Paolo and Micaela Molinari have raised not one but two Ryder Cup players, as well as multiple Tour winners and, now, an Open Champion.
We were welcomed into the home of Francesco and Edoardo to find out about their upbringing and discover that though they are brothers, the two Italians couldn’t be more different as characters.
We are looking at some old scrap books, which the boys’ mother, Micaela, has painstakingly filed in chronological order, recording their early successes on the golf course.
“It’s strange,” she says, getting another scrapbook down from the shelf, “because although we bought them their first set of clubs (one set for the two of them to share!) when they were only 7 and 8 years old, we never really thought they would be golf pros, at least not until a few years ago.
“I remember we bought that set when we were in Florida for a summer holiday. The bag got lost during a flight from Miami to New York, and Edoardo was inconsolable (while Francesco was not nearly so worried). But luckily we got it back the following day, and when we returned to Italy one brother would use the odd numbered clubs and the other one the evens.”
Molinari family home
We are sitting in the beautiful Molinari family home, in the foothills of the Alps, overlooking Turin. Their living room is bright and spacious, and on a shelf are at least 20 silver trophies, many with the green-white-and-red shield of the Italian Golf Federation, bearing witness to the brothers’ many amateur titles.
On one wall is a huge framed photograph of Edoardo and Francesco lifting the massive World Cup trophy (2009). On a table, just to the left, sits a replica of the World Cup trophy, flanked on one side by the US Amateur Championship (which Edoardo won in 2005) and on the other by the Italian Open (Francesco in 2006).
Both parents speak ‘pidgin’ English, but prefer to converse in Italian (which is what we do). When they speak about their two sons, they refer to them as “i ragazzi” [the boys] and their obvious pride shines through in their smiles. “You know, in their amateur years,” says Paolo, “the boys were good players but they didn’t really stand out from the pack, in the sense that they weren’t the players to beat in national championships.”
Turin, in the northwest of Italy, is not exactly a breeding ground for golfers; not least because snow covers the grass for three or four months of the year. It is a city with Royal heritage, however, and was the first capital of Italy after the unification of the country in 1861.
This is reflected in their home club, Circolo Golf Torino, which is situated on what was the hunting ground of the Savoia royal family. Italy as a whole has no more than 100,000 active players and up until now has really only produced one golfing hero, the irrepressible Costantino Rocca.
Falling into golf
“I get a real kick out of keeping a record of the boys’ successes”, says Micaela, an architect who designed the house in which they live. Paolo is a dentist. He started to play golf in 1977, shortly before marrying Micaela.
“Our parents all played and were members of Circolo Golf Torino,” he says, “so we knew each other even when we were kids”.
Their first date was at the golf club, and it seems to have worked, because they have now been happily married for 33 years. “I had never been interested in golf before getting engaged,” continues Paolo, whose handicap was 9.5, “whereas Micaela started playing at 15. She’s always been a better golfer than me!” “In one round,” says Micaela, who plays off seven, but used to be as low as five, “he lost all of his balls, and then proceeded to lose all of mine!”
Despite their undoubted success, and the fact that both their parents played a bit, you get the feeling the Molinari brothers fell into golf; and were certainly not groomed for the sport unlike, say, the Williams sisters were for tennis.
“Edoardo wanted to be an engineer like my father,” says Micaela. “Ever since he was in middle school, that’s what he would tell us. He’s always been meticulous and very calm. He was an incredibly easy baby.
“He would sleep the whole night and when he was told to do something, he did it without questioning.”
That is so different from his brother who, in Paolo’s words, has “a gypsy soul”. “I’m not sure where he got it from,” he says. “Physically, he looks like me; but that’s where the similarities end!”
“Sometimes he was a real pest and a protester”, Micaela adds. “I remember once scolding him – he was very small – and he went about with his hands on his head saying ‘Stop it, you’re hurting my ears!’
“After yet another telling-off, he took his nursery school satchel and went out the door and up the garden path, as if he really wanted to go and live on his own. Of course, this fantasy didn’t last long.”
Edoardo (who is 21 months older than his brother) and Francesco are like chalk and cheese, or pizza and pasta. One is tall, lanky and a free spirit with a degree in engineering; the other is shorter, stockier and more serious, with a degree in economics. And yet, right through their childhood, they were incredibly close.
