Francesco Molinari explains cold-topping his tee shot at Pebble and what he thinks of the Italian food in L.A.

Francesco Molinari had a hunch a question might be coming. It took eight from the members of the media on a Microsoft Teams call before Molinari was asked about cold-topping his tee shot at the first hole on Saturday of the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.

“I’m surprised it took so long to hear the question,” he said with a half-hearted laugh and a resigned smile.

As for his explanation of swinging more like his amateur partner in the year the AT&T was played without ams – maybe it was an homage? – Molinari, said, “I don’t know. I think there’s many explanations and none, really. The weather. I was messing around with 3-woods last week so I played with a different 3-wood pretty much every day and probably, you know, went a bit too far with that. But yeah, just a bad swing, bad conditions, probably not my favorite club in the bag and that happened.”

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It sent Molinari reeling down the leaderboard, eventually finishing 59th. Despite gifting golf social media with an afternoon of chuckles, Molinari is trending in the right direction. He’s hardly been the same golfer who won the 2018 British Open, earned a 5-0 Ryder Cup record and nearly won the 2019 Masters before a series of back-nine blunders. But Molinari notched back-to-back top-10 finishes at the American Express and Farmers Insurance Open suggest the Italian may be turning the corner.

“My expectations, especially now early in the season are not that high,” he said. “It’s nice to be back, it’s nice to be feeling like I’m getting better and playing some better golf, but I know it’s going to be a long way back.”

That includes for his Ryder Cup chances. It was almost unfathomable to think that Molinari, one of the heroes of Team Europe’s 2018 victory in France, wouldn’t make the next team, but he’s well aware that he’s on the outside looking in and will need to make a serious run to grab the attention of European captain Padraig Harrington.

On the flip side, there’s still time and he’s motivated to climb the mountain again. Molinari isn’t kidding that there’s a long way to get back to his 2018-19 level of play. He’s plummeted from No. 6 in the world in July 2019 to No. 107 entering this week. After having one arm in a green jacket at the 2019 Masters, he failed to record a top-10 finish until Palm Springs, a span of 19 events, and noted that the cancellation of golf tournaments for three months due to the pandemic came at a good time for him.

Molinari was the last PGA Tour regular to return to competition, skipping the PGA Championship and U.S. Open and moving his his family from its London home base of more than 12 years to Los Angeles. Molinari said that wife Valentino and their two children – Tommaso, 9, and Emma, 5 – love their new home and are adjusting to their new surrounds. As for the manga?

“The Italian food is not too bad,” he said. “Yeah, there’s some pretty good spots.”

There are some pretty good golf courses, too, and when Molinari asked around for recommendations he noticed a common theme – the home of the Genesis Invitational kept popping up.

“Pretty much everyone I asked advised Riviera was going to be the best solution,” he said. “So, I got the ball rolling and the club has been kind enough to have me join. It’s been great. I’ve played a lot of rounds since then, obviously met a few members, played a few games with them. And we live literally five, six minutes away, so it’s a very easy commute for me.”

Molinari is set to make his seventh career start at the Genesis Invitational. All those rounds plotting the best route to play famed George C. Thomas layout and learning the intricacies of its Kikuyu rough, should mean something, right?

“We’ll find out soon enough,” he said. “Yeah, it’s a tournament I’ve always loved, but unfortunately I never really played that well in the past. …Hopefully the rounds that I’ve played this winter I can have more success around here.”

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