By Tony Jimenez
COVENTRY, England (Reuters) – Europe captain Darren Clarke should select Francesco Molinari as one of his three wildcard choices for the Ryder Cup because of his almost metronomic driving accuracy, according to Costantino Rocca.
Rocca, who featured in the biennial team event in 1993, 1995 and 1997, believes fellow Italian Molinari would be a dream match play partner for any of the European players when the holders take on the United States at Hazeltine, Minnesota in September.
“If I was the captain I would give Francesco a wildcard pick,” the burly 59-year-old told Reuters in an interview while competing in this week’s Farmfoods British Par-3 Championship at Nailcote Hall near Coventry.
“He’s so consistent off the tee. He’s played a lot in America now, he’s improved his putting, his chipping and his bunker shots a lot,” he added.
“Francesco never misses a drive, his irons have always been good too and in match play that’s so important. When you go to America the competition is different from Italy, England, Europe, it’s much stronger and you learn a lot.
“He would be a good partner because he would give anyone he plays with extra confidence,” Rocca said of world number 57 Molinari who appeared in the Ryder Cup in 2010 and 2012 before missing out two years ago.
Rocca played alongside twice U.S. Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal in the 1997 edition at Valderrama, Spain and the pair won two of their three matches.
The Italian said their strategy was to always find the fairway off the tee, especially in alternate-shot foursomes.
“When I played with Jose Maria we played a two-iron from the tee and a four-iron from the fairway,” explained Rocca.
“It’s fine to get on the green in regulation, You cannot play driver, sand wedge and five-iron because otherwise you will lose the hole.
“You can hit the driver 300 yards but if you miss a little bit and don’t get on the fairway, sometimes you can’t get to the pin and that’s no good.”
Rocca, however, looked back with fondness at how differently Olazabal and Seve Ballesteros, the most successful pairing in Ryder Cup history, used to go about their business.
“I remember the first time I played at The Belfry in 1993,” said the five-times European Tour winner. “I followed them because I wasn’t playing.
“They were on the 15th hole, Seve went left and then Olly went right into a bunker,” Rocca added with a mighty belly laugh.
“The Americans were about 20 yards from the hole in two but Seve chipped up close, Olly made the putt and the Americans took three putts. That’s the way those two played but they were a great partnership.”
Rocca endeared himself to millions watching on TV around the world when he followed a fluffed chip by holing a 60-foot putt to force a British Open playoff with American John Daly at St Andrews in 1995.
Daly went on to lift the coveted Claret Jug but no one who saw it will ever forget the sight of Rocca going down on all fours to beat the St Andrews turf in delight after sinking his monster putt on the 18th green.
The Italian also defied the odds when he scored a 4 and 2 last-day singles victory over the great Tiger Woods in the 1997 Ryder Cup.
“You can never lay down, never, never, never,” said Rocca. “We will be hosting the Ryder Cup in Italy in 2022 and we must do everything we can to promote the game for the kids.
“For us that is going to be very big. We have to do the best we can to show Italy in the best way possible and to give Italian golf the chance to grow.”
(Editing by Ed Osmond)