Navy’s Francesco Molinari Problem

Navy goat

Tiger Woods is, appropriately, the talk of the sports world today and this week after winning The Masters for the first time in 14 years, and winning a major golf title for the first time in 11 years. Yet, if one is to look at Navy Football between the 2018 season and the upcoming 2019 campaign, the golfer who offers the most instructive lesson to the Midshipmen is the man who played with Tiger and Tony Finau in Sunday’s final group at Augusta National.

Through 11 holes, Molinari did enough of what he needed to do to stave off Tiger, but he was hardly great. Molinari was behind on most of his holes, getting himself into trouble with a bad tee shot and having to scramble to make a series of pars. Molinari went 50 Masters holes without a bogey, a hugely impressive feat. Avoiding the really bad crooked number on a single hole was a central reason why he led Tiger and the rest of the field.

Yet, those tee shots needed fixing.

We all know what happened at 12 and 15. On those two holes – two of the three holes on the back nine at Augusta with water as a prominent feature in any attempt to get the ball safely on the green – Molinari messed up his tee shot. This time, he wasn’t able to scramble for pars. The pair of double bogeys on those hole – 15 being the nail in his coffin – ruined Molinari’s Masters Sunday. His crash-and-burn at 15 was reminiscent of another great European golfer, Seve Ballesteros, meeting that same fate at the 1986 Masters, when another golfer in his 40s won the tournament: Jack Nicklaus.

You might have heard of him.

The lesson is clear: An athlete might be able to go into “scramble mode” for a period of time. He might be able to survive a portion of his day by successfully managing crises. However, at some point, an athlete usually has to reduce crisis management and improve the skill of crisis avoidance. Not getting into a problem is the best way to improve performance. Why solve problems when you can steer clear of them in the first place?

This is Navy football heading into the late spring and early summer months of 2019.

The SMU game. The Tulane game. Pick those and other games from 2018 in which Navy got into early trouble, scrambled to rally, but then came up short when a few final plays cut the wrong way.

Per Navy sports information, the Midshipmen are 5-8 in 13 one-possession games the past two seasons after being 17-6 in 23 one-score games the previous five seasons, from 2012 through 2016.

This is not about winning the close games. This is more a matter of getting off to good starts – nailing those tee shots – so that the approach shot (aka, the third quarter) puts the ball safely on the green, leading to a tap-in for par (fourth quarter) at a par 3 such as the 12th hole at Augusta, or a tap-in for eagle on the 13th.

Tee shot = first half. Approach shot = third quarter. A two-putt for a desired outcome = fourth quarter.

If Navy gets the tee shot right in 2019, it won’t have to scramble. It will avoid the large number of bogeys it endured last year (and to a lesser extent, 2017). It might win games by two scores instead of having to sweat out a one-score game.

Francesco Molinari probably doesn’t care about Navy football, but he has given the Midshipmen an example of how NOT to handle their business when opening day rolls around.

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