The Italian lifted the Claret Jug last year for a first triumph in one of golf’s four biggest events as he enjoyed a remarkable season, winning the Race to Dubai and claiming five points out of five in Europe’s Ryder Cup victory.
An understated superstar, Molinari admits the demands of being at golf’s very top table were overwhelming at first but he is going to soak it all in at Royal Portrush Golf Club.
“It changes your life,” he said. “Especially for a guy like me that likes to go a little bit under the radar and doesn’t really need the attention.
“It was quite a big challenge, especially at the beginning, to get used to it. But I guess it’s something you learn to deal with.
“The win last year came after a certain period of time where I played some really good golf so expectations kept rising almost every week I was playing but I think now I’ve learned to do a decent job of managing that.
“This week is going to be extra special. Any week that you defend is special and especially at the Major Championships, so it’s going to be another new experience for me.
“My approach is going to be to try and enjoy as much as possible and I think like I did at the Ryder Cup last year, try to almost soak in the energy from the crowd and help me perform as good as I can.”
A dream come true
Molinari has a win this season on the US PGA Tour, finished fifth at the Masters Tournament and made the semi-finals of the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play but the links of Royal Portrush will provide a very different test.
The 36-year-old finished in the top ten when the Irish Open was held here in 2012 and believes he can thrive on the layout.
My approach is going to be to try and enjoy as much as possible – Francesco Molinari
“From what I remember from 2012, it’s a course that can suit my game,” he said. “It’s more positional, you need to put the ball in a certain spot. I think a lot of the guys are going to hit shots into the greens from a similar position.
“It’s going to depend on the wind and the weather conditions. Then it’s obviously up to me to play good golf. I think at our level you can play good golf on any golf course, it’s much more dependent on how you play than what kind of course you’re playing.
“I think myself and the people around me are happy with where we are right now. Obviously there’s three more days so the goal is kind of peaking for those four tournament days.
“Links golf, I like it now. It’s not something that I liked from the start just because it was very different the first few times I came out here to play links golf compared to what I was used to playing in Italy. It took a pretty long time to get used to it.
“Now I enjoy it very much and it’s obviously a style of play that we don’t get to play very often so that makes it even more special.”