Exclusive: Open Champion Francesco Molinari signs for Callaway
Francesco Molinari’s switch to Callaway is the biggest equipment deal of 2019.
He’s using a full bag of Callaway clubs – see below for the exact specs – plus a Toulon Design Stroke Lab putter. One of the biggest changes, though, is the ball – he’s been a long-time user of a Titleist ball, but realised the latest version of Callaway’s Chrome Soft X – as used by the likes of Phil Mickelson and Sergio Garcia – offered him more ball speed and control.
This week, Molinari will make his Callaway tournament debut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour. He will have all Callaway equipment in his bag for the event, including an Epic Flash Sub Zero Driver, an Epic Flash Sub Zero Fairway Wood, Apex MB 18 Irons, Mack Daddy 4 Wedges, an Odyssey Toulon Madison Putter with a new Stroke Lab Shaft, and a Chrome Soft X Ball.
“I am joining Callaway because I’m so impressed by their equipment,” said Molinari. “More than anything, I’m looking forward to playing the new Epic Flash Driver and the Chrome Soft X Golf Ball. The ball speed gains that I’m getting from the driver are unbelievable. And this golf ball is the best one that I’ve ever played. The performance from tee-to-green, especially the feel and control, is exactly what I want.”
A native of Turin, Italy, Molinari is coming off a remarkable 2018 campaign, highlighted by his first major win at The Open Championship. He also won the BMW PGA Championship and the Quicken Loans National last year, and he posted a perfect 5-0 record for the victorious European Team at the 2018 Ryder Cup. He enters this week as the 10th ranked player in the world.
“We’re proud to welcome Francesco as our newest Callaway Staff Professional,” said Tim Reed, Callaway’s Senior VP of Global Sports marketing. “We’re confident that he will play at an even higher level and enjoy many more great wins with Callaway equipment. He’s added ball speed off the driver with Flash Face Technology, and his performance on approach shots and around the greens has been spectacular with his new Callaway irons, wedges, and our Chrome Soft Ball.”
On the greens, Molinari is currently using an Odyssey Toulon Madison Putter that features a new Stroke Lab Shaft. “Francesco is a tremendous putter, and he really likes the milled performance he’s seeing from the Madison,” said Sean Toulon, SVP, Callaway Golf & GM, Odyssey Brand. “And with the Stroke Lab Shaft he’s getting more consistency in the rhythm and the tempo of his stroke. It’s a combination that’s going to help him have a lot of success and make of a lot of big putts.”
Fitting Francesco into Callaway
How do you persuade a player at the very top of his game – who’s just had the season of his life after winning a major and getting to European No.1 – to completely change his bag? We spoke to Ian Garbutt – a former Tour pro turned Talent Development Manager for Callaway – to find out about the process Molinari went through, and how he settled on his new kit.
>> When we realised Francesco was looking at new equipment towards the end of last year, we went down to The Wisley where he’s a member. Our Director of Tour Relations, Peter Harrison – who’s also member there – had our new Epic Flash drivers and fairways, all our irons, wedges and our Chrome Soft balls for him to try.
>> Francesco’s a pretty technical guy. He knows the look he wants, he knows the flight he wants, and he knows the numbers he wants. We knew many of his specs – lofts, shafts, lies etc – so we made everything up to those and went from there.
>> What was he looking for? He really wanted more speed, from his driver, from his ball, from his irons. With the EPIC Flash Sub Zero Driver, the MB Irons and the Chrome Soft Ball, he picked up 1.5-2mph more ball speed through the bag over his old set-up, which got his attention. The look of everything fitted his eye, and he liked the numbers he was seeing. He played with it all in Hawaii at the Tournament of Champions – practicing with it, really – and after that he said ‘yes, it’s great, let’s go with this’.
>> He’s settled on quite a lot of clubs, but he’ll swop some in and out of the bag depending on the conditions and the course. For instance, he’s got our Apex Utility iron (18°) as a 2 or 3-iron replacement, plus a 20° Apex 19 hybrid, so he will choose between them each week.
