Almost without exception on either side of the Atlantic, the appointment of a Ryder Cup vice-captain follows an easily discernible pattern. Friends invariably choose friends, with the designated person being at least one close acquaintance of the skipper who is not playing. The man in charge needs to know that his new sidekick can tell him “what I need to hear rather than what I want to hear”.
Which is logical. But Europe captain Henrik Stenson’s recent choice of Edoardo Molinari as second to vice-captain (Thomas Bjorn was first) is a little different from the norm. Instead of appointing a trusted lieutenant and then finding a role for them within the team structure, Stenson reversed this well-worn procedure. Knowing he needed a man trained in the shooting stats that many players now use to analyze their performance with every club in the bag, the former Open champion opted for the best man available in the club. former American amateur champion.
“I don’t remember who it was, but a few years ago someone told me, not a player, that not looking at stats is like running a business and not knowing where you win and lose money,” says Molinari, who was part of Europe’s 2010 Ryder Cup-winning squad at Celtic Manor. “Or what your policy should be going forward. Or who your best customers are. I know guys on tour who don’t keep stats. They don’t realize how beneficial it is to know exactly what’s going on in your game. They don’t know why they’re playing well. They know neither their strengths nor their weaknesses. They don’t know which courses are right for them and which are not.
Molinari holds an engineering degree from the University of Turin. The 41-year-old first became interested in the numbers game when it became clear that his impression of his own game was actually far from reality.
“A few years ago at Wentworth I felt like I was hitting the ball well off the tee, but I was poor with my irons,” he says. “The rest of my game was pretty average. Or so I thought. But when I looked at my stats at the end of the week, my coach asked me if I had noticed anything with my irons. I told him I felt like I hit a lot of pull-ups to the left. Anyway, out of the four rounds I missed 25 greens. And I missed 16 on the right and nine on the left. So the draws I remembered were only about a third of my total fails. My mind deceived me.
From then on, Molinari used numbers to plan his strategy on the course. “I look at the ideal line on every hole given my tendencies,” he says. “I played a lot better doing that. I stand on every tee knowing the perfect line. For me. So I know this club to hit. It’s vital, especially when there are a lot of bunkers in play. I also know where to aim and what to hit with every approach shot. I think it helps me to separate myself from others.
Answering those kinds of questions for others on Stenson’s behalf is Molinari’s responsibility over the next 16 months or so, long before the Italian takes his place alongside the Swede at the Marco Simone Golf & Country Club just outside. exterior of Rome. Indeed, most of Molinari’s work will be completed before the start of the Ryder Cup. And while he will examine the strengths and weaknesses of European players, Americans will also come under his microscope. All of this will then help Stenson create the layout of the course that will, at least statistically, be the most advantageous for the home team.
“I’ve already taken a look at the course,” says Molinari. “We have all the blow-by-blow data from last year’s Italian Open. I’m not going to go into details at this stage, but we already know what type of player is best suited to the course. We so we also know what subtle changes we need to make to favor our best players.When it comes to a home Ryder Cup, perhaps the biggest advantage you have is the golf course.
“The wildcard selection process will be to adjust the course according to the team and adjust the team according to the course,” he continues. “Even at this stage, everyone can probably relate to the core of our team. So you start with those. Then you do the same with the Americans who will almost certainly be there. Then, as we get closer to the games, you make the adjustments that will work best for our guys. Everything is based on probabilities and results.
Indeed, but only one number counts of course – 14½ – the number of points Europe will need to win back the Ryder Cup.