QA Non-Conforming Balls


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
Dear Frank...
Frank, Im interested in experimenting with a few non-conforming golf ball brands for the fun of it, but wonder if the heavier weight of these balls can cause unique damage to the driver face with repeated use, or expedite any flattening of the face that would result after a few years of normal, consistent driver use with conforming balls (per your recent letter to another golf enthusiast). Thanks. ' Matt, San Francisco.

Sorry to hear that you are interested in trying a non-conforming ball. These are advertised as going farther but in many cases may not go as far as a conforming ball.
Now to the question; a heavier harder ball will generally have more of an effect on the face than a softer lighter ball. The reason for this is that at impact the face will deform a little more if the ball is not as yielding and does not in itself deform. This in combination with a slight increase in weight will put more stress on the face. With todays balls (conforming balls) these effects are minimal. There is more of an effect from the higher head speeds than the properties of the ball. The difference in the weight of a nonconforming ball compared to a conforming ball is not enough to make any noticeable difference to the face of the club.
There are so many conforming balls which will go farther than almost all the nonconforming balls, that you are better off having fun finding one of these. In my opinion there isnt 20 yards left in the golf ball irrespective of any limiting standards. So dont be mislead. Golf is a game where you need to be honest with yourself.
I am trying to resolve my two drivers. I have a 2001 design 320cc head, 9.5 degree loft and another one that is from 2003 and is a 440cc, 9.5 degree deep face driver. Oddly, I really prefer the older club. It has a lower ball flight, but the ball hits the ground running. The newer club does indeed have a higher trajectory, but the ball lands softly. I can't accurately judge the relative carry between them, other than estimate they are not that different. I definitely get better results with the older club. Now, am I a dinosaur, or am I missing something because I don't doubt the idea that the deep face drivers are the way to go. Is there any prospect of the major manufacturers producing any 'low trajectory' drivers, or should I continue to load up at the used club store? By the way, I really don't want to tinker with what is an admittedly non Spalding guide swing. I carry the ball about 250 yards, and the low trajectory ball will hop, skip and jump anywhere from 20 to 60 yards. The high one doesn't do much once it hits. P.S. It's actually hard to go back and forth between the clubs at the driving range because the deep face is so big! ' Steve, Philadelphia, PA
There is one rule of thumb that I almost always use in cases like this. If you like it what you have and carry the ball 250 yards with your existing club and get a 20- to 60-yard roll DONT CHANGE A THING.
Making friends is not always easy, so when you have one hold onto it for as long as possible.
Your 2001 driver is not bad technology. In fact things are not changing as fast as they did between 1995 and 2000. Some small changes have been made and you can certainly get a 440 cc driver to perform like your 320 cc driver if you are prepared to mess around with loft, shaft flex and a number of things which may become very frustrating.
Some manufacturers are moving back to smaller drivers i.e. 425 cc. The main reason why the 460 cc head is still so popular is that the limit is at 470 and whenever a limit is established the assumption is that right below it must be the best. Very few golfers (if any) can detect the performance differences of 100 cc. It is not the volume which is important but rather the c.g. location and a face configuration which is most forgiving over a wider area. Even then the differences are small.
Steve, keep what you have until your drives come down to 240 yards carry and 270 total and then do some flexibility exercises to improve your range of motion to get those yards back.
An old friend is almost always a good friend.
I read about your suggestion to impose a 10 club limit on the pros. In my opinion, this would only widen the gap. Everybody will still carry their drivers, so the big hitter will still have that advantage. The short-hitters will be more negatively affected because they depend on a wider variety of irons to reach the greens.
A long hitter should be rewarded assuming they can hit the ball accurately. I don't think anybody disagrees with that sentiment. The only thing that will work is to make it truly penal to hit the ball far and off-line.
But, we must also assess whether the bombers really do have an advantage.
If you look at the GIR performance of the 20 longest hitters on tour, only 3 are in the top 20 GIR leaders (Woods/Scott/Mickelson.)
Not only that, they generally aren't even able to play their way into the four major tournaments. Out of the top 20 current driving distance leaders, only six played in The Masters (five made the cut). Nine played in the US Open (seven made the cut). Eight played in the British Open, but only three made the cut. Eleven played in the PGA Championship, but only 6 made the cut. So, the top 20 driving distance leaders only took home checks in 20 out of 80 potential starts. Woods, Mickelson, and Scott received 11 of those 20 checks.
What about money earned in all of the tournaments this season? Of the top 20 driving distance leaders, only six are in the top 50 money leaders.

Further, one could also argue that the real effect of today's more forgiving and scientifically custom fit equipment is the extension of the careers of older professionals. People lament the lack of young rising stars on the PGA Tour. I think it is due to the fact that up-and-coming professionals have to compete with the likes of David Toms, who not only has the huge advantages of maturity and experience of 400 starts, but can hit the ball'long enough' to not be at a length disadvantage. (He drives it nearly 20 yards longer at age 39 than when he was 29.) Heck, even Fred Funk is hitting the ball 10 yards longer at age 50 than age 40. -- Brian

Thanks for some interesting stats which I would like to share with our readers. In my article published in The New York Times I did suggest that the ten club rule be adopted along with better and more strategic course set up which would penalize the long hitters who were not accurate. This is a better solution than what the USGA has suggested doing i.e. rolling the ball back 25 yards for all of us.
The reason why some of the pros are hitting the ball longer than they used to 15 years ago, is because of the Spring-like effect (COR limit) permitted by the USGA. This in conjunction with the new multilayered ball has allowed them to approach the optimum launch conditions which were never available before to some of our older superstars like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus or Gary Player.
Instead of trying to roll the ball back for all of us my suggestion is to bring back the skill level that requires shot making and accurate drives.
Thanks for your input, Brian.
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