Ball Performance and Knockoffs

By Frank ThomasFebruary 7, 2006, 5:00 pm
Frankly GolfEditor's Note: This is the latest in a new weekly feature from Golf Channel Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email
Dear Frank,
With the price of tour quality balls now $4.00/each or more, how long should you play with the same one without a loss in performance, assuming it is not cut or spent too much time on the cart path? -- Jon Fovargue, Olympia, Washington

The premium balls today are all three or four piece balls. They are no longer made with rubber windings'they are all made with solid cores. These do not wear out or change in performance properties for a very long time. You can probably play with one of these balls for at least twenty rounds or more on condition that the cover surface on the ball is not scuffed or damaged in any way.
In some of the balls used on tour, the final or outer cover is only about .020 inches thick. This is equivalent to the thickness of two standard business cards. It is this layer that influences the performance around the greens. Most importantly, it is in this final outer cover, in which the dimples are molded. Without dimples, a ball which normally flies 260 yards, will only travel 130 yards. So this thin layer is very important. Also, remember to clean your ball whenever possible as dirt in the dimples will affect performance. Todays balls will perform well until the surface gets scuffed or it doesnt listen to you and you lose it.
If you would like to know what is considered to be Frankly The Best ball, simply click on this link to help us identify the highest rated balls. The results will be published on in the coming weeks.
Dear Sir,
What is the average length of a driver shaft for an average handicap golfer, handicap 12 and 5ft 10 inches tall? -- Emil Stephenson

About 30 years ago the average length driver was 43 inches. This changed for two reasons. The first is because manufacturers were attempting to demonstrate that their drivers hit the ball further than the competitions but didnt advertise that their clubs were as much as an inch or more longer. Second, new materials, which are lighter, allows the designers to make bigger heads and lighter shafts and clubs an inch longer, became acceptable.
The average length on tour is about 44 inches but manufacturers continue to produce 45 + inch drivers as a standard for the consumer because of the slight increase in driving distance which these will provide. We are obsessed with distance and it is the most powerful word in marketing. The problem with longer drivers is that they are also less accurate. My recommendation is that you select a 44-inch driver. It will keep you in the fairway more often and thus your average driving distance will increase, you will build confidence in your driving, and thus make a better swing and you should score better. The down side is that you may not get that one in a twenty five drives which you nail and can brag about for weeks forgetting the others which you lost in the woods.
Recently, a friend of mine, a 15 handicapper, was debating whether to buy a $400 driver or a knock-off of the same for less than 1/2 that price. I told him neither one would help him appreciably, so he should buy the cheaper of the two and same some money. My handicap fluctuates between 4 and 7 during the year on a 6,200 yard course with a slope of 120 or so. Even though I am a more consistent player than he, I do not believe that making changes to more expensive clubs and balls will have an appreciable effect on my scores. What's your opinion? -- Bruce Humphrey, Sparta, WI

If you have a 400+ cc titanium driver made in the last three or four years and are getting close to your optimum launch conditions then I would agree with you that changing to a more recent model will not do very much more for you. The reason is that most of the drivers today from reputable manufacturers are good and already at the limit for COR. It is only the selection of loft and shaft flex for your skill level, which is very important.
I do not agree with you that Knock-offs are a good alternative. My question to you is this; would you fly in an airplane with knock-off engines installed? To some of us, the choice of a driver is not a matter of life and death but there is no reason not to fly in an older proven and reliable plane. My suggestion is, if price is a factor, to select a new but one- or two-year old model of which there are quite a few and going at very good discounts simply because they are last years model.
Dear Sir,
Some websites claim that moving weight to the hosel (as for example in the Peerless Acura irons) increases perimeter weighting of irons and increases forgiveness. Other websites claim that redistributing weight away from the hosel increases perimeter weighting and forgiveness of irons (for example the Short Straight Hollow Hosel (S2H2) technology of Callaway). How is the apparent contradiction explained? -- John Hayes

If most of the weight is moved toward the heel or the toe, then the center of gravity (c.g.) also moves. It is important to try to keep the c.g. in the center of, but behind the face. In irons, you want the c.g. as low as you can get it (for the average player). I would rather not discuss manufacturers claims or the possible contradiction but prefer to explain forgiveness. If you distribute the weight as far away from the center of gravity as possible, then you will increase the Moment of Inertia (MOI). In golf clubs this means forgiveness. I have in my most recent newsletter, (found at an easy to understand explanation of MOI or the Forgiveness factor. I think you will find it very interesting and informative as MOI is a term commonly used in golf today and few of us really understand it.
Hi Frank
I have an unusual question. I own an old Wave driver that I believe is made from a single block of cast aluminum. I also have a Nicklaus Bear titanium and a Taylor Made Ti bubble. The wave goes farther! How come? Is it my swing? What should I work on to get more distance from the titanium drivers? Thanks Gary

The clubs you are using are reasonably old. The difference between your clubs and those introduced in the last three or four years is that the newer drivers are designed to the maximum permissible limits of COR (Coefficient of Restitution or spring like effect.)
(See for some more info on COR.) The higher the COR, the faster the ball will leave the club face. Todays drivers will launch the ball at least 5 mph faster than the driver you are currently using. This can translate into about 12 yards. If you get closer to your optimum launch conditions (i.e. 14 degrees and 3500 rpm for a swing speed of 80 to 85 mph), then you might gain as much as 20 yards in total. I suggest that you look into more modern clubs and make sure the loft is high enough to launch the ball as prescribed above.
Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf, a company dedicated to Helping Golfers. Frank is Chief Technical Advisor to The Golf Channel and Golf Digest. He served as Technical Director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN System and introduced the Stimpmeter to the world of golf. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email
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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.