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Frank Thomas, longtime USGA gear guru, out to simplify golf club and ball technology for the average golfers like us

By Brandon Tucker, Managing Editor

ORLANDO, Fla. — It's difficult to find an ally in the ever-saturated and expensive golf equipment world. For years, it's been former USGA Technical Director Frank Thomas' mission to give consumers an honest helping hand, sorting golf's goods from the junk.

Thomas
Tech Guru Frank Thomas was with the USGA through 2000 before starting his own consulting company.
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ThomasFrogFrank Thomas
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A golfer since the age of 12, Thomas began his golf equipment career at Shakespeare Sporting Goods in Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1965. He developed one of golf equipment's most innovative advances, the graphite shaft, in 1969.

After a year of being wooed by the USGA, he finally joined as technical director. Among his many accomplishments, he introduced the Stimpmeter — a device used for measuring green speeds — and also the Golf Handicap and Information Network. For the next two decades he wrote every rule in the book regarding the game's equipment.

Thomas finally left the USGA in 2000 to start his own golf consulting company, Frankly Golf, which today is based in Orlando, Fla. He can be found regularly on The Golf Channel as the network's chief technical advisor and also has a regular Q&A column in Golf Digest.

One of his firm's current projects is working on growing the game of golf which according to Thomas, "isn't in good health at the moment," due to declining rounds on courses that are too difficult to the average player.

Thomas will be giving a series of lectures at the West Michigan Golf Show Feb. 9-11 at the Devos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. Topics will include, "What's in your bag?," "Is today's technology really longer and straighter?" and "Your game and future technology."

A native of South Africa, Thomas reached America in 1963 by sailing by himself across the Atlantic in his 25-foot sailboat. In this exclusive interview with TravelGolf.com, Thomas tells us what to expect in 2007 for the equipment world, why club-fitting is unnecessary and how to putt like a pro.

TravelGolf.com: The PGA Merchandise Show is in Orlando this month and the West Michigan Golf Show is a few weeks later. What can we expect in 2007 for equipment?

Frank Thomas: Golf balls have almost reached optimized conditions. Little more can be done with the design of golf balls. The buzz for 2007 is all about square drivers.

As soon as the USGA puts any limit on specifications, the manufacturers feel obliged to go right up to that limit. When the limit of 470 ccs was established for drivers, all the manufacturers immediately went right up to 460. Since then, they've scaled it back to 400-440, because that's the most efficient size.

The average golfer believes, "the bigger, the better." That's not necessarily the case. There is no increase in distance. If you miss the sweet spot, it will be a little more efficient, but that's it. The moment of inertia is the forgiveness factor 0.4-gram centimeters squared. The moment of inertia is determined by how far away from the center gravity mass is. The best way to get the mass away is to take it to the corners, which is why we're staring to see square drivers.

Golfers are suckers. If there is a limit, they think close to the limit is good. The best way to get mass away is to take it to the corners, which is why we're going to see square drivers.

TG: How can I maximize what I get out of my equipment?

FT: Get a lesson. I think one of the biggest problems is golfers aren't prepared to work at their game, most want to buy it. Ninety percent of the equipment is better than the people who are using it. It's easy to write this, but you can't get away from the belief of magic. We're all looking for some. Some claims are further from the truth than we'd like to believe.

But you need to be able to control the ball. There is no need to go to a 46-inch driver. Stay with a 44 for control. Secondly, increase the loft of the driver. (For the average player) it's important to get the ball up in the air as fast as possible. Just because the superstars use a 9-degree loft doesn't mean the average golfer can.

Secondly, use hybrids instead of a 3- and 4-iron. The average player should not carry a 3-iron. Even pros are using hybrids in their bag today. Manufacturers have been cheating on loft in regards to the unwritten standard for years now. They've been decreasing lofts of irons by three to four degrees. So players try their irons and say, "look how far it's going!"

Unfortunately there was an unwritten standard that certain clubs were certain lofts. As soon as they were changed to strengthen the clubs, the sand wedge stayed where it was. Everything else moved up about two clubs, 7-8 degrees. Now 46 degrees isn't an 8-iron, it's a pitching wedge. There is a big gap between the PW and SW, and that wasn't the case 40 years ago.

So players need a gap wedge today, most scoring happens around the green. That same golfer certainly doesn't need a lob wedge until he can control others. That club is very difficult to hit.

Most players really don't even need 14 clubs. There are a couple you don't even use usually. Think about getting rid of a few.

TG: Is club-fitting worth it?

Club-fitting is a way of selling clubs. A lot of manufacturers are using that to try and say "you really need to be fit" a half-inch increase. In actual fact, 90 percent of golfers could use a standard club effectively.

Make sure you have the right shaft flex, that is important. Most use clubs that are too stiff. Lie angle is also important and must be looked at and changed if you need it. The only way you can determine what works for you is by trial and error. You can't figure out what's right for you with a machine.

A lot of golfers are trying to determine whether they need a low or high kick-point. That isn't even appropriate until you can hit the ball reasonably well.

TG: You are probably biased to your own putter, the Frankly Frog, right?

FT: I'm a little biased, but being absolutely honest, I've tried very hard to improve on the design. And what I've found is the best thing I can do now is change the color. It's the most efficient weighting system I could use with two tungsten weights. It provides more stability than other manufacturers.

TG: So what makes a good putter?

FT: The putter face needs to be balanced. It also has to be the right length. That's what is most important. We are inclined to use putters a little too long. As a result, it increases sources of error. With the correct putter length you can putt like a pro.

For more information, check out Thomas' site, www.franklygolf.com.

Brandon TuckerBrandon Tucker, Managing Editor

Brandon Tucker is the Managing Editor for Golf Advisor. To date, his golf travels have taken him to over two dozen countries and over 500 golf courses worldwide. While he's played some of the most prestigious courses in the world, Tucker's favorite way to play the game is on a great muni in under three hours. Follow Brandon on Twitter at @BrandonTucker.


 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • he was not alone on that sail-boat

    Michael Maidwell wrote on: May 10, 2011

    I just would like to correct one piece of wrong information about Frank in this interview. He did not sail across the Atlantic by himself. My father, the late great Malcolm Maidwell, was the captain of that sail-boat, the Banshee, and it was my father's idea to sail around the world. They both ended up falling in love in the Caribbean with English-Caribbean nurses. My dad stayed with the boat in Grenada and made a life out of sailing and sports and Frank pursued his dreams to move to the US.
    Their sailing adventures made the newspapers back in South Africa very regularly..they were somewhat of legends as they had weathered some crazy storms and were even thought to be dead at sea before miraculously showing up again.
    One love, Michael

    Reply

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