Returning hero Molinari proud of road to Rome

Francesco Molinari and the Italian Open return to Olgiata Golf Club for the first time 17 years this week and it is safe to say a lot has changed for both player and event since 2002.

Francesco Molinari

Italy's national open is now part of the prestigious Rolex Series, bringing a prize fund of US$7million and a world class field to the outskirts of the capital.

When Ian Poulter lifted the trophy in 2002, Molinari was still an amateur, making his first European Tour cut five days short of his 20th birthday.

He would turn professional two years later, graduating from the Qualifying School that season, and in 2006 he would win his home open for a first European Tour victory.

A Ryder Cup debut and World Golf Championships victory would come in 2010 and he would win his second Italian Open in 2016, but even those successes could not prepare him for the glorious summer of 2018.

A first Rolex Series victory at the BMW PGA Championship and a Major triumph at The Open helped him win the Race to Dubai, while he also became the first European to take five points from five as the Ryder Cup was regained in Paris.

Francesco and Edoardo Molinari

A change in the schedule means Molinari is playing on home soil for the first time since his Claret Jug and Ryder Cup heroics, and he acknowledges a lot has changed since that first made cut.

"I think it sums up the journey that I've had in golf, how lucky I've been and how hard I've worked as well," he said.

"I was here on this course 17 years ago as an amateur making the cut and I think finishing 25th or something like that and starting to think, maybe I could make a living doing this.

"Fast forward 17 years and obviously things have gone far better than expected at the time.

"I think the first win on Tour, at least for me, I never knew it was coming. I think no one really expected me to win at the beginning of the week and you can almost feel the expectations growing through the week.

I think it sums up the journey that I've had in golf, how lucky I've been and how hard I've worked as well

"Just an amazing relief I think to the 18th green and seeing all the people there celebrating, lots of friends and family. I couldn't have asked for a better first win on Tour."

Molinari finished second at this event last season and has five other top tens to go alongside his two victories on Italian soil.

He will have large, vociferous crowds following him all the way round this week but even they may be made to look meek compared to when The Ryder Cup comes to town in 2022.

"It's going to be absolutely mental, The Ryder Cup here," he said. "Obviously the passion of the crowds in Italy is always special but I think in Rome it is even more and The Ryder Cup itself is something unique.

"I can't wait. Hopefully I'll be on the playing team. It would be probably the summit of my career, whatever I've done and whatever I do from now on, I think to play a Ryder Cup in your home country, you can't really beat that."

Read next