Ciao Down

Before saying hello and goodbye to Augusta, U.S. Amateur champion Edoardo Molinari feasted on his first Masters experience
April 16, 2006

Before we get toEdoardo Molinari's performance in the Masters, here's his family's recipe fornorthern Italian--style pasta: Soften 500 grams of butter to room temperature.Boil 21/2 kilos of spaghetti or fettuccini until it is al dente. Drain in acolander. Toss the hot pasta with the butter in a bowl or baking dish. Sprinklewith fresh parmesan and take directly to the table. Serves 12 to 14, includinga mama, a papa, a U.S. Amateur champion, a girlfriend, a brother who plays theEuropean tour, an uncle, various coaches and Italian team captains, and astylish young man who looks as if he could direct the sequel to Satyricon. ¶It's a simple recipe--nothing like the fussy pastas of southern Italy, where atomato sauce can simmer for hours--but it was the perfect dish to serve Edoardolast Wednesday on the eve of his Masters debut. "He says he is quite cooland not nervous," said his father, Paolo, relaxing before dinner in thecourtyard of a rented house. "But I think on the 1st tee tomorrow, standingnext to Tiger, his hands will be shaking." ¶ Thus, comfort food. And whilethe Turin native clearly didn't need pasta to perform--cheeseburgers were hisfuel in Pennsylvania last August when he became the first European to win theU.S. Amateur since England's Harold Hilton in 1911--the home-cooked meal made astatement.

"I feel thatI am representing my country," said Edoardo, a slender 25-year-old with aneasy command of English, a habit of not shaving during competition and anunusually calm disposition. "It's not every day that an Italian plays inthe Masters." Before Molinari, in fact, there had been only three:Costantino Rocca, the amiable bear from Bergamo who was paired with Woods inthe final round of the 1997 Masters; Alfonso Angelini, a great ball striker whowalked with a limp after losing several toes in World War II; and RobertoBernardini, a Roman who played in the '69 and '70 Masters but quit the U.S.tour because, according to legend, he couldn't find a good plate ofspaghetti.

The next Italianto play in the Masters could well be the fellow who spent much of last weekcarrying Edoardo's clubs: his younger brother Francesco. Edoardo's equal atgolf, the 23-year-old Francesco has three top 10 finishes in this his secondyear on the European tour. "We've been like teammates since we were reallylittle," says Francesco. "He caddied for me when I went through Qschool." The brothers learned the game on afternoon outings with Paolo, adentist with a seven handicap, and their mother, Micaela, at the Torino GolfClub. "Francesco was younger, but he was stronger physically," saysPaolo, "so they could play at the same level."

Asked if he andhis brother are heralds of an Italian golf boom, Francesco smiled and shook hishead. "I would like to say yes, but there isn't much interest," heanswered. "When Rocca walks down a street in London or Stockholm, peoplerecognize him and ask for autographs. But if he walks in Italy, nobody knowswho he is." That reality did nothing to dampen the spirits of a misty-eyedPapa, who said after caddying for his son in the par-3 contest, "Nothingcan be better than this."

If Paolo was ontop of the world, Edoardo was on top of the clubhouse. Every night he returnedto Augusta National and slept in the Crow's Nest, the dormitory under thecupola where amateur invitees reside during Masters week. (This year there werefive boys in the belfry, including British Amateur champion Brian McElhinney,who the week before had beaten Molinari 3 and 2 in the finals of the GeorgiaCup in Atlanta.) The college ambience suited the Italian, who only last yearearned a degree in engineering from the prestigious Politecnico di Torino.

But on the coursethe atmosphere was all business. It is the U.S. Amateur champ who ends up inthe pressure cooker, paired for two rounds with the defending Masterstitleholder. Molinari was better prepared than most, having qualified for lastyear's British Open at St. Andrews, where he finished 60th. "Edoardo has alot of weapons in his game," says Thomas Levet, a Ryder Cupper from France."You can compare him maybe to Luke Donald--not very long off the tee but noweaknesses."

Still, you don'tshake hands with Tiger Woods on the 1st tee at your first Masters without abutterfly or two in your stomach. On Thursday morning Molinari hit his tee shoton number 1 safely to the left but dumped his approach in a bunker and madebogey. He looked shaky on the par-5 2nd as well, wandering into the woods leftoff the tee. "I felt a lot of pressure on the first three holes," headmitted after signing for a first-round 80, "but after that it wasfun." The most fun part--if you have a mordant sense of humor--came at thepar-5 13th, where the Italian's chip for eagle rolled slowly past the hole,down the bank and into the creek. Asked what he might do differently in roundtwo, Molinari laughed and responded, "You won't see me chipping down thehill on 13."

You will see himchipping around the globe this summer, when he'll play in the U.S. and BritishOpens before turning pro in July. He then hopes to land a few European tourexemptions before testing himself at the Euro Q school in the fall. "If hekeeps playing the way he's playing, he doesn't have to worry," saidFrancesco, "even if he doesn't get his card on his first attempt."Paolo, meanwhile, pretended that he was ready to quit his dental practice."I am waiting for the two boys to support me," he said. "Then I'llstop."

Friday afternoongave the Italians a few opportunities to shout "Bravo!" Edoardostumbled out of the gate with a first-hole double bogey, but he birdied threeholes on the way to a second-round 77. That didn't qualify him to play on theweekend, but his 157 was the second-best score by an amateur. It also earnedhim the respect of Woods, who called the Italian "a class act. He hit theball in some bad spots, but he kept plugging along."

Italians don't dofortune cookies, but Molinari's finish had the flavor of an after treat. Hisapproach on 18 flew right over the flag, but the ball inexplicably refused tospin back down the slope to the hole. It clung there for a minute or two--aboutas long as it takes to uncork and pour a bottle of Barolo. Then, just as theplayers reached the green, the ball wobbled, leaned and rolled gently down thehill, stopping six feet above the hole. As the crowd cheered, Edoardo threwboth hands in the air in triumph. A grinning Woods said, "That wascool."

Molinari missedthe putt, but that didn't matter. He lingered behind the 18th green, thenwalked up the hill to the big oak tree to meet the press. "It's beenspecial," he said, "the experience of a lifetime." Yes, he wishedhe had made the cut. No, he and his family weren't leaving Augusta until thetournament was over; he'd spend another night or two in the Crow's Nest. Heglanced toward his waiting entourage and smiled. "Right now," he said,"we're going back to the house to eat some pasta."

Buon appetito,Edoardo.

Asked what he might do differently in round two,Molinari laughed. "YOU WON'T SEE ME CHIPPING DOWN THE HILL ON 13."

PHOTOPhotograph by Patrick Kraemer OLYMPIAN FEAT
A Turin native, Molinari was the first European to win the U.S. Amateur in 94years.
PHOTOCHRIS O'MEARA/AP MAJORTREAT
Woods connected with Molinari, calling him a class act.
PHOTOSIMON BRUTY RIDINGPINE
After a shaky Thursday, Molinari steadied himself on Friday but still missedthe cut by nine strokes.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)