It’s still five years in the making, but Italy already has Ryder Cup fever. On Dec. 14, 2015, Italy was awarded the right to host the 2022 Ryder Cup. The biennial match between 12-man teams representing the United States and Europe is scheduled to take place in Rome at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club, marking the third time that the competition will be played outside of Britain.
In the meantime, the Italian Open continues to grow in stature and is the centerpiece of the “Road to Rome” promotional effort. The 74th edition of Italy’s national championship returns Thursday to the Golf Club Milano for the ninth time. Defending champion Francesco Molinari shares what makes it one of his favorite weeks of the year.
A Star-Studded Field
The elevated status of the Italian Open to become one of the eight Rolex Series events offering a purse of $7 million has attracted a star-studded 132-man field, including six major winners scheduled to compete: the reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, Danny Willett, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, José María Olazábal and Trevor Immelman. As of Oct. 8, 24 competitors are among the top 100 in the world ranking, including Jon Rahm of Spain at No. 5. There will also be 21 players who have represented Europe in the Ryder Cup, most notably Thomas Bjorn, who will lead the European side in Paris in 2018.
“A few years ago, it would have been unthinkable to predict the Italian Open would become such a big event on the European Tour,” Molinari said.
In addition to Molinari, his brother, Edoardo, Matteo Manassero, the Nordea Masters champ Renato Paratore and Nino Bertasio are scheduled to represent the home nation along with the amateurs Lorenzo Scalise and Stefano Mazzoli. In all about a dozen Italians are scheduled to compete in the tournament.
“We’ve always had two to four guys on Tour, but it would be nice to see that number go to 10 or 12,” Francesco Molinari said. “I think that could make a difference in how popular golf will be in Italy. People tend to watch you more on TV if they see players from their own country week in and week out.”
An Old-School Layout
For the third consecutive year, the Golf Club Milano is the host of the Italian Open. Founded in 1928 and home to 27 holes, the layout is to the north of Milan within Monza Park, 1,700 acres of woodlands modeled after the gardens of Versailles and the largest walled park in the world.
Milano is a classic, tree-lined parkland-style course winding through relatively flat terrain. It is short by modern standards, just shy of 6,600 meters with several doglegs, and it places a premium on accuracy. Wet conditions last year left the course defenseless and Molinari won at 22 under.
“Scoring was low because it was soft,” Molinari said. “If it plays firm, it’s going to be harder to hit the fairways and the greens are quite small.”
Come One, Come All
For the third year in a row, the public will be admitted free of charge. Molinari said last year’s crowds were the largest he had seen. Nearly 100,000 fans attended the past two years, a record for a golf tournament in Italy, despite inclement weather during the first two rounds in 2016 that prevented an even larger turnout. Instructors from the PGA of Europe also will offer free lessons to spectators. Last year, thanks to 50 dedicated instructors more than 1,500 lessons were conducted, including many to children taking their first swings.
It is a tournament that Molinari first attended when he was young. “I remember going to Modena and other parts of Italy when I was 10 or 11 and seeing Frank Nobilo play,” he said of the New Zealand golfer-turned-television golf commentator. “It’s a great thing to look at some of the best players in the world. They never played close to Turin until 1999 when Edoardo played as an amateur and I caddied for him. It’s a week that I always enjoy.”
Published at Sun, 08 Oct 2017 06:00:22 +0000