Is Bigger Always Better

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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 letsbefrank@thegolfchannel.com
 
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


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

Bob,
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.
 
Frank,
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

 
Thomas,
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


Eric,
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.

 
Fred,
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.
 
Frank,
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

 
Carlos,
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 letsbefrank@thegolfchannel.com