Wednesday, 01 September 2010
Edoardo Molinari   (Getty Images)
Edoardo Molinari (Getty Images)

It might seem like a Hollywood script but Edoardo Molinari’s meteoric rise over the past 12 months from European Challenge Tour contender to Ryder Cup player has been avid viewing for those hoping to follow in the Italian’s footsteps.

Molinari’s victory in the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles, which convinced Colin Montgomerie to hand him a Ryder Cup debut alongside his younger brother Francesco at The Celtic Manor Resort next month, represents a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the 29 year old and is testament to the opportunities within reach of the talented young professionals on the Challenge Tour.

After a disappointing campaign on The European Tour in 2008, the elder of the Molinari siblings spent last season looking to restore his game, confidence and winning mentality on the Challenge Tour.

It proved to be the making of the 29 year old, who had previously shown his potential in 2005 by becoming the first European to win the US Amateur Championship since 1911.

Molinari won three times – at the Piemonte Open, Kazakhstan Open and the Italian Federation Cup – en route to setting a new Challenge Tour earnings record with €242,979 as he soared from 753 on the Official World Golf Ranking to inside the Top 50.

Reinvigorated and with his career firmly back on track, he joined his brother in winning the Omega Mission Hills World Cup in November and then captured the Dunlop Phoenix tournament in Japan, while his future Ryder Cup rivals were already amassing vital points in the qualification race.

He carried forward that form into 2010 and despite setting out with modest intentions of simply keeping his European Tour card, Molinari went on to enjoy an annus mirabilis, characterised by consistency and culminating in two victories in Scotland to move to career high World Number 15 and seize a Ryder Cup place that had looked unlikely, if not impossible, a calendar year previously.

“I knew this season that I could play well but I didn't imagine I could play this well and get on The Ryder Cup Team,” he said.

“Obviously it's been a great 12 months moving up from the Challenge Tour and hopefully I will keep improving. By this time in the season I would have been happy to just have enough money to keep my card.”

Montgomerie’s wildcard selection of Molinari alongside automatic qualifiers Ross Fisher, Peter Hanson and Martin Kaymer will take the number of former Challenge Tour graduates to have played in The Ryder Cup to 20 when the quartet tee it up at The Celtic Manor Resort.

Molinari’s victory at Gleneagles also took the number of European Tour wins by former Challenge Tour players to a staggering 255 but it is his herculean effort in rising from European golf’s second tier – or breeding ground - to Ryder Cup player that has captured the imagination of those hoping to follow in his wake.

Rory McIlroy remarked after his friend Graeme McDowell lifted the US Open Championship that seeing your peer achieve something like that makes it a little closer to you and makes you believe you can also reach that goal.

The same applies to the current class of Challenge Tour players hoping to emulate Molinari’s considerable accomplishments.

Comparisons can be drawn between Molinari’s situation at the start of 2009 and Englishman Robert Dinwiddie’s this year.  After some success on The European Tour in 2008, including a course record 63 in the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth Club, Dinwiddie lost his card at the end of last season and the 27 year old is back on the Challenge Tour looking to rebuild.

Currently second in the Rankings after winning the Kenya Open earlier in the season, Dinwiddie views Molinari’s formula as a blueprint for his own future success.

“It was fantastic what Edoardo achieved,” said Dinwiddie. “He got his card, lost it and then came back on to the Challenge Tour and blitzed it and has carried on that form this year.

“For someone who was playing Challenge Tour last year, and maybe even struggling with his game at the start, to suddenly progress leaps and bounds is amazing.

“It is another example of the Challenge Tour as a breeding ground for players to go on and do better things. That’s why the Challenge Tour is here, to support and help us get on the main Tour.  There are a lot of guys out here on the Challenge Tour with aspirations of getting on to The Ryder Cup and this just proves it can be done.

“I’m in a similar-ish scenario to what Edoardo was and I’d love to go on and do what he has after this season if I can carry on and secure my card. Seeing what Edoardo has done is definitely a confidence booster for us all. And with Martin Kaymer and the other Challenge Tour graduates on the Team this year, it proves what a good job the Challenge Tour is doing.”

Another interested observer in Molinari’s trajectory is fellow Italian Matteo Manassero , the teenager who shot to prominence when he finished as the leading amateur in  The 2009 Open Championship as a 16 year old.

Manassero has been playing on the Challenge Tour this year – as well as The European Tour – in a bid to win his card as he takes his first steps towards what many observers believe will be a stellar career of his own, hopefully following the Molinaris, and Costantino Rocca before them, into the Ryder Cup annals.

He said: “What Edoardo has done in one year is truly remarkable. He broke all the Challenge Tour records last season and still he wasn’t satisfied.

“He is a big inspiration to all of us trying to get to the top and what impressed me most is the manner in which he has achieved everything.

“When I was an amateur I thought I was doing well but now, on the Challenge Tour, I realise I am just one of a thousand and there is a long, long way to go. But Edoardo’s wins and Ryder Cup pick show how it is possible to get there quickly.

“I’ve been really impressed with the standard on the Challenge Tour in my starts since turning professional. It is definitely the best place to train and learn what it takes to get to the next level.”

What Molinari has achieved over the past year will always be considered a magnificent achievement, but perhaps it is the inspiration and hope it has given other players who find themselves in the position he was on the Challenge Tour 12 months ago that will prove his most remarkable feat.


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