QA The Long and Short of It


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
Hello Frank
I really enjoy listening to your comments and insight on equipment. I found your recent response to the guy's question about shaft length very interesting. Because of inconsistency with my 45-inch driver, I lose about 20-25 yards. I've shortened my 5- and 7-woods by 1.5 - 2 inches and remarkably not only has my accuracy improved my distance is the same.
I feel so confident with these clubs I can step on it when necessary and get another 10-15 more yards. When it comes to shortening clubs what is too much? -- Kelly Crabbe

The reason why clubs are of different lengths is that they are designed for different purposes. The longer, less-lofted clubs are designed primarily for distance, and the shorter clubs with more loft are designed for control. The ones between are designed for a combination of these. Over the years, using the well-known and tested method of trial and error, we have found that certain lengths of clubs are most effective for drivers and others for wedges with the rest of the set fitting between these extremes from the woods to the 2-iron (almost extinct now) to the wedges. As the length decreases, the head weight and the loft increase from about 10 degrees of loft with the driver to 55 degrees on the sand-wedge.
In an attempt to simplify the matching process of making all clubs feel the same and for the swing to remain constant, designers have tried to make the entire set the same length with all the heads the same weight, the lie angles all the same, with only the lofts varying. The concept seems to make sense, but it doesnt work because the less-lofted clubs dont get the distance and the more-lofted clubs dont have the required control. Also there is a compression of the distance difference between the driving club and the wedges.
So a compromise has been reached between distance and control. Unfortunately manufacturers trying to market their drivers and other clubs have used distance as the primary distinguishing factor. They didnt tell us that the length of the club was an inch longer, but only relied on our greed for distance to persuade us that their club was better.

This was discovered by others and before we knew it all drivers were being made longer and longer. The length of a driver changed from a standard (unwritten standard) of 43 inches in the mid '60s to upward of 46 inches in the '90s. It was soon discovered that the odd massive drive that the 46+ inch driver gave us wasnt worth the abundance of stray shots we were getting. The pros were also conned into using longer clubs until they decided it wasnt worth it and reverted back to shorter drivers, settling on about 44 inch on average.
With the newer, lighter shafts and more forgiving heads, this length seems to be good for the pros. The rest of us, who are not as good, need to stay at about 44 or even 43 inches for our drivers. Manufacturers, however, continue to provide drivers at 45 and even 46 inches in length, relying on our insatiable need for distance and the concomitant bragging rights.
So the short answer to your question is that there are certainly limits to how much you should shorten your clubs, but dont be conned into believing that one club is better than another because of the odd increase in distance. 43 to 44 inches on your driver is a very good length for maximum distance and control. Then go down by about inch per club for your woods. The new hybrids should be about one inch longer than the iron they are replacing.
In a recent column on you discussed different groove types - U, V and Y. Is there anything I can do to maintain my grooves other than cleaning with a sharp pointed object? I once heard Mickelson tell Garcia at a Skins Game that he files his grooves square. I've not been able to find out how to do that. -- Thanks, John (Vancouver, BC)

I would not recommend that you try to modify your grooves yourself. The maximum width of the groove is just a little larger than the thickness of two standard business cards, and if you are able to scrape away some metal it will be very tricky to do this within the bounds of the rule.
On the other hand, this doesnt mean that you should not try to keep them clean. To do this I suggest that you use a sharp tee which will penetrate the groove and clean the groove. For your information, you should know that the shape of the groove is irrelevant if the interface between the ball and the club is dry and no grass intervenes. It is only in the presence of grass at this interface that the groove plays a part in the spin imparted to the ball.
Tests have shown that when the rough is about 1 to 2 inches thick, different-shape grooves do have different effects on the spin of the ball with those of the U shape variety being most effective. This is most obvious when the edges of the grooves are well-defined. This is the reason why manufacturers are now machining the grooves of the wedges at the end of the manufacturing process. If the rough is three inches deep or more grooves, play no part in the ball control or spin process.

So leave it up to a professional club-maker who will have the correct tools to re-groove your wedges when they are worn down.
I seem to recall that in one of your past columns you talked about metal fatigue in older irons (15+yrs.) and that this can affect the playing characteristics of the club. Is it wise to get older shafts replaced in clubs that have treated you well or, is there such a thing in shafts as fatigue?
Jim Ruddy

If your irons are 15 years old, you dont have to worry about the shafts, as far as fatigue is concerned, if they have experienced normal impacts associated with striking a ball. A 15 year old set of irons is probably on the fringe of retirement, not because of the shaft but rather the design of the head as well as the wear and tear on the clubhead itself. Even though technology in irons hasnt made any major advances in the last twenty years, there have been some changes which you can benefit from if the set you now have needs some attention.
I would like to suggest that you visit my website and check the section Maltby Playability Factor. Here I have listed in excess of 200 different club types and models as guide as to what will suit you best, based on your skill level.
Dear Frank:
I'm 63 years old. I progressively moved away from stiff shafts and started hitting the ball much shorter. I changed back to stiff and I am more accurate and longer. I'm back to a 250-yard drive and 150-yard 7-iron. I'm happy.
My question all the hype on regular and senior shafts just a bunch of nonsense? -- Steve Kalman

No it isnt. Most of us are trying to use shafts which are far too stiff. The average handicap male golfer hits the ball 192 yards, even though he thinks he hits it 230 to 240 yards. In your case, you are considerably above average in length, and there is no doubt that because of your head speed which will result in 250-yard drives that you can very possibly use stiff shafts.
Unfortunately, even though the stiffer shaft may result in a little more accuracy, you will be fighting it if it is too stiff for you, and may find that the result you are looking for only comes when you are at full speed. As it is not good practice to swing as hard as you can all the time (or maybe never), you should drop down to a more flexible shaft and try to feel the shot and know where the head is at all times during the swing. If you cant tell where the head is during the swing, then you have lost the feel needed to make a consistent swing which will generally result longer more accurate shot.
Steve, at 63, you have just matured and there is no reason for you to start retreating as long as you remain flexible and stay fit. If you lose your range of motion, then either get to the gym or if you are stuck then is the time to look at the shaft flex change. The most important thing is that you should feel comfortable and change when you think it is time rather than be persuaded to do it because some of your buddies suggest that you are getting old and need a senior shaft.

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