QA Backspin on Drivers

By Frank ThomasFebruary 20, 2008, 5:00 pm
Editor's Note: This is the latest in a weekly Q&A feature from GOLF CHANNEL's Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Every week we will select the best question and Frank will send one lucky golfer a personally signed copy of 'Just Hit It'. Last week's lucky winner was Dave, with his question regarding talented junior golfers and the best way to help them and their parents.
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Backspin on Drivers
I'm confused about some contradictory statements I've read concerning the desirability of backspin (or lack of it) when one hits a driver off the tee. The February 2008 issue of Golf Digest states, ' . . . you want to hit the ball just above the true middle of the face to launch it high without too much backspin' (p. 123). On the other hand, a book entitled Newton on the Tee: A Good Walk Through the Science of Golf states, 'The force of the air on a dimpled golf ball with backspin provides lift . . .' (p. 81). The author elaborates that the rotating ball creates a downward force on the air, and 'according to Newton's Third Law, the air must, in turn, create an upward lifting force on the ball' (P. 83). This lifting force, he concludes, alters the ball's trajectory in an upward direction.
The implication of both of these contradictory points of view is that a golfer will get more distance from his drives.
What is your view on the backspin issue?

Believe it or not these statements are not contradictory. A ball without back spin will fly about 140 yards compared 260 yards with backspin. This assumes all other launch conditions ' speed, launch angle etc ' are the same.
The dimples on a golf ball actually reduce the drag force through the air at speeds the ball normally experiences in flight. But it is very important to have the right amount of backspin to get the maximum distance. It is only recently -- in the last twenty years -- that we have really understood the total effect of spin in combination with launch angle and ball speed to get maximum distance. Because of the equipment these launch conditions were not achievable to the likes of Jack Nicklaus and golfers of his era.
When the ball spins ' backspin is on every shot irrespective of what some TV announcers suggest -- the air flow over the ball is such that it creates a differential in air pressure above and below the ball ' high pressure below and low pressure above. This allows the ball to experience a lift force creating a gliding trajectory through the air rather than take on the trajectory of a stone or bullet.

The problem about backspin is, that too much actually creates more drag forces giving the ball a lift force sending it into a ballooning trajectory and reduces the distance. So backspin is important, but the right amount is needed in combination with ball speed and launch angle to get maximum distance.
The reason why it has been suggested one hits the ball high on the club face is to take advantage of the vertical gear effect which will help reduce the spin getting it closer to the optimum, e.g. about 2,500 rpm for a 13 degree launch angle and a head speed of about 90 mph. In the past we have found it difficult to get this low spin rate with a 13 degree launch angle because as the launch angle increases so does the spin rate. Today drivers in combination with the multi-layered balls allow us to get close to optimum launch conditions.
Hope this helps clear up the confusion.
To Change or Not to Change Shakespeare irons?
I enjoy your insights very much on the game we all play. I am 52 and using Shakespeare Irons with aluminum shafts. They are about 35 years old. I am about a 10 handicap player and usually play about 1 to 2 times a week. I am concerned about the difference in the action of the shafts, these do not seem to twist as much when I miss hit a shot keeping my shots more on line although the distance suffers. What type of shafts on todays clubs would be the closest to what I am using now?
Thanks Again.

This is an especially interesting question, because the irons you are using are probably those I designed when I was the chief design engineer for Shakespeare Sporting Goods in 1968-71 just before I introduced the graphite shaft to the world of golf. However, if these have aluminum shafts then they may have been the model year before my first head design. If this is the case then the clubs are about 40 years old and I do think that it is a good time to consider a change.
In my book Just Hit It, which was released on February 15th and is now available by Clicking Here, I caution golfers not to jump on the latest equipment immediately it is introduced each year -- sometimes three times a year ' simply because it is new. New does not necessarily mean that it will affect your performance measurably from last years model, or in fact the year before that.
Sometimes it takes a year to get your clubs and your swing in sync, broken in so-to-speak and frequent changes will disrupt this process. It is like pulling up a newly planted tree every month to see if the roots have grown. Certainly, the technology in irons cannot change rapidly enough to warrant an annual change. This is now the case with drivers as well.
However, forty years is on the edge of being too long to hold on to your clubs especially if you play twice a week. These Shakespeare clubs were not cavity backs and not very forgiving clubs. Karsten was just about to come out with his classic clubs Eye-2 irons, which turned the world of iron design on its head. These Eye-2s are still good clubs and hard to beat for forgiveness.

With regard to the shafts -- in your new set of clubs --I would recommend that you get a set of R-flex good steel shafts which will perform better than the aluminum versions you presently have.
A little bit of fun information; during impact the shaft plays no part in the way the ball flies. The head rotates about its own center of gravity (c.g.) on mishits, not the shaft. The shaft may just as well be severed from the head immediately when impact starts. The only purpose of the shaft during and after impact is to stop the club from flying down the fairway.
By the time impact is felt by your hands the ball is about 18 inches off the face and by the time you can do anything about it the ball is close to 20 yards on its way to wherever it is headed ' on the fairway we hope. You are better off talking to your ball than trying to control it during impact or getting a shaft that will affect the ball flight during this very short period of time.
Brian as much as you may like your Shakespeare clubs it is time to clean them up before they take a place on your mantel shelf. Then relax and read my book to get some interesting information about equipment and how we should try to speed up play to help make our game more enjoyable.
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
Frank Thomas

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.