Reigning Champion Golfer of the Year Francesco Molinari celebrates his birthday today and it’s fair to say that the 36th year of his life is one that is going to live long in the memory.
And not just his memory – but that of the entire golfing world, particularly back in his native Italy.
For this year Molinari re-wrote the record books with a purple patch of a summer that will take some beating.
A Year to Remember
The signs were there back in May when Molinari – who struggled with his game at the outset of 2018 – finally clicked into gear in holding off Rory McIlroy to claim the BMW PGA Championship title at Wentworth.
He backed that up with a maiden PGA Tour title win at the Tiger Woods-hosted Quickens Loan National and suddenly he was a man on the charge.
His record at Carnoustie – where he made his major bow back in 2007 – had never previously been good, indeed he had been skipping the Dunhill Links Championship since 2014 and admitted the course had ‘beaten him up’ before.
But on the Angus links on a spectacular Sunday that saw the greats of the game like Woods, McIlroy and Jordan Spieth all vying for the crown at various times, it was Molinari who emerged on top. Champion Golfer of the Year, back in the winner’s circle on both sides of the pond – surely his 2018 couldn’t get any better?
Well, there was the small matter of the Ryder Cup – Molinari’s third outing and yet more history for the Italian – going five for five to become the first-ever European to achieve that feat.
But where did it all come from? How did Italy’s first-ever major winner and now a Ryder Cup folk hero break through in his 36th year?
To first find out what makes a Champion Golfer you have to go back to his childhood and his sibling rivalry – and of course friendship – with his elder brother Edoardo.
Born 23 months apart, Francesco was for a long time the overlooked one of the two – caddying for his brother at the 2006 Masters as part of a brotherly bet after Edoardo the year before had become the first continental European to win the US Amateur title.
That’s not to say Francesco was ignored – he made his major debut at Carnoustie in 2007 and has shown remarkable consistency to be in the world’s top 100 ever since 2008.
European Tour wins in 2010 and 2012 helped Molinari secure his first two Ryder Cup appearances and begin to leapfrog his brother in the greater golfing consciousness.
But barring an Italian Open success in 2016 – Molinari had not won a title on either side of the Atlantic since 2012 and was in danger of fading from major contention.
But that all changed when, in addition his long-time swing coach Denis Pugh, Molinari brought in putting guru Phil Kenyon and Dave Alred.
Alred – probably most famous for his work with Jonny Wilkinson and England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup winners – has made a vital difference in working on Molinari’s concentration.
But it is the putting – so often Molinari’s mid-career nemesis – that has helped the Italian turn the corner from contender to Champion, with his rock-solid iron game having never really been in doubt.
After pushing for the US PGA title in 2017 – the table was set for Molinari’s breakthrough this year.
And life away from the course is also sweet for Francesco who married his wife Valentina back in 2007 and now has two children, Tommaso and Emma.
Throw in a best friend for life in Tommy Fleetwood, a brother in Edoardo on the comeback trail after two hand surgeries and a hero in Constantino Rocca and Molinari’s support network could not be stronger.
And his coach Pugh is confident that, following his Claret Jug breakthrough this year, Molinari will not be ending his career with only one major to his name.
But for now, the title of Champion Golfer of the Year must be a pretty sweet birthday present.