Is Bigger Always Better

By Frank ThomasFebruary 21, 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
Hello Frank,
I thought the bigger drivers of today are designed more for forgiveness than distance. I have noticed that the pros on tour do not use the biggest drivers that the manufacturers put on the market for us everyday folk. With the smaller driver head and smaller sweet spot do they get more distance when they hit it on the sweet spot than the bigger drivers? -- Ron

The reason why the clubs are 460ccs today is because this is the size limit and bigger must be better if there is an upper limit. The fact is that once the maximum COR (Coefficient of Restitution) is reached it doesnt matter how big the head is. You are not going to get any more ball speed out of a bigger head if you hit both clubs on the sweet spot. The bigger the head the easier it is to increase the MOI (Moment of Inertia). For an explanation of MOI; see my January Newsletter.
For most of us who dont always hit the sweet spot the higher the MOI the better off we are but there are diminishing returns. The pros certainly dont need a 460 head size and it seems they prefer smaller heads (about 400ccs) which is certainly big enough. I think that once the 460 craze has run its course we will see a trend to smaller heads (400+ccs) become more popular.
I have often wondered if one can handle a longer shaft with the right combination of grip size, swing weight etc. Does one inch extra equal about 8 yards in additional distance if the person swinging has a full arm extension and builds up torque in the proper way? Some golfers tend to break their arm extension on the backswing others break during the hit itself. My question is concerning if the club shaft is extended and the person swings properly can they get an extra 8-10 yards in distance? -- Bob Martin, London, Canada

There is no clear answer to your question as the longer the club gets the harder it is to swing, all else being equal. A weight at the end of a long stick is harder to swing than the same weight on a shorter stick. We do know that given the same overall MOI of the system and the same energy input the longer club will result in a higher head speed but this will only result in an increase of about two and a bit yards per inch. There are other factors in play such as launch angle etc which may affect the distance a little more. Experiments have shown that there are definitely diminishing returns and the optimum length for maximum distance is about 47 inches but at the same time as the length and distance increases the accuracy decreases. So the question is: Do you want to be long in the rough or long in the fairway? Not much roll in the rough.
The occasional long straight drive is however very appealing and makes some of us feel good and can brag about it for longer than scoring an eagle. The average length of drivers on tour is a hair longer than 44.5 inches and increasing very slowly. It used to be 43.5 forty years ago.
When I was a kid playing golf 20 - 25 years ago we used a lot yellow and orange golf balls. Then those fell out of favor and manufacturers stopped making them. Now it seems colorful balls are making a comeback. Is this just a matter of trends repeating themselves or is there something else going on? -- Thomas Stewart

I can assure it is a trend and nothing to get excited about with regard to playability or performance. When colored balls first came out in the mid to late sixties they were red and called snow-balls. As you can imagine white balls dont do well in snowy conditions. Then in the mid seventies, colors were again introduced to improve visibility bright yellow and luminous orange but this did not last too long even though some people who were color blind claimed to be able to see colored balls better than white.
The only advantage now is maybe a way to identify your ball, make a statement or just for fun.

Dear Mr. Thomas,
I am looking to invest my money in a new driver namely a PING G2. I currently have a 9.5-degree Taylor Made 360 with a stiff shaft. Should I go with the Ping G2 in 8.5 degrees or 10 degrees with a stiff shaft? Thank you for your time. -- Eric D. Arntzen

This depends entirely on your swing speed and your launch conditions. As I dont know either I am not in a position to specifically answer your question. I can, however, help guide you by suggesting that you first try the 10 degree driver if you have an average swing speed (Approx 85 to 90 mph) and if possible measure your launch conditions. These should be about 13 to 14 degrees launch angle.
The second and next important measurement is the spin rate. Try to get this down to 3,000 rpm if possible but dont do this at the cost of decreasing you launch angle. As far as the shaft flex is concerned generally the faster you swing the stiffer the shaft, but for the average head speed identified above the first choice is a regular flex. This is a starting point but you must feel comfortable with the club as only this will build confidence and improve both accuracy and distance.
Hi Frank,
Some years ago, Dave Pelz offered a 'multi-ball' putter that was declared 'non-conforming' ('illegal' in most competitions) by USGA. I can't remember if Pelz' putter was a 3-, 4-, or 5-ball one. Why was Pelz' putter declared non-conforming, while the recent offering from Callaway-Odyssey is OK? With so many 'wildly shaped' putters offered today, is there any feature that would cause the USGA to ban to any putter? -- Fred Schonenberg, Jr.

The original putter by Pelz was a three ball putter. There were two versions a small face with a long tail fin (or back face) and the second version was a big long face and small tail fin. The rules require that the size of the putter from the toe to the heel be longer than from the face to the back. In the first version the face was very small (about the width of a ball) and the distance from the face to the back was three balls with a lot of the weight in the back ball. This weight at the back gave the putter a backward positioned center of gravity and increased the MOI of the head increasing the size of the sweet spot. This same concept is now available in most mallet putters.
I just wanted to know that if a hybrid club that replaces a 3 or a 4 iron in a set should go with a steel shaft like the rest of the iron set or should it go with graphite like a fairway wood? -- Carlos Gorbena, Cancun, Mexico

The best thing to do is when replacing your long irons with hybrids to go with the same type shaft. Some manufacturers are designing shafts specifically for hybrids and these perform well but the first choice is to stay with the same material and try to match the feel of your other irons.
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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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, part of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward the back-right hole location, about 25 feet away, closer than both Fleetwood and Johnson.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back after the opening round. He tied for second here a year ago.

Johnson is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in four months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."