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Viva Italia, Viva Augusta

 Francesco Molinari had been a tour pro for about a year when he received an invitation to go to Augusta National for the 2006 Masters. But it wasn’t his game that got him there. Rather, it was the playing prowess of his older brother, Edoardo.

      The club, you see, had asked Edoardo to compete as the reigning U.S. Amateur champion. And it was Edoardo who asked Francesco to tag along…as his caddie.

       Francesco confesses to feeling a little “weird,” walking around Augusta that week, carrying golf clubs instead of hitting balls with them. And there is no denying he would have rather been teeing it up himself, especially as he was already a member of the European PGA Tour. But the twenty-something native of Turin, Italy, did not let any of those feelings get in the way of his having a good time. Nor did he seem to have even a hint of jealousy that it was his brother, and not he, who was teeing it up at the Masters.

      “Actually, it was a great week,” he recalls. “Edoardo played with Tiger the first two rounds, and I really enjoyed watching the best in the world compete in such an important event. It was also a thrill to see other golfers play the course. I was excited for my brother, too. It was a fun week, like a holiday week.”

      It was also a week that helped motivate Molinari, as he thought long and hard of what he needed to do to get to Augusta the way his brother had – as a player. Francesco seemed to find some answers a month after the 2006 Masters when he won his first European Tour event, the Telecom Italia Open in Milan, only a couple hours drive from his childhood home. And he appeared to discover even more in the ensuing months, steadily working his way into the top 50 of the Official World Golf Ranking.

      Being asked to compete in the Masters is the realization of a longtime dream for the golfing prodigy, who grew up playing at a local Turin club with his parents as well as his sole sibling, Edoardo. It also speaks to his solid play on the European Tour the past few years. Compact and strong with dark almond eyes and a calm, almost quiet demeanor, Francesco had a particularly good season in 2009, recording nine top-10 finishes and tying for 10th in the PGA Championship at Hazeltine and 13th in the Open Championship at Turnberry. He also made the cut in the U.S. Open, ending tied for 27th at soggy Bethpage Black. Then, there was the World Cup he and his brother won at Mission Hills in China last December, a first in Italian golf history.

      What makes Francesco’s invite to Augusta even sweeter is the fact that Edoardo is also playing in this year’s Masters, thanks to his equally stellar play on the European circuit and a world ranking that at No. 48 is just two slots higher than Francesco’s. They will be the first brothers to play the Masters since the Ozakis from Japan in 2000.

      “I am really looking forward to it,” says the 27-year-old Francesco, who lives outside London with his wife, Valentina. “It is the only major I’ve yet to play. I‘ve never played the course at Augusta before, but I have some very good memories of being there in 2006, of what it looks like and how it plays.”

      Molanari expects to arrive in Augusta the Saturday before the tournament starts, and to begin practice rounds that Monday. “I want to get out there,” he says, “but not so much that I burn out my engines before the tournament even starts.”

      As fellow members of the European Tour, Francesco and Edoardo frequently tee it up in the same events. That means they often play practice rounds together, and frequently go out to dinner with each other afterwards.

      “We’ll probably do it that way in Augusta,” Francesco says, a smile slowly breaking across his face.

      He clearly likes the idea that he and his brother are going back to the Masters together. Only this time, they both will be playing.


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