Francesco Molinari Wins the Arnold Palmer Invitational, “Arnie-Style”
Up until two or three years ago, Francesco Molinari was only making a living playing golf. He did well, managing a fair number of top tens, but some switch has been flipped, and he is much more of a presence than one intent on gathering top tens. This week, he took home the trophy from the Arnold Palmer Invitational by mounting a textbook Arnold Palmer charge. Several back at the end of the third round, I figured he was pretty much out of contention for Sunday, but Molinari stormed through the final round with a 64, and added the Arnie touch by holing out a 45 footer on the 18th. There was a time when he was not even that well-known in Italy, but that was then and this is now.
Molinari is from Milano in the north. It is known as a worldwide capitol city for opera, perhaps car racing, and a passion for European football, but of course, the football enthusiasm covers the entire country. I’ve lived in Italy, and have seen the great Italian athletes in all kinds of sports. They have a type of charisma found nowhere else, wearing their competitive passions on the sleeve. There’s not much one can do with his sleeve while swinging a golf club, but Molinari has that same quality. It’s not cockiness, it’s “Italian confidence.”
Through the years, we have seen outward confidence, which is usually the case of an individual convincing himself that he is good enough to take the day. It’s not very reliable, and the mission often crumbles, creating hard luck stories. Molinari’s is a quiet confidence. He claims that in the early years, he didn’t have it, but after a revamped swing and some national success, he embraced Molinari, the better and more talented golfer. A nice living was no longer the plan. Another place where ‘confidence’ is on parade is the leaderboard. There is a type that races out to early leads, but can’t handle the pressures of Sunday. That is not Molinari. I checked the scores of his past victories, many of which have come in the last three years, and was not surprised at the results. In the Italian Open, he ended with a 65, and in the HSBC, a 67. He won the Reale Seguros Open de Espana with a final round 65, and the BMW with a mere 68. In recent victories, he took the Quicken Loans Championship with a Sunday 62, and the Open at Carnoustie with a 69. That is probably the equivalent of a 64 or 65 on many other courses. Scoring aside, Molinari is 5-0 at the Ryder Cup. Add to that his bogey-free 64 this week, and it all adds up. We appear to have a “charger” on tour, just like the old days. He has developed an “Arnie” or “Seve” brand of confidence. It comes from deep in the interior, and the only part of it we see is the sheen of external charisma.
Many years have passed since we followed Arnie’s Army up the 18th fairway, time after time, and thrilled to the big charge, often culminating in the big putt. We loved “Arnie” confidence. He was a swashbuckler with the goods to back it up. Molinari is 36 year of age, and has the same propensity, Italian style. That means that although not being a kid, he still has time to reach new heights, and to spend a great deal of time being dangerous. His later career is certainly outshining his early one, and to have one of the most thrilling wins take place in Arnie’s tournament makes it all the better.