Italian job well done

6/12/2011 10:37:04 AM
Edoardo and Francesco Molinari flank Matteo Manassero on an Italian charge  (Getty Images)
Edoardo and Francesco Molinari flank Matteo Manassero on an Italian charge (Getty Images)

A little bit of history will be made at 1.35pm (Eastern Time) in the United States on Thursday when the starter calls Francesco Molinari forward to hit his opening tee shot in the 2011 US Open Championship at Congressional Country Club.

Molinari will be followed, in rapid succession, by 18 year old Matteo Manassero and then his big brother Edoardo as the first all-Italian three-ball in Major Championship history launches a concerted bid to underline the rise and rise of golf in their native land.

Only five years ago, it would have seemed inconceivable that three Italian professionals would even compete in the same Major, far less occupy the game group. Not any longer.

Since Francesco broke the mould by capturing the Italian Open title in 2006, there has been a sense of a seismic change within Italian golf, and the last 12 months has simply confirmed that impression.

Two important European Tour victories for Edoardo in Scotland were followed by Manassero becoming the youngest champion in Tour history at the tender age of 17. Francesco duly followed up by becoming the first Italian to win a World Golf Championships event at the HSBC Champions tournament in China while Asia provided Manassero with a second title in April of this year when he won the Maybank Malaysian Open two days before his 18th birthday.

“It’s going to be very special” admitted Francesco on learning of the USGA’s decision to send out the Italian trio together in Washington DC. “It is certainly different to have three Italians all playing together in a Major and from a personal point of view, it’s something new to be paired with Edoardo in the opening two rounds. That has never happened before.

“I think it will be a lot of fun and it could be just what we all need to relax a little at the start of the US Open. It is always a tiring week from a mental point of view so to have three guys who know each other well is good. We can have a laugh and a joke and chat I nthe same language so maybe we can relax a b it more between shots.

“It will be a bit weird, though. It will probably feel like we are playing in the Italian Championship rather than the US Open Championship! But we will see on Thursday.”

Manassero also raised an eyebrow when hearing of the groupings. He said: “It’s very unusual and I was a little surprised but they obviously wanted something different and I think it is a good idea. It might help all of us to relax.”

Time will tell whether this particular Italian Job is a successful mission, but there are no denying that the prominence of the three golfers has worked wonders in terms of providing the game with extra exposure in Italy.

That fact is highlighted by the buzz of excitement created by this week’s BMW Italian Open presented by CartaSi at Royal Park I Roveri near Turin.

“The difference from five years ago is incredible” insisted Donato di Ponziana, President of the Organising Committee. “We used to be lucky to get about 3000 people at the Italian Open but this week we have had 28,000 people here. They are incredibly enthusiastic and excited about watching all the players, and especially Francesco and Matteo.”

Lorenzo Gagli and Andrea Pavan are two young Italians who have also made an impact this week and the Italian Federation believe there are some fine young prospects emerging through the amateur ranks.

The tournament has received four hours of live television coverage daily, interspersed with interviews and analysis while 300 accredited media have ensured extended coverage in the newspapers and websites.

Should an Italian win the US Open, this week would be merely the tip of the iceberg.