QA Grooves and 3-Wood Woes

By Frank ThomasJanuary 9, 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
I purchased a 460CC Cleveland 10.5 degree driver recently . I have seen significant improvement in my drives both distance and direction. I've only been golfing for 5 years and at the ripe age of 61 I need all the help I can get. I'm curious why the manufacturers haven't applied the same technology and size to the 3,5,7,9,11 woods?Seems like the next logical step in game improvement.
-- Robert

First let me say that the answer is a short one: Because you can't use a tee in the middle of the fairway.
Let me also tell you that I have been asked (in some cases strongly instructed) by many readers to forgo my New Year's resolution of keeping my answers short and sweet.
For this reason let me expand a little on my answer and give you the reason why the woods you refer to i.e. 3, 5, 7, 9, and 11 are not as forgiving and do not have the same 'spring like effect' as your driver. As much as the designers would like this not to be the case, there are some constraints based on how the club is to be used and designed to perform. We know that for maximum distance, we should use our driver, which is designed with the assumption that we place the ball on a tee. Because of this advantage, this club can have a big face to give you maximum spring like effect (COR = .830). Generally, the larger the head the more forgiving it will be because of the larger Moment of Inertia (MOI) and the bigger the face the more effective the spring like effect. These two properties effectively increase the size of the sweet spot and forgive many of our swing errors.
The original Big Bertha had a face depth (top to bottom) of 1.5 inches. The limit on this dimension is as big as 2.8 inches -- almost twice the size -- from the sole to the crown. This allows for a very effective trampoline face to give you maximum ball speed for a given head speed.
Fairway woods are designed to be hit off the fairway, which means that the center of the ball will make contact with a spot a little above 3/4 of an inch above the sole (unless we hit it fat). It is difficult to design a whole lot of 'spring like effect' that low on the clubface. In addition, you need the center of gravity (c.g.) of the head to be somewhere in line with the ball at impact. These restraints require that the heads be smaller or at least shallower. As a result, they will not be as forgiving or hit the ball as far as your driver. I do suggest that you look at including a hybrid or two instead of your long irons.
Hope this helps in a better understanding of the fact that we can't have it all.
-- Frank
I have a question regarding grooves on the face of a driver. I know that most drivers these days don't have any grooves in the center of the club, but some drivers that are a few years old (and are much less expensive :) ) have grooves in the middle of the face. I am curious as to whether the grooves are going to significantly affect ball flight and/or impart more spin on the ball? I hover around an 11 handicap with a comfortable driver swing speed in the 95mph range.
Keep up the great articles.
-- Mark

The only reason for grooves on the face of a driver is that this it is traditional.' In some cases it helps visually align the club head. The effect on spin is minimal and if anything grooves on a driver may reduce the spin rather than increase the spin. The reason why we do not find grooves on the thin-faced drivers today is that the face is so thin that grooves will introduce unwanted stress points weakening the face, which may lead to early failure.
The average force applied to the ball during impact, which only lasts for .00045 seconds is about 1,700 pounds. One can imagine what this will do to the thin face of the driver. One of the many major stress areas is the center of the face and because of this removing the grooves reduces the potential for it to collapse during impact. Removing the grooves from this area is a good thing to do, so dont be concerned that there are none in todays huge drivers.
Your real concern should be to find a head cover to fit these monster drivers. One good thing about the size of these big driver heads is that if you get mad and throw your driver in the lake it will float so you can retrieve it when you calm down without having to use scuba gear.
Hope this helps
-- Frank
Before I ask my question, let me tell you about my level of golf. I currently have a 9 handicap. On average I can drive the ball about 290 yds. I just bought a new three wood from my local golf store with a stiff shaft. My old three wood has a x-stiff shaft. My typical shot path with my old three wood is a slight fade (which is normal for me) but the new three wood has a real strong fade. I need to change my swing path to compensate for the strong fade with the new three wood which, feels like it is lagging behind at impact more than my old club with the x-stiff shaft. My question is; do you think I should have the x-stiff shaft in my new three wood? The sales person that sold me the club thinks the opposite, he thinks the new three wood shaft (stiff) is too strong and that is probably why I have a very strong fade. I cannot get a full refund so I would like too know for future purchases if you think the shaft in my new three wood is not strong enough?
-- Mike D

I think the first question I would ask is; why did you get a new three-wood when the old one seems to have been working well? Second, when you bought the new one why didnt you get the same shaft flex?
Answers to these questions would help in analyzing the problem.
Generally, a flight path to the right is indicative of a shaft flex which is too stiff. This may not only be an overall shaft flex problem but also a kick point problem. In your case, a lower kick point may help solve the problem.
If the shaft tip section was more flexible it would bend a little more just before impact which, for a wood, will increase the effective loft angle and close the face a little and result in less of a fade. The center of gravity location may also be very different between the two heads, which will tend to affect the head presentation to the ball.
With your average driving distance being 290 yards (a little more than the average on the PGA TOUR) you would have a swing speed between 110 and 115 mph, which would normally place you in the a Stiff or X-Stiff shaft flex range for your woods.
May I suggest that you find out, and compare all the shaft specs, as well as the club frequency, swing weight and overall weight for each of the two clubs. This may answer your question.
For your next purchase take your old club (the one that works) to the store with you and test and compare the new and old on a launch monitor before you buy the new one.
I hope the old year fades away and the New Year brings you some great golfing.
-- Frank
Frank Thomas new imageFrank 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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Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

“I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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A performance fit for a King

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

“Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

“Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

“I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

And entertained, of course.

Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

“And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

“The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

“He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

“The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

“I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

“He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

A kiss for his wife, Erica.

A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

“Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

“I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

“It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”