“I don’t remember them fighting, which is pretty unusual for two brothers, isn’t it?”, says Micaela. “I think this was because Edoardo was so quiet, and didn’t mind his little brother bossing him around. In the evening, I would go upstairs to their room and tell them to tidy up. Francesco would sit down and watch Edoardo do the whole thing.”
There was hardly ever a fight between the young Molinaris, unless the talk turned to foot-ball. Edoardo, like his dad, is a Juventus fan; while Francesco supports Inter Milan.
“I never understood how he became passionate about ‘that’ team”, says Paolo, with an air of disappointment. “Now they cannot follow their teams as closely as before, but when they were here at home, watching Juventus play Inter, there was plenty of banter.”
Molinaris’ first win together
For Edoardo, golf was love at first sight. He could hardly walk, but would try to hold a club, while for Francesco the passion probably came as a way of emulating his older brother. “They weren’t allowed to play at Circolo Golf Torino until they were eight years old,” says Micaela. “That was the club rule. So we would go to Sestriere, in the Alps, about a 100 kilometres from home.”
During the winter both boys would ski – they were quite good, competing in races until they were 12 and 13 – and during the summer the family would play together on the 18-hole Alpine course, which was 2,000 metres above sea level.
“Francesco would get annoyed very easily,” says Micaela, “and bang his clubs on the ground when he hit a bad shot – something that Edoardo never did – so Sergio [Bertaina] who stills teaches there during the summer, and Paolo would punish him by not let-ting him play the following day.”
I want to know which of the achievements of ‘i ragazzi’ (Ryder Cup, World Cup etc) makes their mamma and papa the most proud? “That’s hard,” says Paolo, “because of course all of their wins were very emotional for us. I was with Edoardo when he won the US Amateur at Merion in Pennsylvania, and that was huge.
That was really the first big win, and the crowd was much bigger than at any of the other tournaments we were used to; so that has a special place in my heart. And the Ryder Cup at Celtic Manor was an incredible experience for all of us. But the World Cup was a win for both of them, together. For the first time, they were moved to tears when they called us. It might have been a less important tournament in some ways, but it was special for them too, because they achieved it together.”
With that, Paolo gets up and puts a tape on television of that famous week.
“We were here, at home,” says Micaela. “The boys had asked us to join them, but we had been to Mission Hills before and we didn’t feel like going back. So we ended up watching on television. But we had to watch it on different floors of the house. Paolo started shouting things like ‘Noooo. Not in the bunker!’, and it was making me go crazy! So, I went to watch it upstairs.”
The tape reaches the point where victory is finally secured, at which point Edoardo jumps around on the green, in a demented fashion, trying to hug his younger brother, who has a look of mild embarrassment on his face. Both parents smile proudly.
Because Edoardo and Francesco are so different as characters, and because golf is such an individual sport, it would be easy to conclude that both brothers have little time nowadays to worry about what the other is up to.
And, though they live in different countries, have different management companies and are certainly keen to establish their own identities on Tour, their Latin temperaments mean that blood will always be thicker than water.
Nothing illustrates this better than an incident in 2005 at St Andrews, when Edoardo (still an amateur) qualified for his first Open Championship.
He was on the 1st tee, and Francesco with his mother, their teacher Sergio Bertaina, and Edoardo’s girlfriend Anna were in the enormous gallery behind the ropes. When Edoardo’s name was called out by the Starter, and applause broke out from the crowd, Francesco burst into tears.
Micaela looked at him, puzzled, while Sergio hid him in his arms. “You don’t want your brother to see you crying now, do you?” asked Bertaina. “Nobody knows what playing this tournament means to my brother!” was Francesco’s sobbed reply.
SERGIO BERTAINA THE FIRST TEACHER
“I remember these little children toddling about with their parents and their tiny clubs, and then, years later, them attending the group classes a couple of times a week.
“The first time I saw that they really had the game to be professionals was when Francesco won the Italian Amateur Championship in 2002 by a 12-stroke margin. At that stage he played better than Edoardo, but his elder brother was smarter on the greens and better at getting out of trouble.
“One funny memory: I was with the Italian team at the British Amateur Championship, in 2001. Francesco was already stocky and during a practice round was challenging his brother to a bout of shoulder charging. Edoardo, who was taller, slipped and his shoulder hit Francesco in the nose. He bled for the next five holes!”