Ball Performance and Knockoffs


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