Legality of the Long Putter


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

QUESTION OF THE WEEK: Every week we will select the best question and Frank will send one lucky golfer a personally signed copy of 'Just Hit It'. Last week's lucky winner was Dave, with his question regarding talented junior golfers and the best way to help them and their parents.
To reserve your own copy of 'Just Hit It', please Click Here
Legality of the Long Putter
For several years I have been watching tour pro's use a belly putter or one of similar design. I also see it on my home courses. Does touching the body with a club, other than the hands, constitute fair golf? Personally, I would like to see any shot where the club comes in contact wtih the body be banned. Please share with us your thoughts on this practice.
-- Fred

To your question, Does touching the body with a club, other than the hands, constitute fair golf? relates to a subject, which has been debated for hours and maybe days on end. I think we may better phrase this question by asking if it is a traditional stroke.
For years we have used the phrase traditional and customary with regard to rulings on our equipment but rarely when ruling on the type of stroke used. The croquet style putting was banned because it was not traditional and there was a feeling -- without much evidence ' that it was an advantage to Sam Snead. I think non-traditional part ruled the day as it is easier to justify and more difficult to challenge than limited data to demonstrate a potential advantage.
The problem the USGA faces as rules makers is that if it adopts a rule, this must first make intuitive sense to golfers and then reasonably easy to enforce. In general the USGA has not tried to dictate how a piece of equipment should be used but rather to adopt specifications for equipment which would make it awkward to use it in an inappropriate ' non traditional manner. Many think that the USGA should have placed a limit on the length of a putter, which would eliminate -- to a major degree -- the style you find difficult to reconcile with real golf.

I think that there is evidence that the long putter and the belly putter style of putting eliminates several degrees of freedom, which in turn eliminates the errors associated with those degrees of freedom thus making the style more efficient. There are however, problems like losing some potential feel and the being chastised on occasion by your buddies if you miss a putt.
Fred, as much as your proposal has been discussed, the difficulty in monitoring this overshadows the problems associated with it offending people or the advantage it will provide. Many golfers have stayed in the game because of the long putter. Maybe this is good.
Shelf Life of a Driver Shaft
How often should a shaft in a Driver be changed? What is the shelf life of a shaft ?

The answer is never, unless it is broken.
Now for the short answer;
The shaft -- modern steel or graphite -- in your driver will not wear out. It will not change its flex properties nor will you need to change it, if it matches your swing speed and you are comfortable with the way it is behaving of course and you dont stress it beyond the yield point. Generally this will result in catastrophic failure ' i.e. a broken shaft.
One of the charming things about golf is that we are always looking for the magic club and inclined to blame our equipment for our own flaws.
Every now and again, you may need to change equipment just to keep you in that comfort zone of knowing that technology is not passing you by. Remember, however, that good friends are sometimes hard to make and you need to respect the friends you have. Certainly dont let them know you are looking around.
I think I have answered the second part of your question; there is no known shelf life for a shaft.
Hope this helps
Attitude or Altitude
I live in the Columbus, Ohio area, and frequently travel to the South Carolina coast and to the western coast of Florida, near Tampa, on golf vacations. When playing golf on these coasts, the golf ball doesn't seem to fly as far as in Columbus. When the PGA Tour played the International in Colorado, I heard that the players could hit the golf ball approximately 10% farther due to the thinner air in Colorado. Now, I know that the International was played at approximately 5,000 feet above sea level, and Columbus is nowhere near that altitude, but can you approximate the distance that the change in altitude will have on the golf shot between Columbus, Ohio and sea level in South Carolina and Florida?


Columbus Ohio has a listed elevation of 902 feet above sea level. This will have some effect on your ball flight simply because the air is less dense. The trajectory will not be as high as it would be at sea level all other conditions being equal but this is only different by about two or three feet. The reason is that the lift properties are less but the other contributing factor is that the drag properties are also less. This low drag force and less lift will tend to give you a slightly lower trajectory in the air and a faster ball speed when the ball lands on the turf. The lower angle at which the ball impacts the fairway (if you hit the fairway) and the speed it is going will affect the overall distance.
Rough calculations show that because of elevation change alone between Columbus Ohio (902 feet elevation) and Tampa (close to sea level) the ball should travel, in total about 5 yards father in Columbus, for a 250 yard drive, all else being equal. The hardness of the turf and height of fairway cut will also plays a very important part in the bounce and roll distance.
Kent, the normal changes in barometric pressure, from 30 in/Hg to 29 in/Hg, as pressure zones move in or out of the area in Tampa or Columbus, will have the same effect on the distance of your drives.
We need to understand that these differences exist and if possible take them into account, but also recognize that even Tigers ball finishes on average about 28 feet from the hole when hitting shots from 175 yards out.
In many cases, we would be better off by going to the longer club and hitting it a little softer, than taking our best estimate about what we think we can do ' on our best days ' with a specific club and adjusting for a few yards.
It is a wonderful thing, however, to hit the ball perfectly sweet and having made the right calculations and getting it to stop exactly where we intended it to stop. Dont let the lack of understanding of the effect of altitude to come between you and perfection.
I try to describe what the addictive forces are in our game, in my book Just Hit It released about a week ago, and am sure you will find this of some interest and fun to read. For more information Click Here
Attitude as well as altitude is an important part of our wonderful game.
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