectations outside of the team. I did very well this year, not only at the beginning but throughout the season focused on the process and focused on the day-by-day process of getting better.”
Molinari showed versatility by winning on different styles of courses. He excelled over traditional English inland venue Wentworth, triumphed on an American-style layout and then conquered Carnoustie, arguably the world’s toughest links. He’ll be expected to put up a stout defense when the British Open returns to Royal Portrush next year for the first time since Max Faulkner won the 1951 British Open.
Hall will defend her title over the Marquess Course at Woburn, where Ariya Jutanugarn won the 2016 Ricoh Women’s British Open. Considering the Marquess is an inland venue, Hall is already downplaying her chances since her game is more suited to links golf. She’s set her sights on an LPGA win.
“My second event back (the Cambia Portland Classic) after winning the Open, I finished second in America. For me to come second meant a lot to me, more than people thought. Next year I’d definitely like to get a win in America.”
Watching what both British Open champions do for an encore in 2019 is going to be very interesting. Gwk