Coming off a career season highlighted by a two-shot win at the Open Championship and record-setting performance with European teammate Tommy Fleetwood at the Ryder Cup, no one would’ve blamed Francesco Molinari if he put his clubs on ice in hopes the good vibes from 2018 would carry over into the new year.
As an equipment free agent, the Italian had the opportunity to do whatever he pleased with his bag setup entering the week at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. But instead of sticking with his usual setup — consisting of 13 TaylorMade clubs and a Bettinardi putter — Molinari raised some eyebrows when he showed up with 14 Callaway clubs positioned neatly inside a black stand bag.
Given the heavy Callaway presence, many assumed Molinari was a mere staff bag away from being announced as the newest member of Callaway’s Tour staff. Only that’s not the case.
For the moment, Molinari remains a free agent when it comes to the gear and staff bag, which is the reason why he chose a nondescript stand bag for the tournament.
“I’m just testing at the moment,” Molinari said after opening with even-par 73. “I’m really happy with [the Callaway equipment]. I hit the ball well even in the wind, but I was a bit rusty scoring-wise.”
Even though it was only one round, Molinari said he noticed a few subtle differences between his previous setup and the Callaway clubs, particularly with the driver and irons.
“Off the tee, it’s going a little longer,” he said. “And I just like the feel of the blades. When you flush it, it gives you great feedback, which I like.”
Molinari also replaced the putter he used last season when he was under contract with Bettinardi with an Anser-style Toulon model.
“It’s a club that will always be in my memory,” Molinari told GOLF.com of the Bettinardi putter. “To be honest, it was a classic shape, so it’s not too hard to replicate. The [Toulon Design] putted really well, so hopefully, it will be exactly the same.”
As for when Molinari started testing all of the Callaway equipment, he confirmed receiving the irons prior to the European Tour’s season-ending event in Dubai but decided against breaking the set in for one event. The rest of the current setup underwent testing during the winter break.
Molinari plans to continue using the clubs without compensation but left the door ajar to the possibility of his free agency status changing down the road.
“I’m just testing and don’t have a deal so far,” he said. “But we’ll see what happens.”
Evin Priest contributed to this report