In May 2018 I spent the day at the Wisley golf course with Francesco Molinari and coach Dr. Dave Alred. Unknown to any of us at the time (although Dave may challenge this), five days later Francesco would win the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, one of the most important tournaments on golf’s European tour. Best known for his work in rugby with Jonny Wilkinson and Jonny Sexton, after Luke Donald and Padraig Harrington, Francesco is the third golfer Dave has worked with. It’s fascinating to see them work and easy to see that they have forged a special bond together

Still encased in a surgical boot following an ill-considered football match, I have the added pleasure and luxury of being chauffeured around the course by Francesco. It affords the opportunity to chat through his relationship with Dave and the impact it has had on him, as a player and a person. I ask him what’s changed about his approach to the game,

“I think what Dave has helped me do is prepare to compete differently. Before meeting Dave my golf practice was basically just repetition, I’d just hit balls and hit balls and maybe try and hit it better and work on the technical side of the game but there wasn’t really any pressure. But when you get out on the course there’s only one ball and one chance to take a swing at it and if you miss you don’t get a second chance”.

I think what Dave has helped me do is prepare to compete differently.

As the buggy rolls to a stop Dave, who has picked up on the final comment, chips in,

“This is why I try and look at games as a behaviour. How many times do you match the behaviour in training. When you prepare, how much is relevant to what you’re going to do? There is an argument that if a game is unpredictable, which one would assume it is, then the practice should be unpredictable”.

It seems such a simple point, but you only have to observe people on golf courses, football pitches and gyms around the world. How much of what they are doing actually relates to what will be expected of them in the heat of battle. I ask Dave why so many people prepare for competition in a way that hardly resembles the demands that competition will place on them,

“Because they want to be comfortable in their preparation, even though they are going to be uncomfortable in the game. It’s very difficult to make yourself uncomfortable”.

“And that’s where you come in?”

“If you surrender what you’re going to do to somebody else and they make it unpredictable then you are put yourself into discomfort, particularly mentally. That’s going to put you in a much better place to perform”.

Francesco expands,

“When we started talking about working together it immediately didn’t make sense the way I had been preparing and I don’t think most golfers do what we do here. Most often, you prepare with a lot of repetition but when you’re out playing every shot is different. You can’t choose which shot you hit, there are so many variables that can effect it. In football it would be like someone dropping you in a specific part of the pitch and you have to take a shot from there and score. And if you don’t you don’t get another chance”.

Anyone who has read or listened to any other pieces I’ve done with Dave will know that it doesn’t take long before comfort gets mentioned. Let’s put his win in context. Francesco is an established pro’ of 35 who many felt had his best playing days behind him. A gentleman, popular on the circuit and acknowledged as a very good player with a stand-out long game but not really a ‘threat’. Then he goes out a dominates Rory McIlory, one of the best golfers of his generation. How does he do it? He does it because it’s what he does. But ‘what he does’ doesn’t follow the script of the majority of golfers (or sportspeople for that matter). When many would be considering winding down, Francesco has re-defined his approach to the game and to himself helped by Dave Alred. In Dave’s words, Molinari has chosen to ‘get ugly’.

When many would be considering winding down, Francesco has re-defined his approach to the game

Anyone who has read or listened to any of previous pieces about Dave will know the ‘Ugly Zone’. It’s the place where mistakes are made, pressure hurts and where learning happens. It’s about bringing the discomfort of match play into practice.

I comment that the principle is easy to grasp but the practicalities less so. Dave and Francesco are more than happy to explain.