Grooves and Range Finders


Editor's Note: This is the latest in a weekly Q&A feature from The Golf Channel's Chief Technical Advisor Frank Thomas. To submit a question for possible use in this column, email
Hi Frank,
I've been reading about the USGA's new report on the effect of U grooves. I bought a new set of Ping G5 irons in the past year and don't relish the thought that they might soon be declared illegal. Do you think the USGA will implement a rule change on this subject, and if so, is there likely to be a grandfather clause for irons already on the market?
Thanks for your thoughts.

Based on the USGAs approach to equipment regulation over the last several years, and assuming the manufacturers dont mount a concerted effort to object, Id say the proposal for a rule change on grooves is very likely to be adopted. Id also say such a rule is irrational and illogical ' and, sadly, its in keeping with the USGAs recent actions I first discussed this topic in my November 2006 Frankly Friends Newsletter. Click here to read 'My Take On Grooves.'
We need the USGA, because we need someone to bring order to our game. But its a shame when good science is inappropriately applied, and your letter asks the kind of question that can lead to the disaffection of its constituents and loss of its authority.
The concern that has been cited as the impetus for the proposal revolves, first around .001% of the golfing population and secondly and more importantly the problem which is trying to be resolved has not been adequately defined. Also there is no evidence that the game (on the tour or elsewhere) will benefit from the change. It will certainly be different and may be costly to implement and difficult to monitor.
The USGA explains this proposal by saying that the rough is not enough of a penalty for the long and wayward golfers using U-shaped grooves on the professional tours. What they havent said is that this problem ' if it is a problem ' applies only to light rough (1 to 2 inches thick). If its any longer, theres no performance difference between any types of grooves; the grass is too long for it to matter. So if youre concerned about accuracy on the pro tour ' assuming you want to make your Rules for all players not based on the performance of the top .001% of the golfing population ' all you have to do is grow rough to about 3 to 4 inches in areas where the long and wild hitters land their drives. The USGA is citing data that suggests that at regular tour stops, the rough (if you can call it that) is barely a fraction of a stroke penalty ' but the graduated rough the USGA grew for the U.S. Open in 2006 proved to be more than a half-stroke penalty. I doubt the pros forgot to pack their U-grooves that week.
I believe it is a grave mistake to determine rules for all golfers based on the performance of the tiniest elite fraction of the golfing population. Most golfers I know dont need any more restrictions. My research on more than 18,000 concerned golfers does not show a single person who has quit the game because it is too easy. Yet the number of rounds being played is falling by about 3% each year. This is where the USGA should be concentrating its efforts, not on correcting problems for the very few that can be easily solved in another way. The overall health of the game should be the indicator of how effective the USGA is as guardian of the game, not the scores being shot by champion professionals (which, for general information, the average per round has not changed more than 0.1 of a stroke since 1988). Sorry about this, but you pushed my hot button.
The current proposal includes a grace period of 10 years for clubs that conformed prior to the adoption of the change. But if your golf club or a competition you enter adopts a Condition of the Competition that will be included in the Rules of Golf after January 1st 2009, then you could be penalized for using your existing irons or any other clubs that currently conform but may be affected by the proposed new rule.
Please help me convince the USGA that we like them but to stop being silly and start concentrating on real problems. I have some thoughts about how we can work together to accomplish this; watch this space for a future announcement. Frank
Hi Frank,
Can you clear up for me whether PGA and LPGA players can use range finders during tournament rounds?
Thank you.

The answer is NO at this time. They can use an EMD (Electronic Measuring Device) for practice rounds, but not during competitions. Personally, I dont see any good reason why they shouldnt be allowed to use these devices during tournaments and championships too. If we can do it, why can't they? Why does it matter if a player gets his or her distances from a range-finder or from a caddies pacing it off from a marked sprinkler-head? The only difference is that the EMD is a little quicker.
The time will come when the tour players will be able to use these devices during competition, but were not there quite yet.
Hello, Frank, from frozen New Jersey.
Frank, I am 66 years of age, and I hit my 10.5-degree Big Bertha driver around 195 yards. My swing speed is 86 miles an hour. I am looking at a Cobra F speed driver, 12 degrees with a R- flex, shaft mid kick point 55 grams.
Based on the above what loft do you feel would give me the greatest distance? I hope to get a little more distance, and upgrade to a 460. Is there a chart I can buy that would tell me the distance I can expect from a particular swing speed and loft?
Thanks so much for helping us senior guys.

Don't worry, it will warm up in New Jersey and you will be able to play golf again.
Your Big Bertha (only 190 cc) was and still is a wonderful club when compared to the persimmon drivers it made extinct. Now, however, it is time to upgrade to a larger head (400 to 460 cc) with a high COR. Callaway has a good selection, as do other manufacturers such as Cobra, and you might want to consider buying last years model. Physics doesnt change from year to year; last years clubs were good when they were introduced and theyre good today. Significant changes in performance are very hard to come by, and advances in technology over the last several years have made very little real difference. The advantage of last years model is that it will cost about half the price of the new models and work just as well as the newest and biggest in most cases.
At your swing speed, you should look for a loft of between 11 and 12 degrees; you want to launch the ball at 13 to 14 degrees with a spin rate of about 3000-3,500 rpm to get maximum distance under normal turf conditions, producing about 25 yards of roll. If, however, you intend to play before the ground has thawed, then you might want launch the ball a little lower. Only kidding!!
Have some patience; the season will change and life will be good again for golfers in New Jersey. In the meantime check out my guideline for launch conditions on my website by clicking here.
Click to purchase the Frog PutterFrank 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