When a manufacturer launches a new range of clubs it is natural that they want their athletes (as Nike calls them) using them on Tour. Francesco Molinari is one such athlete and has just penned a new deal with Nike that will see their relationship continue until 2018.
I sat down with Francesco at the Nike Vapor European launch, held at Nike's Performance Fitting Centre at Archerfield in East Lothian and was interested to find out the reasons why he was putting the new Vapor models into play.
You've recently re-signed with Nike Golf. Was it a long decision making process and did you try any other manufacturer's equipment, or was it an easy choice to make?
No, I didn't try any other equipment. I was very happy to stay with Nike and luckily they were also happy to keep me with the company. We've been together since my first year on Tour in 2005 and I'm excited to see how the clubs are going to develop in the next few years. It is great for me to be associated with a brand that cares so much and invests so much in research and innovation. It's been a long journey over the last 10 years with some big changes and I'm looking forward to seeing what is coming next.
So let's talk through your bag for the coming year and I see you have changed the driver already?
Yes I had the Covert 2.0 Tour and I've switched to the Vapor Pro. I liked it so much that after testing prior to the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship I put it into play that week.
What is the biggest change you have noticed between the two models?
The Vapor Pro driver has given me a little bit more ball speed, which has given me a little bit more distance, but also more forgiveness and I think that has been the biggest change.
I think the Covert was a good club, it was very hot and a powerful driver when you hit it well, but it wasn't as forgiving as the Vapor Pro on strikes that are not so good. It gives you confidence when you tee the ball up knowing that even if you don't hit it perfectly it will still go well.
How have you set you the Vapor Pro driver using the adjustability?
I have the FlexLoft 2 hosel set to 10.5° and the face angle set to 'Left' as I like to see the loft on the face at address. With my swing speed of around 108mph this gives me a 12° launch and around 2500rpm ball spin, so I can usually carry it over 270 yards.
With the fairway wood I'm interested to see you use the Vapor Speed. Have you tried the Vapor Flex fairway yet?
We have done most of our testing with the Vapor Speed fairway so far, but I have been happy with it. For me the 3 wood is the most delicate club for me to change.
Why is that?
I'm not sure. Over the years it has been much easier for me to change to a new driver. I think probably because with the 3 wood you need to hit it both off the tee and off the turf, so it is not always easy to find a good balance between the two things.
With the Vapor Speed 3 wood I really like the look of it which is important, it sits very well on the ground and then when testing it I saw that it was launching a bit higher but with less spin, so it was actually an easy switch. Compared to my Covert 3-wood it is easier to hit with the same 15° loft off the turf which is obviously a big advantage.
The Vapor Speed fairway has a bigger clubhead than the Covert. Is that something you like in a fairway wood?
I don't really mind either way, but the thing I like with the Vapor Speed is that even if the loft is the same you can see more of the clubface and the toe is rounder and not as sharp as it was in the Covert and I think that makes the club look better when you put it down behind the ball.
What hybrid are you using at the moment?
I am using the VR Pro and have two in the bag at 18° and 21°. I have been using them for five or six years. It's a small headed hybrid almost like a driving iron and I'm really happy with them so we will obviously do more testing going forwards but at the moment I am happy with them.
Have you tested the new Vapor hybrids?
Not yet, but I am going to do that over the winter.
What about the irons? I believe the one's you have in the bag today are the prototype version of the Vapor Pro irons?
I am currently using the VR blades on Tour, but the Vapor Pro's are the ones I have been testing with. I haven't switched yet as I am very happy with my blades, but I can definitely see the benefits in the new irons so I will do some more testing over the winter and switch to the Vapor Pro irons for the 2015 season.
I like that fact that the Vapor Pro is a bit thicker in the top edge so when you put it down it still looks like a blade, but this gives me the impression that it is a bit more forgiving. It is more powerful with the technology of the weight and the numbers we have seen in testing is that they give a little bit more distance than my blades.
In the Vapor irons the centre of gravity (CG) has been moved further out towards the middle. Is that something you have noticed?
When I tested them the first time they seemed to be more stable and more solid through the ball. With my blades, even though I love them, there are more vibrations and they don't seem quite as stable when you hit the ball. I can see there is an improvement and a benefit it is just obviously finding the right time to put them in the bag.
Are you somebody who shapes your irons a lot or do you just hit it straight?
Not too much. I try to aim straight at the target and try to hit a straightish shot.
I see you have a bit of tape on the back of these prototype irons. What is that for?
The swingweight in these clubs I am testing wasn't exactly the same as to my blades, so we added to that to try and match the swingweights exactly for testing them out. The new Vapor Pro heads I have being made should come with the correct swingweight so we won't need any tape.
Do you have the standard lie and length in the shafts?
Yes, standard lie and length.
You have got a 58° and a 52° Nike VR Forged wedges and earlier you talked about your lay up distance being 90-95 metres that seemed a lot further back than I was expecting; I thought it might be around 80 metres?
Well, it is not so straightforward as a simple yardage as it depends on where the flag is and how much spin you need on the ball. I have always liked my gap wedge and for me that is 90-95 metres that has always been a comfortable distance for me. Obviously if it's a tight flag and I need to spin it more I might lay up to 80 metres so I can hit a flat out lob wedge and get more spin on the ball.
And you're quite happy with the large gap between the two wedges of six degrees?
Yes there is quite a big gap between the lob wedge and the gap wedge, but again I feel comfortable taking distance off my gap wedge and hitting smoother shots from 85-90 metres. I once tried to take the 3 iron out of the bag and go 51°, 55°, 60° but I didn't really feel any benefit from it to be honest.
If anything it seemed more confusing to have one more wedge and I wasn't really sure about when to use one and when to use the other. I have always had this kind of set up in the bag and it is easy for me to pick the right shot from every distance.
Are the wedges are just standard lies and lofts as well?
Yes. Standard lies and lofts.
You started with cavity back irons when you first came on Tour and have now come more towards the blade style of irons. What are your reasons for heading in that direction? Is it because modern blades now performing more like cavity backs?
I don't think it was for that reason. When I switched I switched to a standard blade and when I tried them it just felt better through the grass. I naturally have quite a high ball flight so I don't really need the help of the cavity back and it just felt like I could control the distance and the shape better so overall I felt more comfortable with it.
How many clubs would you take to a normal tour event?
I usually bring the two hybrids and a cavity back 3-iron, so I guess it would be fifteen, no more than that unless I am specifically testing new stuff?
You don't take a spare driver or a spare putter or anything like that?
We usually have a back up driver on the Nike truck. I might sometimes have two putters, but recently I've only been travelling with the Nike Method 006 Prototype.
As it's Ryder Cup year we've just run a competition asking who holed the putt for the winning half point in 2012 which of course was you! What were you thinking or feeling going down the last hole at Medinah?
It was great. Obviously it was very intense and when Martin Kaymer holed the putt it took quite a lot of pressure off as we were going to retain the Cup no matter what.
At what point in the afternoon did you realise that it was coming down to you?
Well already at the 13th or 14th it looked like it was coming down to Martin and myself so it was pretty intense. On the 18th I wasn't sure what to do to be honest as I've never been in that situation before and I had a quick chat with the Captain who said give it a go as we can still win it and it was a great feeling to cap off a fantastic day with half a point against Tiger. It was a special afternoon.