Molinari: ‘Open victory should get Italians cheering again’

It’s been a tough few months for the average Italian sports fan, watching on with envy as 32 other nations vied for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Not since 1958 had the four-time champions failed to qualify for football’s greatest showpiece, prompting the president of the country’s football association to compare the outcome to “an apocalypse.”

Francesco Molinari isn’t a household name like the stars of the Azzurri, but the Italian golfer might just have put a smile back onto the faces of those reading Monday’s back pages.

The 35-year-old from Turin held off several more established players on the links of Carnoustie this weekend, including a resurgent Tiger Woods, to win the 147th Open and make history.

Indeed the wait for something to smile about has been a whole lot longer for Italian golf fans, at least when it comes to the country producing a major champion.

Molinari is the first, thanks to his remarkably consistent closing run of 37 holes in a row without a bogey.

And the newest name on golf’s Claret Jug believes his eight-under-par victory “should” get his compatriots cheering again.

“I’m not sure if it will make up for Italy missing the World Cup, but it’s a first step forward,” Molinari told CNN Sport’s Alex Thomas. “Let’s put it like that.”

‘A different level’

The golfer had come close to major championship glory once before, finishing second to Justin Thomas at the 2017 PGA Championship.

Sunday’s finish will place him under a whole new spotlight.

“Yeah, obviously you kind of expect it,” said Molinari, having been paired with Woods on the final day.

“I was close to the lead and I knew I had a chance. You know there’s going to be a different level of attention if you pull it off.

“So yeah, I’m very proud of what I did today. It was a tough day but I handled myself very well and here we are!”

Much has been made of Molinari’s work with performance coach Dave Alred, a figure who was instrumental in Englishman Luke Donald’s rise to world No. 1 in 2011.

“He’s a personality and a figure that I was missing and the whole team was missing,” Molinari told CNN Sport earlier in the week, acknowledging he’d been “pushed a little bit more.”

But asked to single out the decisive factor that’s allowed him to make the step-up in the wake of Sunday’s triumph, Molinari gave a more philosophical response.

“I’ve done nothing differently, to be honest,” he said. “It’s just a matter of keeping working at it, little by little getting better and, you know, sometimes good things happen.”

A bad summer for Italian football has been a good one for this Italian golfer.