The ball has been a big switch for him. But we know the Chrome Soft is a great ball, used widely now on Tour. We were confident it would feel great for him, but once he saw an increase in ball speed with it, he was sold.
>> Francesco works with Odyssey ambassador Phil Kenyon on his putting, and Phil was really important in getting the right set-up for him. He’s settled on a Odyssey Toulon Design Madison, 32.38” – that just goes to show the detail he gets into – with a new Stroke Lab shaft.
>> Francesco isn’t the kind of player who’ll tinker too much with his equipment now he’s settled on a set-up. He’s a really good guy to work with, and a brilliant signing for Callaway. The Open champion putting his trust in our equipment just validates what we do, and what our engineers do. I’m really proud to have someone like that on the team.
The Making Of A Champion Golfer
You can imagine the scene. Francesco Molinari is sipping a coffee in the clubhouse at The Wisley with his long-time coach Denis Pugh, and the two are pondering what the player needs to do to get to the next level.
He’s already a multiple winner on the European Tour, Ryder Cup winner too. But Molinari wants more. He wants to fulfil the potential he sees in his game. He wants to win the biggest events. He wants to win in the USA. He wants to consistently contend in Major Championships.
The two of them come up with a plan. It would mean improving his approach to his game in key areas – mental, swing, fitness, equipment – but boy did it pay off. Molinari had a career season in 2018. He won big in Europe (the BMW PGA). He won in the USA (Quicken Loans National). He contended in a Major – then won it – and made unbeaten history at the Ryder Cup (going 5-0-0), becoming the first Italian to be crowned European No.1 after topping the Race to Dubai. He finished the year a career high seventh in the world.
Not that the man has been too surprised by his meteoric rise; Molinari has always remained supremely confident in his ability, firmly believing that one day he could crack the biggest stage. All it took was a plan to get him there, from a dream team of advisors – Pugh, performance coach Dave Alred, putting expert Phil Kenyon and equipment guy, Adrian Rietveld from TaylorMade.
“This is the end result of so much hard work by Francesco on all departments of his game,” says Pugh. “The three parts – swing, short game and performance – have really gelled together. “He had played poorly at the Players Championship in May. So poorly that we pretty much went back to basics. And it worked. Since the win at Wentworth he has just gone on and on and on. Francesco plays his best when he isn’t thinking about his swing. He gets good feelings from his mechanics. So we haven’t worked on anything new. With him, it is just a case of going over and over the old stuff. That’s not very sexy, but it works.
“Dave has made Francesco a lot more specific in his targets and given him what he calls ‘an ugly short game,’ which has helped me enormously. There have been times when it felt like he would have to hit every iron to two-feet in order to make birdie. So it’s been a long process. A grind at times. Which is typical of Francesco. In terms of intensity, he is the hardest worker I have ever seen. He doesn’t necessarily work long hours. But when he is working it is always 100 percent effort and concentration.”
Here, in the deep, softly spoken but assured words of the 36-year-old from Turin, he reveals how he did it, who helped him – and how he plans to carry on in 2019.
I suppose results-wise it all started with the BMW in May. That was a big step. When I reflect on it now, obviously it was a slow start to the year, but kicked on from Wentworth. But I felt like I was improving and progressing before that but obviously it’s about results and that makes the difference. It is a thin line between success and failure, but since the BMW it’s really been incredible.
I was confident I would do better than I did over the first two or three months of the season, though obviously I wasn’t to know what was coming my way. Sure, it was frustrating at times early on, but I’ve played golf long enough to know that that’s part of the game and you just have to accept it, though I wasn’t thinking I’m going to win a Major and this and that.
People keep asking me what happened. How I pulled it off. Everyone expects there to be a secret, some magical wand. But it was just down to the work I’ve done the last few years; all the improvements came together at the same time. It’s simply down to the team around me and the way we work and have been working and thinking these past few years, trying to find ways to improve and to get better. It’s been a long journey for everyone – not just for me.
