STICKS & STONES

Frank ThomasFormer USGA
equipment guru
Frank Thomas
on his own now

By Kiel Christianson,
Senior Writer

CHESTER, N.J. (Aug. 21, 2003) -- During 26 years as Technical Director for the USGA, Frank Thomas examined, tested, and ruled on every single ball and club submitted for USGA approval. To put that in perspective, that' s between 5,000 and 6,000 items.

Today, having retired from the USGA, Thomas has founded Frankly Golf, a consulting and equipment firm devoted to growing the game by lending his considerable expertise to players, teaching pros, and equipment manufacturers alike.

Frank Thomas was gracious enough to take some time out from his "retirement" schedule to share with Sticks & Stones some of the goals of Frankly Golf, as well as offer some assistance in navigating the churning, disorienting sea of clubs, balls, and game-improvement.

S&S: So, in 26 years at the USGA, did you make more friends or enemies?

RELATED LINKS

The STX ProF.I.T.

Review: The Futura putter is something to behold

STX Synch-3 Belly
Putter

More product reviews

FT: More friends. Certainly there were times when I had to disappoint people by rejecting the applications for their products. But we worked very hard with applicants to try to make sure [the equipment] did conform.

S&S: You've certainly got the experience, expertise, and connections, but isn't it hard nevertheless to make a go of it in the golf equipment business these days?

FT: Frankly Golf has three different divisions. The first is Frankly Consulting, which includes my monthly column in Golf Digest and a weekly Q&A on GolfDigest.com. Then there's the Frankly Golf Institute, where we are looking at why the game isn't growing. You know, 3.5 million people enter the game each year, and 3.5 people leave it. We believe a lot of that is due to intimidation. Golf is a hard game, and we don't have any good bunny slopes. Beginners cannot learn the game on a driving range, and they cannot learn the fundamentals on an 18-hole course. You don't learn how to drive [a car] on the Autobahn, do you? I've spoken with over 3,000 golf professionals about how to take the game forward. And finally, there's Frankly Golf Equipment.

Frankly PutterS&S: Tell us about Frankly Golf's flagship product, the Frankly Putter.

FT: After 26 years at the USGA and becoming frustrated at not being able to design equipment, I decided to apply what I know to making my own putter. The putter incorporates unique technology. The alignment system consists of a line going from the putter head all the way up the shaft. The flanged blade allows the club to move through the fringe easily. And the entire head is encapsulated in a polymer, which we call "onsert" technology, for wonderful feel. But where we distinguish ourselves is the putting guide that comes with the putter. In it, we lay out the fundamentals of good putting, along with drills working on both the stroke and the psychological aspects of putting. Our relationship starts when someone buys a putter, not ends. There's even a serial number on the bottom of each putter that serves as a password to enter an owners' Web site.

S&S: Speaking of putters, here's a question that has been overshadowed by all the focus on drivers: Should long and belly putters be legal?

FT: Of all the decisions I made [at the USGA], that was the one that was overruled, unfortunately. There are five degrees of freedom in putting, and these putters take away three of the five. They make short putts easier, but you do lose feel for longer putts.

S&S: Can clubhead size keep increasing? Or is there a natural limit?

FT: It looks as though clubhead size is self-limiting. By increasing from 200cc to 300cc, there is a big advantage. From 300cc to 400cc, there is some advantage. But over 400cc, the research that has been done seems to show that there is very little improvement in playability.

S&S: How about golf balls? There is a call to rein them in, but don't all conforming balls fall in a narrow range with respect to distance?

FT: Even if we took all standards off of golf balls, I wouldn't expect them to go more than five yards further than they currently do. No matter how hot the ball, the combination between the ball and the club's coefficient of restitution determines how far the ball flies. If anyone tells you they get 20 extra yards with a given ball or ball and club it's absolute nonsense.

S&S: I've been told that hitting graphite-shafted clubs off mats and rubber tees can cause shearing damage to the shafts, is that true?

FT: Yes. And the damage can be done to metal shafts, too, not to mention wrists and elbows. I'm surprised [mats are] used so frequently. I'm very much against practicing off of them.

S&S: What's next for Frankly Golf?

FT: We're taking it one step at a time, expanding our marketing and pursuing syndicated Q&A columns. Our Web site franklygolf.com serves all aspects of the business. For example, the site features a Playability Factor that serves as a reference for players to help them determine what type of equipment they need. We want to make sure that people don't get the wrong type of equipment for their game. Golf is no fun when you're struggling, and having the wrong type of equipment just makes it worse.

For more information on Frank Thomas and Frankly Golf, visit www.franklygolf.com.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management. The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication. All contact information, directions and prices should be confirmed directly with the golf course or resort before making reservations and/or travel plans.

Bellaire Golf Package
Dates: March 1, 2014 - December 31, 2014
The package includes three night's lodging, three days of unlimited golf on any Resort course and 18 holes on day of arrival (after 12pm), starting from $423 per adult/per night based on double occupancy. Shanty Creek can customize your golf vacation to fit your needs.
Price range: $423