It was free-swinging Edoardo who first caught the world's attention. Needing a birdie on the final hole to get into a playoff for a spot in match play at the 2005 U.S. Amateur, Molinari holed out from a bunker to stay alive. He then advanced to the 36-hole final, where he took only 18 putts on the last 15 holes to defeat Dillon Dougherty and become the first European winner of the American Am since 1911. Nine months later laser-straight Francesco—who was already a pro, having earned a three-year business degree before his brother completed the five-year engineering program at the prestigious Politecnico di Torino—thrilled Italy's undernourished golf demographic by winning the Telecom Italian Open in Milan.
Four years on, the Molinaris are reaching parity as competitors, sometimes holding adjacent spots in the World Ranking (current standings: Edoardo 40th, Francesco 41st). The credit for that goes to Edoardo, who rebuilt his swing last year. "I've always been a big drawer of the ball," Edoardo explained in Madrid, "but there's always some hands involved with a draw. I could hook it badly, and I could also push it way right." To conquer his two-way misses, Edoardo spent four months working on a fade at his home course, Circolo Golf Torino, traveling once a month to London to see Pugh. Dodo then spent the rest of the year kicking tournament natiche, setting a Challenge tour earnings record and topping a strong international field in Japan. "It's really phenomenal how much he changed," says Pugh, who put off retirement to work with the Molinaris. "Within two months he had a swing where he could power the ball with no hint of a hook. It goes dead straight or fades slightly."
With both their games on the uptick, the brothers sometimes go their separate ways. In May, for example, Francesco crossed the Atlantic for the Players, where he pocketed $275,500 for his ninth-place finish, while Edoardo chose to play in his home country's only tour event, finishing 13th. "I had committed early to the Italian Open, and they had already done their advertising," explains Edoardo. "I would have felt bad had I let them down." Francesco adds that there was an even better reason for splitting up: "It was the only chance for both of us to win on the same day."
Grown men that they are, they have diverged outside the ropes as well. Francesco lives in London's South Kensington neighborhood with his wife, Valentina, a former sports photographer with a law degree. Edoardo, meanwhile, remains in Turin near his longtime girlfriend, Anna Roscio, saying, "I don't care if I have to take two flights to get home. I'd rather live in Italy."
When their itineraries cross they're still a brother act—sharing a house, practicing together, needling each other affectionately. Their current joint project is Majors Prep, which is why they spent their week in Madrid pretending that the foothills of the Royal Spanish Horse Society Country Club were the cliffs of the Monterey Peninsula. "Last year was my first U.S. Open, and I finished in the top 30," said Francesco, waiting on a tee set way back in the trees for the Madrid Masters pro-am. "Bethpage in those conditions, wet and cold, was probably the toughest course I've played. But the way courses are set up for majors is good for my game. I go into this U.S. Open with a different mind-set."
Admittedly, the brothers will be lacking the local knowledge of the American pros who play Pebble every year. The Molinari family visited the course years ago, on holiday, when the boys were 12 and 11. "We walked on the beach a little while," Francesco remembers. "Then we managed to sneak on the course to see a few holes. The golfers were Japanese guys in buggies." This time, he knows, the Japanese guys will be walking and they'll have game. But so will the Italians, thanks to the Molinaris.
The brothers may still come off as tourists. Dodo plans to fly in on Saturday and spend Sunday afternoon playing Cypress Point with a member. Chicco will take his wife to a Carmel Valley spa. ("We didn't have a honeymoon," Francesco says, "so we're making up for it with a few beautiful little trips.") Come Monday, though, the Molinaris will be staying at the same hotel, dining together and teaming up for practice rounds. They will undoubtedly spend some time in Pebble's nasty greenside rough, telling each other to be brave and hit it harder.
"To play all the majors with Chicco, that's a dream come true," Edoardo said on the eve of the Madrid Masters. Then, to prove that there might be more to the dream, Edoardo shot four rounds of par or better to finish 36th, and Francesco carried his pursuit of Luke Donald to the final hole, finishing third and pocketing another six-figure check.
Was it the Open? No. But it was food for thought.
Now on GOLF.com