It’s been a funny old year for Italian sport. Firstly, they had to watch from afar as the world came together to enjoy a football tournament that they’ve won four times as a nation – but which they didn’t even qualify for this time around. Still on football (arguably Italy’s national sporting obsession), they pulled off one of the transfers of the year when Turin club Juventus signed Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid for €100,000,000. But then, just when things were looking up, cycling star Vincenzo Nibali crashed out of the Tour de France when his handlebars caught in a spectator’s handbag strap.
So, it’s been one of those years, of ups and downs and unexpected dramas. But for me, there was one shock result that stands out above all others – Francesco Molinari’s win at Carnoustie to claim the British Open Championship for the first time. Molinari claimed the title by two shots, ahead of Justin Rose and Xander Schauffele, and he did so in style.
It’s been quite a year for Molinari. Up to this year, he’d only won four tournaments since he became a professional, way back in 2004. Just four tournaments – but now, in the last seven months or so he has been on a real roll. So far this year, he’s picked up the Quicken Loans National title and the BMW PGA Championship – and he now has the British Open Championship’s Claret Jug to add to that collection. But what does Molinari’s Open win really tell us about the state of professional golf at the moment? Here are my thoughts.
It shows that anyone can win.
We’ve become used to the dominance of players like Dustin Johnson, the world number one, but Molinari’s win is a timely reminder that even unfancied players stand a chance in the big tournaments. Molinari’s win will now move him up to sixth in the PGA world rankings, but for me his win at Carnoustie is a lesson that it is often not about where a player sits on a league table, but rather his form that counts.
Molinari has, in many ways, been one of the most in form players on the professional circuit in recent months, and his win at the Open is testament to this. They say that ‘form is temporary and class is permanent’, but on a course as mentally and physically challenging as Carnoustie any player needs to be at the top of their game on the day – regardless of where they sit in the rankings.
It’s a huge boost for Italian golf.
Italy is obsessed with sport – just not, so far, with golf. But Francesco Molinari’s win is a real shot in the arm for the game in Italy – he’s the first Italian to win a major, and he’s a warm, engaging ambassador for the game there. Molinari himself is a true product of Italy’s golfing development system. He rose up through the ranks of Italy’s youth and amateur systems, and his success at the British Open is the result of a lot of the support and development he’s received over the years. His birdies on the 14th and the 18th on that final round showed his coolness under pressure, and as he raised the iconic Claret Jug above his head it’s to be hoped that young Italian players will be inspired to follow in his footsteps.
It proves that it’s not all about Tiger Woods.
For so much of this year’s British Open tournament, the spotlight was on Tiger Woods. He’d shown such an unexpected surge of form that it wasn’t unreasonable to think that we were about to witness the unthinkable – a return to winning ways for this troubled golfing legend. But, it wasn’t to be for Woods – a couple of missed putts and a few wayward drives and the chance slipped away, and the moment and the opportunity was there for Francesco Molinari to seize.
I for one was delighted to see Molinari step up and take his chance as Tiger Woods’ challenge faded – not because of any dislike for Woods, but rather because it shifted the narrative back to where I think it should be. Woods has dominated golf on and off the course for many years now, and it feels right that the battle at Carnoustie was won by a new name, from a country that has had limited success in the sport.
For me, that’s what sport is all about – and I think that Molinari’s win is good for golf, it’s good for him, and it’s great for a proud sporting nation.