Edition 1496
13 October 2018
Edition: 1496

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The champion maker

by Neil Connolly, in Sport · 02-08-2018 11:01:00 · 0 Comments

If you watched the Open Championship at Carnoustie, you will have seen one of the most fascinating finishes for a long time, with lots of really interesting subplots. I am going to focus on the Molinari transformation from 79 in the Official World Golf Rankings two years ago, to twenty first at the end of 2017 and now he sits at the heady heights of sixth in the world. Ahead of McIlroy, Spieth, Fowler and Day and having won three of his last six events, there’s no real argument against him rising further.

The champion maker

You may have noticed that the Italian looked unflappable, serenely going about his Sunday’s business, nothing extravagant to be seen, just sixteen pars and two birdies to make up his final round. The brace of birdies coming on fourteen and eighteen. Looking like the long distance runner who just kicks on the back straight to ease past his competition.
Remember that he was partnered to the best subplot of the tournament; Tiger leading in the last round. To be clear, this wasn’t the Tiger of old coming down the stretch, this was a great player finding his feet and getting comfortable with being in contention again.
Yet Molinari unerringly stuck to his game plan. It has been said in the past that his putting was a weakness. Yet on the final green he was the player who looked like he was going to hole out for birdie and not Tiger. Which he duly did.
Two years ago at Riviera Country Club, Molinari added a member to his team. If you are familiar with rugby and performance coaching the name Dave Alred should be somewhat familiar. He teamed up with Jonny Wilkinson and arguably, through his training principles, forged the most prolific points scorer for England Rugby. To my knowledge he has only had one noticeable foray into golf and that was with Luke Donald when he became World Number One.
Alred is a huge believer that you should play the way you practice and practice the way you play. Which essentially means there should be a heightened element of pressure whilst practicing. Make it real and like it is on the course. The concept of hitting a basket of six irons is ludicrous to Alred. When would you do such a thing on the course? That is why if you had been present at any of Molinari’s practice sessions you would likely have seen him hit a few putts then go to the range and hit a driver, then an iron, then a bunker shot. Mimicking the flow of shots usually presented during a round of golf.
Then there is what they call the ‘Ugly Zone’, an area where the maximum amount of energy and output is required. This is an area where fear of failure, complacency along with ego are all left outside. The human instinct is to play it safe, protect what you have, don’t look silly in public. Sound familiar?
Yet the true champion spirit is to challenge boundaries, to continue to grow, never sit back, always create forward momentum. It could be said that Champions are born in the ‘Ugly Zone’ because here weaknesses are turned into strengths.
So it is no surprise that the next person enlisted onto Molinari’s team was the world renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon. After all, his stats showed that this was a true area for development. A place where 100 percent effort and commitment would reap rewards.
A couple of years on you see a work in progress, an Open Champion. Alred will stress that nobody is the finished article; he has an Aristotle quote which rings true, “My philosophy comes from the Aristotle model: man who competes against his fellow man is noble but true nobility is man who competes against his previous self.”
So that’s how it happens, the first Italian to win the Open Championship. He gets stripped bare by arguably the finest performance coach in the world, then adds one of the best putting coaches in the world to turn his weakness into a strength.
Now a note of caution would be the tale of Luke Donald. After reaching the World Number One spot under the tutelage of Alred, Donald decided that they were over analysing and they parted company. Donald is now 289th in the world.

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Edition 1496
13 October 2018
Edition: 1496

Read this week's issue online exactly as it appears in print.

Twitter

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