For two days Tommy Fleetwood and Francesco Molinari were as inseparable as Holmes and Watson (Sherlock and the doctor, not JB and Bubba), but it was the quiet Italian who struck out boldly on his own in the ninth singles match on Sunday to create Ryder Cup history in his dignified and irresistible manner.
His 4&2 dismantling of Phil Mickelson was his fifth win of the 42nd edition of the competition, after four with Fleetwood in the fourballs and foursomes. It drew him alongside the Americans Arnold Palmer and Gardner Dickinson (1967) and Larry Nelson (1979) by completing a sweep of all his matches – and that in the summer when he won the Open at Carnoustie. All that could surpass this high point, surely, would be for Molinari – born in Turin and for years a bona fide Londoner – to repeat the double in 2022, when the Ryder Cup goes to Italy for the first time, at the Marco Simone Golf Club in Rome.
At the Albatros course on a blue‑sky Sunday afternoon, he went two up after four and never looked back, playing with as much searing concentration as he did alongside Tiger Woods on their Sunday dash to the line at the Open two months ago. He also accompanied Mickelson on the closing 18 when the American shot 66 to win at Muirfield in 2013. He was no spectator this time.
A lot of water has spread over this lake-spattered course outside Versailles since then, and a lot of players have seen their shots go under. The only time Molinari got wet was under the spray of the celebration champagne his teammates dumped on his head at the end. As a West Ham supporter he cannot have been that familiar with the sensation, although he was buoyed by their win against Manchester United the previous day.
His own steady hand did not deliver the dagger, though, but came via the quivering mandibles of Mickelson, who drowned his ball off the tee on the par-three 16th. It might have been the last shot of the 48-year-old American’s record 12 appearances in the competition.
For Molinari, being part of a third Ryder Cup-winning team was “so much more than majors, more than anything”. He added: “It’s hard not to get emotional when you think about the other players, the vice‑captains, Thomas [Bjørn], the wives. It’s been an incredible week.”
As for his long-haired friend, Molinari said: “I had an amazing partner in Tommy. It never felt like I had a rookie playing alongside me.”
In guiding Europe to their sixth straight home victory, Molinari added to the trophies he shared with the winning teams of 2010 and 2012. And, singularly influential though he was at Le Golf National, he betrayed not a note of triumphalism. He represented all that is good about team sport – and, if politics might briefly be allowed to stray into the discussion – the ethic of togetherness in Europe that the Ryder Cup has championed for a quarter of a century.
Molinari expressed as much joy for the combined success of his own campaign as he did commiseration for Fleetwood, whom Tony Finau, another debutant, trounced 6&4. Fleetwood, the ebullient, free-hitter from Southport, was reaching for an unprecedented fifth win on debut but the weight of history seemed to bear down on his rounded shoulders.
Enthusiasm, nerves or both might have got the better of him on the 1st hole, when an overcooked wedge from a greenside bunker above the hole dribbled into the drink, and he never properly recovered. The Cup, technically, was put out of reach of the US team a few moments before Mickelson’s slam-dunk-splash, when he and Watson had missed putts, but those Europeans still not battling on the course gathered quickly at the 16th to hoist Molinari skywards. Tony Jacklin, who knows about these things, said Molinari and Fleetwood (immortalised as Moliwood) reminded him of the great Spanish pairing of Seve Ballesteros and José María Olazábal, who performed wonders for him in the 80s. Certainly they have clicked like the good friends they are away from the course, each with their own hinterland.
Perhaps they get along so well because they are essentially different. Fleetwood is as gregarious and outgoing as Molinari is shy and retiring. When the job was done, Fleetwood put his defeat behind him and ran to the fans who love his boyish lightheartedness. He would go on to celebrate with his wife, Clare, 20 years older than him, and their one-year-old son, Frankie. Molinari’s wife, Valentina, while not the greatest enthusiast for the game, arrived from their home in London with their two children, Tommaso and Emma, to witness Francesco’s finest moment.
As partners Molinari and Fleetwood were blessed synchronicity. For Molinari alone it was very heaven. This ought to long be remembered as Molinari’s Cup – a notion that would appal one of the most self-effacing players in the game.