with Don Irving, Artisan Golf
If you spend any amount of time watching golf on television, you already know that the subject most talked about by the commentators and by the advertisers is the massive distance the Pros get with their drivers. However, in the last few tournaments of 2018, I did notice that quite a few shots off the tee were made with a 3 wood (3w). I would submit that the pros hit 3w’s off the tee for maximum control without giving much in the way of distance. This got me thinking about fairway woods in general and how they relate to the average golfer. First, I would like to address a comment that I frequently hear from many golfers: “I hit my 3w as far as my driver”. Is this what is happening or are golfers being too hard on themselves?
Having fitted hundreds of golfers over the years, I can tell you that this is exactly what is happening. The 3w IS going further than the driver. But how can this be? A driver should go further than a 3w, shouldn’t it? Of course, it should. But it does not always go further or even as far as a 3w for several reasons. First, you have to understand that distance is a function of club speed, launch angle and spin rate. A problem that faces many golfers is that they are not able to generate any more significant clubhead speed with their drivers than they do with their 3w’s. Without an increase in club speed, and therefore, ball speed you will not see any appreciable difference in distance. Given that a 3w has about 12-15 grams more mass than a driver, the 3w often out hits the driver, because distance is a function of clubhead speed and clubhead weight.
Well, that may sound kind of discouraging. But all is not lost. When hit properly a driver will produce more carry distance or at worst the same carry distance as a 3w, but with a lower ball spin rate and a shallower landing angle. So, even if the carry distance is the same the total distance will be greater with a driver, because of a greater roll out factor.
One of the reasons for lack of distance for your driver is the quality of the shot at impact. Drivers are generally too long for the golfer’s skill level. Manufacturers generally set a driver length at 45-46”. This length is way to long for the average golfer. On the PGA Tour, the average length of a driver is 44.5”. It is much easier to strike the ball in the center of the face with a shorter driver. A driver that is not struck off the center of the face will produce less distance than a 3w that is struck on the sweet spot even if the driver has a higher clubhead speed. Impact position for a driver and a 3w or for any other club for that matter is of the utmost importance.
One other reason your 3w may be outperforming your driver, as mentioned earlier, is ball spin rate. If you are hitting down on the ball with your driver with a clubhead with too much dynamic loft (i.e., the actual loft of the clubhead at impact) you are more likely producing so much ball spin that your drive balloons and has little to no roll out
The potential of the 3w changes radically when you are not hitting it off the tee. A 3w can be very difficult to hit off the fairway. It has limited loft and has quite a long shaft at 43”. Many golfers find it difficult to hit a 3w off anything less than a perfect lie and often have a hard time with getting the ball airborne with a solid impact. If you are in this group, I would suggest using a more lofted fairway wood, such as a 4w or a 5w. The higher loft and shorter length may be all you need to solve this problem. I often tell my customers that a 3w off the fairway is the most difficult club in the bag to hit. Sometimes a 4w, 7w combo or a 5w/9w combo is more effective.
Higher Lofted Woods
If you love hitting fairway woods, you can also consider even higher lofted woods such as an 11w, a 13w or a 15w or even higher. Many golfers find they are much more consistent with fairway woods than they are with hybrids and opt to carry higher lofted woods. The low and rearward center of gravity as well as the higher loft on a fairway wood will help those who have difficulty getting the ball in the air. When you hit approach shots with high lofted fairway woods, the higher ball flight will result in a shot that will hold the green without much roll out. Just as it is true that sometimes a golfer can hit further with a 3W off a tee than his driver, there are other anomalies in woods. A player with a slower swing speed can often hit a 7W further than a 3W. A key factor in this is the loft of the 7W. With woods it is important to experiment, see what works best for you.
Each golfer is unique. What works for your playing partner, or certainly what works for the pros, may not be what is best for you. Set makeup varies greatly from golfer to golfer. To find out how fairway woods can improve your game visit a professional clubfitter in your area and find out if higher lofted fairway woods can help produce a lower score for you!