Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka, Francesco Molinari. They have a lot in common.
They each wear Nike clothes and shoes. They each play a Titleist golf ball. And between them they’ve cleaned up all the majors in 2018.
They are also free agents when it comes to (most of) the golf clubs in their bags.
When Nike decided to stop making hardware it left Koepka and Molinari with a free run at all the equipment on the market.
Reed previously had a deal with Callaway but decided to go it alone at the start of 2018.
And while former Nike players Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Tony Finau have signed deals with TaylorMade and Ping respectively, our threesome (plus Tommy Fleetwood, Paul Casey and more) have avoided tying themselves down.
Between Koepka, Reed and Molinari they have won five of the last seven major championships (Koepka US Open x 2 and PGA, Reed The Masters, Molinari The Open).
They all play (are paid to use) a Titleist golf ball too – something they would struggle to do if they signed a deal with TaylorMade or Callaway for example.
Molinari is the slight odd one out as he is paid to use a Bettinardi putter. Koepka and Reed can literally use whichever 14 clubs they choose.
Molinari has 13 TaylorMade clubs to go with his Bettinardi putter.
So with these three, along with the Fleetwood’s and Casey’s, doing so well it does beg the question whether or not it has now become and advantage for them to remain as free agents?
The case for the free agents
We spoke recently to Mizuno’s Chris Voshell who designed Koepka’s irons.
“Rather than chase the money, these free agents are playing what they think will make them the best golfer.
“If you look at Tiger Woods signing with TaylorMade it has very much been a work in progress to get the right clubs in the bag. That means some stuff doesn’t work straight off the bat.
“We’re the polar opposite to that because we got players saying ‘hey, this clubs work, I’m going to play them and we’ll figure out the rest further down the line’.
“To me, if you’re a golfer looking for greatness, you find what works for you rather than sign a deal and hope you can make something work for you.”
So there are obvious advantages to being able to pick and choose your golf equipment.
There’s less pressure for a start. Fewer media commitments and a lot more freedom.
The case for the non-free agents
But how much of a factor is it in Koepka, Reed and Molinari doing well in the majors?
I can tell you now with 100 percent certainty there is no bad golf equipment out there – especially not from the likes of Ping, TaylorMade, Callaway and Titleist to name just four brands.
I’m not sure you can say the reason Rory McIlroy or Tiger Woods didn’t win The Open was because they have equipment deals with TaylorMade.
Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas have won the other two majors out of the last seven and both have through-the-bag deals with Titleist.
Dustin Johnson is the world number one, closely followed by fellow TaylorMade stablemate Justin Rose.
John Rahm, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Alex Noren, Bubba Watson are hardly struggling to get by on the tour circuit for having golf club deals.
Let’s look at the three players in question. They won their major titles by being the best players over the four days of each particular event.
They are all extremely talented golfers – they haven’t found some sort of loophole which makes the ball go into the hole with more regularity.
The day Nike pulled out of the golf equipment business, the landscape changed. Up until that point it was hard to think of a player who wasn’t tied down to a deal.
All these players were still being paid handsomely to wear Nike’s clothes and shoes. They all had a few quid in the bank already so why would they tie themselves down for the sake of a few extra grand in sponsorship money?
So inclusion, I’d say it is more of a coincidence based on the fact there are a lot more free agents out there than there used to be.
There are still eight players in the world’s top 10 who have equipment deals and, in my opinion, they are not being hampered because they only use clubs made by one brand.
Let’s give the players in question the credit they deserve for being fantastic golfers whose swings and putting strokes were able to perform under the intense pressure of the back nine of a major.