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PGA Championship: Confident Francesco Molinari a major player and now a driving force in majors

Francesco Molinari tees off during the third day

Francesco Molinari tees off during the third day of practice rounds ahead of the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

It’s been a year’s worth of whirlwind for Francesco Molinari.

From being just a good, dependable, cut-making European Tour golfer, Molinari suddenly became a Tiger-beating, Rory-beating, Ryder Cup-driving force, and a major player in the majors in 2018,

Last May he held off Rory McIlroy to win the BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s signature event.

In June he won the Quicken Loans National, Tiger Woods’ event, by shooting 62 in the final round.

In July, playing with Woods in the final round, he won the British Open, the first major victory for an Italian player.

In September he teamed with Tommy Fleetwood to win four matches then beat Phil Mickelson in singles to lead Europe to a crushing victory over the U.S. in the Ryder Cup, becoming the first European player to win all five of his matches.

In March he won the Arnold Palmer Invitational with a final round 64.

“I guess you need more time really to digest everything,” Molinari said on Wednesday with his typical modesty as he prepared for the PGA Championship at Bethpage Black. “Fortunately things keep coming my way, and obviously I like it. I love and enjoy every single minute. I've enjoyed last season, also, before winning the Open at Carnoustie. But yeah, it's always fun. It doesn't seem like 10 months have been passed already since two weeks ago we were there at Carnoustie.”

Molinari speaks of his building confidence from the BMW last year onward. Justin Rose, the Englishman who has seen Molinari’s improvement, sees so much more from the inside.

“He's always been a solid pro, and I think he just took the bull by the horns and said I want to be the best player I can be,” said Rose. “And I don't know what his goals are, but his work ethic and his commitment are unbelievable. I see it in the gym, I see it in the warm-up trailer, I see the intensity with which he practices, the level of detail in which him and his team go to to record everything, to plot, to chart, to track, I guess track his improvement. I think (what his team) do a brilliant job of is they make his training as uncomfortable as possible so that when he plays tournament golf, it makes it feel somewhat easier.”

John Ondrush,of the John Ondrush Golf & Fitness Academy in Syosset, has seen Molinari train close up this week. His facility is the official fitness training center of the PGA Championship.

“He’s a real nice guy who puts in a lot of work,” said Ondrush. “He does a lot of cardio and works real hard at it. I was impressed.”

Molinari, who said he was suffering from an illness the week of the Masters, led after three rounds at Augusta. But two water-logged double bogeys on the back nine of the final round opened the door for Tiger Woods to step in and claim his 15th major title. There was disappointment, but no apparent slacking of his confidence. He still feels he has room to grow.

“I hope this is not my peak,” said Molinari, who knows he will have plenty of support of the New York Italian community. “I think there's more room for improvement. But I think at the same time, in golf and in sports in general, you need to keep improving even just to stay where you are in the ranks. There's new players coming through all the time and more talent, so even just to maintain your level, you need to keep improving.”

Modestly said, as always.

The 2020 European Ryder Cup captain, Padraig Harrington, was a little more emphatic.

“If Frankie keeps getting himself in those positions, he'll win lots of majors,” said Harrington, who said that Molinari’s performance in the Ryder Cup validated his position in the game.  

“Frankie Molinari won the Open last year, but the Ryder Cup made him, and that just sums it up for Europe,” said Harrington. “Like it really did make him as a golfer.”

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