Doctoring Clubs on Tour


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

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Doctoring Clubs on Tour
Just read your Q&A regarding spin on US Open rough. In turn this reminded me of something Ian Baker Finch said during the Masters about players having the grooves of wedges set up more aggressively. I have asked before about alterations to equipment and I will ask again in light of the US Open now being played. Alterations to equipment in other sports have occurred and have perhaps been used at the highest professional level. We know that baseball pitchers have doctored balls. Batters have been found using corked bats.
So, whats to stop the tournament players from some type of doctoring, innocent or otherwise? Before you answer, perhaps the better question is how would anyone ever know? Does the USGA inspect all the entrants equipment? NASCAR inspects the winning drivers car to make sure everything was on the up and up.
Sorry for the oratory but I think others may wonder about this as well. It may be a gentlemens game but that doesnt mean it is played entirely by gentlemen.

The bottom line is there is nothing to stop the players from doctoring their equipment before a round of golf other than the fact that it is a violation of the rules. In most cases, the player will ask an official if a modified club conforms and it will then be tested on site. If not and he/she plays with it, the penalty is disqualification and if this violation was intentional the player may lose their privilege to continue to make a living as a professional.
During a US Open, in my capacity as technical director of the USGA, I was asked frequently by players to check a club for its conformance to the rules. In most cases, this happened during the practice rounds because the player had modified his club or a fellow competitor suggested that there might be a problem. If the test resulted in a decision that the club did not conform then corrective action would be taken or if the discovery took place during the event the player would disqualify himself as a result of the infraction during the event.
The responsibility to call a rules infraction on himself is an obligation of the golfer and this is where golf differentiates itself from many other sports. Often when out of sight of other golfers or an official ( who is there only to help the player) a golfer will unintentionally do something, which requires that a penalty stroke(s) be added to his score. This he calls on himself and announces to a fellow competitor or an official as soon as possible.
When a referee becomes part of the game and takes on the responsibility of calling all infractions -- be they in play or regarding the equipment used -- it relieves the competitor of this responsibility and he/she no longer has any obligation to monitor him/herself regarding the rules.
In many other sports, violating the rules -- only if detected, and called by a referee -- results in a penalty. It is with these sports that a sharp-eyed referee or onsite testing is required, as the player has no obligation to call infractions on him/herself. In fact it is almost an obligation ' so as to gain an advantage -- to see what one can get away with, without the infraction being detected.
The integrity of our game is at stake when we start testing equipment on the first tee or introduce any form of drug testing on golfers. A Rules book covering the playing and equipment rules and within which it states clearly that any form of performance enhancing substance is not permitted, is sufficient. Otherwise we imply that golfers are dishonest and by introducing an outside monitor to enforce the rules, immediately relieves the golfer of his self-monitoring obligation, which is what golf is all about.
A golfer who deceives others also deceives himself and will soon be ostracized by those who love and respect our game.
Thanks for the question and allowing me to express my very personal feelings about protecting the integrity of our game.
Benefits of Graphite in Irons
Having lost some distance at age 67 I'm looking for some improvement with my irons by trying lighter shafts, in this instance Graphite. However, one of the guys at the local golf shop said I wouldn't necessarily improve distance with lighter shafts. He said other factors come in to play as well. I am under the impression that increased club head speed will increase distance whether it be iron or wood. I am well aware that I need to hit the ball in the middle of the club to get maximum distance but if I do that won't I get improved distance with the lighter shafts? Thanks for you consideration. I enjoy your website.

You are correct in your assumption that by changing to graphite shafts (i.e. lighter shafts) in your irons you will generate higher head speeds and more distance assuming that all else is equal.
Not that you asked but the reason for this is that you will decrease the overall weight of the club and this decreases the MOI (Moment of Inertia) of the system which makes it easier to accelerate the club if you apply the same forces. The MOI of the club as a whole (the system not just the head which relates to the forgiveness of miss-hits) is another property which has not been talked about very much but is an additional means of matching clubs in combination with frequency and overall weight.
Technically it is a measure of the resistance to angular acceleration about the axis you are swinging the club. Unfortunately, this axis changes throughout the swing. However, if you swing with the same forces each time with a lighter shafted club you will be able to generate increased head speed. Thats the GOOD news.
The BAD news is, because manufacturers dont want to offer a different head weights for their graphite shafted option but they do want to maintain a similar swing weight (about 1 or 2 points lighter for graphite) they increase the length of a graphite shafted club by about of an inch and charge $25 more per club. The normal difference in length between a six iron and a five iron is an inch.
What this increase in length does is make the club slightly less accurate; it increases the MOI of the system a little ' partially reversing the decrease in MOI by changing to the lighter shaft ' but increases the head speed because of the added length.
The bottom line is that even with these slightly compensating factors you should get greater distance because you will get increased head speed. Dont look for 25 yards increase but you will improve your distance with lightweight graphite-shafted clubs compared to traditional steel-shafted irons.
Otherwise if you are interested in 10 to 15 yards increase in driving distance or just extra distance with your irons, you need to sign up at a local gym and work on strength and flexibility exercises. This form of exercise will increase your range of motion and ' based on studies performed ' increase the head speed of a driver about 5 mph adding at least 10 yards to your drives. The gym visit will probably cost less, and give you greater improvement in distance, than a new driver. In the mean time, take advantage of what graphite has to offer in irons.
Thanks for your kind comments and I am pleased that my weekly Q&A has been informative.
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Good golfing.
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