It seems that golfing genius is not reserved just for the stars of the game, professionals such as Palmer, Nicklaus and Woods. Certainly those are the names that followers of the sport are most familiar with, but there are many more who work quietly behind the scenes to make the sport better for us all. Frank Thomas, long-time Technical Director of the United States Golf Association - one of golf’s “Insider’s” - is also one of its unsung heroes and a popular contributor to Golf Digest and the Golf Channel.
Frank is one of those rare individuals that not only loves the game, but has dedicated his life to it. For more than 26 years he’s been one of the shadows in a game where only the stars shine. For Frank, those days in the shadows are over. Today, through his company, Frankly Golf, he is making it on his own. His mission, however - to help golfers around the world – remains the same.
Frank Thomas’ life has been one of adventure and achievement. During his 26 years as Technical Director of the USGA, he was responsible for the testing of, and ruling on, the acceptability of every new club and ball. His personal achievements are, to say the least, impressive.
A native South African, and in his early 20s, Thomas sailed to the United States in 1963, not on a ship, but a 25-foot sailboat, Banshee. The voyage across the Atlantic was harrowing, and fraught with dangers. It was a trip that helped shape his character and taught him many lessons that would carry him to success in a sport that demands close attention to detail, not only on the course, but in the corridors, boardrooms and laboratories of the hallowed halls of the game. That life-changing trip, however, was no more than the beginning of a life within the sport of golf that would last from the day he went to work at Shakespeare Sporting Goods in 1965 until the present.
It was at Shakespeare that he invented the graphite shaft. He also introduced the Stimpmeter to the game, a device for measuring the speed of the green, and he directed the development of today's Golf Handicap and Information Network (GHIN), During his 26 years at the USGA, Thomas examined, tested, and ruled on more than 6,000 items submitted for USGA approval – clubs, putters and balls. The decisions he made during those years affected everyone who plays the game.
On his retirement from the USGA in 2001 Thomas founded Frankly Golf, “a consulting and equipment company devoted to growing the game by lending his considerable expertise to players, teaching pros, and equipment manufacturers alike.”
“Frankly Golf has three different divisions,” Thomas says. “There’s Frankly Consulting, the Frankly Golf Institute, and Frankly Golf Equipment. I also write a monthly column for Golf Digest and a weekly Q&A on GolfDigest.com. At the Frankly Golf Institute we are searching for reasons why the game has stopped growing. Over the last five years, the number of rounds of golf played nationwide has declined by some three percent. That’s a real problem.”
Does Thomas have any answers? He does.
“We have to do more to educate new players coming into the game,” he says. “Everyone is obsessed with distance, but most amateurs have no idea how far they can hit the ball; most think they can hit it farther than they actually can and so they almost always choose the wrong equipment and play off the wrong tees. Golf is no fun when you're struggling, and having the wrong type of equipment just makes it worse. But that’s not all,” he continues. “Golf course designers are consistently building courses that are too difficult for the average golfer. We have to build more ‘amateur-friendly’ courses.”
Frankly Golf Equipment is the result of Frank’s frustrations after more than 26 years at the USGA, testing and ruling on clubs and putters of various designs and innovations. “I decided to apply what I know to making my own putter, Thomas says.”
The first Frankly putter, the F-16, introduced some unique technology. Click Frank's image for Photo
Alignment is easy because Thomas incorporated a line that goes from the putter head all the way up the shaft. It also has a flanged blade which allows it to move easily through the fringe. The head of the putter is encased in tenite, a plastic made from wood rather than petroleum, this is a renewable material and environmentally friendly. “But we also decided to do something no one else does,” he says. “Every putter comes with a guide that explains the fundamentals of good putting, and exercises for working on both the stroke and the psychology of putting. Our goal is to build a relationship with our customers and it begins when someone buys a putter. Each one has a serial number that serves as a password for our owners' Web site.”
Frankly’s newest product is somewhat controversial. Click Frank's image for Photo.
The new putter is machined from a single block of aluminum. Its design incorporates two heavy tungsten weights positioned low and several inches to the rear of the face giving it “perfect balance and an optimum Moment of inertia.” Thomas’s new putter is forgiving and gives the ball a positive roll immediately upon impact. The controversy arises not from the practicalities of the putter, or the way it performs, but from its looks. “I came up with design in a few hours one evening. When I showed the drawings to one of our draftsmen,” Thomas says, “the reaction was one of surprise: ‘Frank, it looks like a frog.’ I had to admit that it did, but I really didn’t know what to do about it. I knew the design would work and I didn’t want to change anything. So, in the end, we decided to call it simply, ‘The Frog.’”
The Frog comes in a variety of colors and five different shaft configurations: center shaft, center shaft off-set, heel shaft, heel shaft off-set, and center shaft graphite with Alignment Guidance System.
Frank Thomas is forthright man. His honest opinions and knack for telling it like it is have been his trademark throughout his career. That career has brought him heads-up with some strong and opinionated personalities, including Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods. The conversations were often heated, but always cordial. Frank Thomas has a reputation for always being, well… "frank".