Most people just see the end product, but what has made the difference from the first few months of last season to the summer was simply down to the motivation – and the frustration from the start of the season and feeling and seeing I was playing a certain level of golf, but there was a discrepancy between the results and the performances. I felt I wasn’t achieving as much as I could, and that gave me and the rest of the team an incentive to do more, do things better and just push a little bit harder. Going forward, it’s a case of working better, rather than harder; finding ways that will challenge you the most. The biggest thing in the last few years has been to find ways to challenge myself, like giving myself a task and saying ‘you need to resolve it, keep doing it until you find a way to do it’.
I’ve been working with Dave Alred on this side of my game. One of the main principles is to make practice less repetitive and more relevant to what I’m trying to do on the course in a tournament. Standing on the driving range hitting one ball after another, trying to feel something, is not the answer. It can be physically challenging because you can hit 300 balls, but that’s it. Mentally it’s not very challenging, your brain isn’t really engaged when you’re doing that. Now we work on things like getting out of trouble spots on the course, and on putting – I do drills where I need to hole a certain amount of putts and I stay there until I do it. Some days it may take 10 putts and some days 65 putts, and we do this with every sort of distance – short, medium and long. Obviously, the amount of putts you need to hole changes because if you’re putting from 3ft you may be trying to hole 15 putts in a row and if you’re trying from 20ft it’s probably two in a row.
It’s all about putting yourself in key tournament scenarios. Inevitably there are some days when you do it more easily and some when it’s challenging, when you’re struggling to hole five putts in a row or hit two wedges to within 10ft in a row. But I think it’s in those moments that you really find the answers you need. No one is going to give you the answers, you need to find out for yourself. And if you can’t find it at home when you’re practising, it’s going to be really hard to find it when you’re under pressure with some really talented golfers trying to beat you.
It’s not easy dealing and coping with that pressure, especially when you’re in contention on a Sunday. Again, I think you can deal with it if you’re prepared for it, so obviously we get there stage by stage and if you throw a weekend golfer into the lead at The Open, it’s not going to happen. We, as pros, build through different stages of our career to get there and, for me, the way to deal with it is simply to focus on my process and the things that I’ve prepared for at home and not to get sucked into what it is going on all around you, which tournament you’re playing in, which trophy you’re playing for. It sounds easy, but it’s not. But, for me, it’s the only way to do it.
A big thing in 2018 was to increase my driving distance by 20 yards – the result of a lot of work, it hasn’t happened overnight. It’s been physical, it’s been technical, it’s even been mental because sometimes if you’ve a tight fairway in front of you, you just have to step up and hit it as hard as you can instead of trying to ease it up the fairway. It’s been a combination of all those things. Overall though I would say the biggest impact has been physical. I am fortunate enough to have a guy (strength and conditioning coach Rob Goldup) who works with me, knows what he’s doing and how to help me and achieve what I want to achieve. But if you want to keep it simple, if you get stronger, you can hit it longer. As much as people say golf isn’t a physical sport, if you want to hit it longer it’s about creating speed and you can do that if you’re physically in better shape. I’ve definitely spent a lot more time in the gym compared to 10 years ago.
Another key factor has been my improved putting. Phil Kenyon has been a great influence, a great impact. The biggest difference is that I used to aim left and push every putt which is difficult to repeat and be consistent with. So I’ve learnt to aim straight and bring back the clubhead straighter to achieve more repetition and consistency.
The Ryder Cup was the highlight of my season. It was a week that I’ll remember for the rest of my life… like the other two Ryder Cups I’d played in, but especially this time, forming the partnership with Tommy and just having fun. The whole week in our team room there was an incredible atmosphere with all the guys, from the rookies to the more experienced players, it was just incredible to be a part of it.
Naturally, my Open win received a massive reception back home in Italy and it was great to see people not really that interested in golf getting passionate about it and seeing an Italian doing well. They’re two very different events. The Open is an individual achievement, is as good as it gets from an individual perspective. I was fortunate enough to do both in the same year which is incredibly special, but if I have to pick one, it would have to be the Ryder Cup.
This is all like a big dream for me. I love it and I love playing golf and I love playing in big tournaments and the day that doesn’t happen, hopefully I will be able to say that’s enough and just step away although that won’t be easy and not for a good while yet…