Commentary

Long road leads Molinaris to Masters

Originally Published: March 30, 2010
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

Francesco and Edoardo MolinariMike Clarke/AFP/Getty ImagesItaly traditionally isn't considered a world power when it comes to golf. After winning the 2009 World Cup, Francesco and Edoardo Molinari just might change that reputation.

My brother stinks at golf.

Don't mistake those words for trash talk or hubris. He really is downright terrible at the game, and -- here's the real kicker -- he doesn't care, either, preferring batting cages to driving ranges and Opening Day to Masters week.

Yeah, I know. This is reason enough to disown the dude, but as he once said of me during a formal toast, "This guy has been like a brother to me." I feel the same way.

Then again, we were never destined to become the American version of Edoardo and Francesco Molinari anyway. What's that? You've never heard of them? Well, it's time to reveal two men who have been largely undercover brothers to all but the most die-hard golf fans. The Molinaris are among the world's most elite professional golfers and next week will become the first sibling tandem to compete at Augusta National Golf Club together in a full decade.

On the list of exotic-sounding fraternal factions, Edoardo and Francesco edge closer to Groucho, Zeppo, Chico, Gummo and Harpo than Orville and Wilbur. Born 21 months apart in Olgiata, Italy, the golfers -- not the Marxes nor Wrights, mind you -- have risen through the ranks, plying their craft mainly on the European Tour.

They may not be Cain and Abel, but the Molinaris aren't exactly identical, either. Edoardo, 28, won the prestigious U.S. Amateur in 2005 and as a result has competed in the Masters before; Francesco, 27, is making his first trip as a competitor, but he did caddie for his brother four years ago. Edoardo owns five official wins as a professional, but none on the Euro circuit; Francesco won the 2006 Italian Open.

Oh, and Edoardo lucked out in the gene pool, growing three inches taller than his bro and owning much cooler hair.

Of course, as the cliché goes, blood is thicker than player bios. The brothers do have plenty in common, from teaming last year to win Italy's first World Cup title -- in golf, that is -- to their places in the Official World Golf Ranking, which as of three weeks ago were separated by a measly .0000275 average points.

When asked about overtaking Francesco on that list recently, Edoardo played the role of conscientious older brother, preferring not to rub it in. "I don't know," he said, "if he's in the mood to joke."

Competing together in the Masters will be no laughing matter. Like most aspiring young golfers, the Molinaris grew up watching the year's first major -- even if that meant keeping some unconventional hours.

"It was one of my main goals for last season to get into the top 50 of the world rankings and qualify for the Masters, so I'm delighted to have achieved it," Francesco said. "It's even more thrilling for me that Edoardo will also be there, because when we grew up as kids, we always dreamed of one day playing at Augusta. We both used to watch the Masters on TV and hoping one day to get the chance, so it'll feel slightly strange to be playing there myself. We're both really excited, and it'll be great to compete against one another as well as the rest of the field."

"The fact that I'll be playing along with Francesco will be great for both if us," Edoardo added. "We'll be playing some practice rounds together and trying to help each other out."

They will become the first set of siblings to play in the same Masters field since Masashi "Jumbo" Ozaki earned bragging rights over Naomichi "Joe" with a T-28 finish to his brother's missed cut in 2000.

Since then, brothers have earned Super Bowl MVP honors (the Mannings), shared the Oscar for Best Director (the Coens) and continued to appear in a successful video game series (the Super Marios). On the links, though, success has waned, as a Google search for "golf brothers" displays a luxury leather company, courses called Brothers Golf Club from Staten Island to the San Francisco Bay Area and about a bazillion stories that include every detail from annual family outings with the guys.

That's not to say there haven't been famous brothers in the game. Willie Park Sr., won the first Open Championship in 1860 and earned three more in his career, lending to more than a little sibling revelry over his brother, Mungo, who won merely once.

The PGA Tour record book lists 13 brother combinations who have claimed victory, the most coming from Lloyd and Ray Mangrum, who won 36 and five, respectively. That's a little like pointing out that light-hitting baseball player Tommie Aaron is one half of the top home run-hitting siblings or that kick returner Eddie Payton combined with his brother for the most rushing yards in NFL history.

It would be shortsighted to suggest that the Molinari brothers have a chance to surpass that mark, especially because neither currently plays the majority of his golf in the U.S. and prior to Edoardo's T-2 at Bay Hill this past week, the best finish by either in a stateside event was Francesco's share of 10th place at last year's PGA Championship. They are, however, quickly becoming players to watch and could continue the burgeoning family legacy with a pair of solid results in Augusta.

Either way, they will have plenty of Italian support during the week. Capisce?

"My wife and our parents plus a lot of our friends and family are coming over to watch us play, so they're all really excited, too," Francesco said. "We've got two different houses, because there's so many of us going and it might get a bit cramped. But it'll be great to have so many familiar faces around. It should be a special week, and hopefully I can play well."

Sounds like a pretty cool brother, huh? Count me among the ranks of jealous siblings around the world. Sure, I can beat my bro in golf, but I would give it up to be able to watch him compete in the Masters.

Wait, no. I take it back. Edoardo and Francesco Molinari can be diplomatic about this kind of stuff. Me? I'd want the bragging rights instead.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com.

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.