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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Francesco is Italian for "I Piped It Again"

You knew it was coming, didn't you? We're going to look at Francesco Molinari's swing -- not just because he won the WGC event in China last week but because, as I said in yesterday's post, he's one of the most consistent players on the European Tour. I quoted him as having 7 Top 5s in the last 12 months, but I didn't include his win in that total. (I didn't want to count the win twice in my points totals.)

Francesco is considered a real machine with his irons -- we all got to see that firsthand last week -- but what I want to do today is see if we can figure out why he's so good. Bear in mind that Steve Stricker and Luke Donald are both ahead of him in the OWGR, and Ben Crane is behind him. (This week Stricker is #5, Donald #8, Molinari #14, and Crane #35; however, in point averages, they are about equally spaced.) But when you look at Top 5s -- and this time I'll include the wins -- Donald leads with 10, then Molinari with 8, Stricker with 4, and Crane with 3. Since I've already looked at the other three swings, it should be pretty easy to figure out if there's something different about Francesco's swing. Here are the links to those posts:
Just to level the playing field a bit here: Donald plays both tours regularly and his accuracy stats are 5-6 percentage points better on the ET than the PGA. Francesco's ET stats are actually better than Donald's ET stats. Both Crane and Stricker's PGA stats are better than Donald's PGA stats. Are you with me so far? If you adjust Francesco's stats for what they might be on the PGA (based on Donald's difference), both Crane and Stricker are better drivers but their GIR stats are nearly identical. Francesco's weakness is putting; Donald actually putts better on the PGA than the ET, so Francesco would be the worst putter of the four. This is what I think has held Francesco back, but his stats over the last five years show a steady improvement each year so I don't think it will hold him back much longer.

Ok, on to the swing. Let's start with a down-the-line shot from the PGA Championship this year:

This looks very much like the other three, but let's check overall movement. Look at his head and right foot on the downswing. You'll see that Francesco's head moves down quite a bit; only Crane moves down as much. However, his right foot stays on the ground about as long as Stricker, who is king in this category, and it stays down a little longer than Donald and waaaay more than Crane. (You'll remember that I pointed this out in the Crane post.) The downward movement of Francesco's head tends to help him hit down on the ball, which is part of why he hits his irons so well; while the solid anchor of that right foot helps keep him steady over the ball, improving the consistency of his hit.

Now let's check his swing from face-on. Here's a look at his driver swing during the US Open:

Francesco is a little different from the other three guys. He uses an "early cock," which means the club forms a 90-degree angle with his left arm when that arm reaches parallel to the ground in his backswing. Although it may keep him from being quite as long off the tee as he could be, he still hits it around 280 -- about the same distance as the other three. That's plenty long to play this game, even at the pro level, as long as you put the ball in play. And Francesco certainly does!

Although Francesco "goes down after the ball," his upper body isn't moving forward (toward his target) very much. If you place your mouse pointer on his left ear, you'll see that his head stays pretty much in that same position all the way through impact. Only Stricker is this steady; Donald moves back, forward, and slightly back again while Crane makes a huge move. (Again, I pointed that out in the Crane post.)

One last video -- this one shows both views during practice at the Ryder Cup:

This is an odd angle but if you place your mouse pointer over his ear, you'll see how steady he is with his swing. This is why Francesco Molinari held his own against Lee Westwood, the European "Mr. Consistency," in China last week. When you're this rock-solid with your swing, you're going to be a tough competitor.

Watch these videos and the Stricker videos a few times to make sure you understand the differences here. While both players are using the same basic techniques in their swings, their swings do not look alike. Francesco's swing uses much more body movement than Strick's, which may explain why Francesco is almost as long as Steve off the tee despite being 4 inches shorter -- but that body movement is controlled so it doesn't affect his ball-striking. Francesco hits the ball as solidly as anybody on either tour.

Man, if he just improves his putting a wee bit... look out, world!


  1. Love how compact he keeps everything - smooth - and none of that nasty slide I seem to enjoy so much. (lol)

    But wait...where's the American commentary that says his swing mechanics are so perfect that too many things can go wrong ? (dontcha love xxx Golf Channel experts ?) :-D

  2. Actually, I think he's got enough movement to avoid that "complaint." With that little dip, it looks to me like he might push the ball if he mis-hit it.

    But what do I know? I'm not on TV. ;-)

  3. You don't have a New Zealand accent, either. (lol)