NEWPORT, Wales – Francesco is the quiet one. Edoardo tends to be a little more boisterous.
Francesco is a ball-striking machine. Edoardo prefers to scramble his way around the course with the wedge and the putter.
Together, the Molinari brothers perfectly mesh.
While there’s still plenty of intrigue surrounding the Ryder Cup, this much is certain: The Italian duo will surely be paired for the Europeans when play begins Friday at Celtic Manor.
“Maybe it’s weird to say, but it feels quite normal to be here together,” Francesco said Tuesday after a practice round – where, of course, he was joined by Edoardo. “I almost expected my brother to be here, and I guess it was the same for him.”
They have an impressive record as teammates, knocking off the favored Irish squad of Graeme McDowell and Rory McIlroy at last year’s World Cup.
But there’s plenty of sibling rivalry between the Molinaris.
“It’s been very good for us, because when you see your brother playing better, you want to improve and you want to catch him,” Edoardo said. “I think that’s one of the reasons we’re here this week, both of us.
They’ve certainly taken different paths to Wales, and we’re not just talking about where they live (Edoardo still resides in their hometown of Turin; Francesco has moved to London) or their conflicting Italian soccer loyalties (Edoardo cheers for the local favorites, Juventus; Francesco prefers Inter Milan).
At 27, Francesco is the younger one by nearly two years, yet he turned pro first, launching a career that has been steady and persistent. In 2006, he became the first home winner of the Italian Open in 26 years. By 2009, he had cracked the top 50 in the world rankings. This year, he claimed one of nine automatic spots on the Ryder Cup team.
Edoardo burst on the scene in 2005 by becoming the first player from the European continent to win the U.S. Amateur. That earned him a spot in the Masters, where he played with his little brother on the bag.
Then came a wrist injury. Edoardo’s world ranking plunged into the 700s and he was demoted to the European Tour’s second division in 2009. After a swing change, he won three times on the Challenge Tour (including the Kazakhstan Open). Before the year was done, he had captured a prestigious event in Japan and paired with his brother to give Italy its first world team championship.
Still, it looked as though Francesco would be the only Molinari to make the Ryder Cup team. European captain Colin Montgomerie had a wealth of players for his three wild-card picks, including Top 10-ranked Paul Casey and Justin Rose, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year.
Edoardo would not be denied, especially knowing his little brother already had made the team.
“Obviously, when you are behind and you want to catch up, you have to do something,” he said. “It’s something that you really want to be. You want to be better than your brother.”
At the final event before Monty filled out his squad, Molinari birdied the last three holes to win the Johnny Walker Championship by a single stroke. The captain gushed that he had “not seen a finish of that quality by anyone in such a pressure situation” in his 24 years on the European Tour. Edoardo, he added, was just “the type of player we need to regain this Ryder Cup.”
Casey and Rose were passed over. A second Molinari joined the team.
Together again, brothers in clubs.
“It’s not easy when you play with your brother, because in some ways you obviously want to beat him,” Francesco said. “It’s a bit of a conflict.”
The Molinaris are the first set of Ryder Cup brothers since Bernard and Geoff Hunt competed in 1963 for the British team, a precursor to the European squad.
The only other siblings to play together were the Whitcombes – Charles and Ernest were members of the British team in 1929 and ’31, and they were joined by a third brother, Reg, on the ’35 squad.
Up to now, though, Charles and Ernest are the only brothers to be paired together. They teamed up for a foursomes match in 1935 – and won.
Montgomerie is clearly looking for more than one point out of the brothers.
“It’s obvious that you might see the Molinaris playing together,” the captain said shortly after arriving in Wales. “I don’t think that would shock anybody, so I might as well tell you right now.”
Golf is an individual game at heart, so the Molinaris often appear to be doing their own thing even when they’re playing together. Yet there’s an unspoken bond, a sense of partnership that may be acknowledged with nothing more than a subtle nod or a quick glance.
“We are usually, both of us, quite calm and cool under pressure, so there’s not really much we do with each other or we say to each other,” Edoardo said. “But obviously, in case you get a little bit too tense or too nervous, you know that your brother is always there to try and help you. It’s always a great help to be playing alongside him.”