Fairway wood/hybrid debate continues

January 26, 2011

Whither the fairway wood? My partner E. MIchael Johnson makes a compelling case in Golf World this week that hybrids are starting to become so prevalent among players on the PGA Tour that they're almost equalling the number of fairway woods in play each week.

But Tom Olsavsky, director of product creation for metal woods at TaylorMade, says he's not so sure hybrids haven't plateaued. Talking with him at Wednesday's Demo Day at the PGA Merchandise Show, he thinks the trend among the top players is to go with, believe it or not, higher lofted fairway woods.

"There are a couple of things we see," says Olsavsky. "First, if you look at the top 50 players, there seem to be more fairway woods in their bags than hybrids, versus players outside the top 50. They tell us it's easier to flight the ball with a fairway wood, high and low. Also, a fairway wood has less offset than a typical hybrid, and that's a look better players prefer. We're seeing a fair amount of 5-woods. You see that in Martin Kaymer's bag, for example."

It's also one reason, he says, TaylorMade's R11 line of fairway woods includes a 22-degree 7-wood, something that wasn't the case in the R9 line. In fact, seven of the 10 fairway woods on the 2011 Hot List include a model with more than 20 degrees of loft.

The key area seems to be that 18-20-degree loft range. Kaymer carries a 5-wood, just like Tiger Woods. So, too, Lee Westwood. That's all three of the top 3 players in the world. But the rest of the Top 10 in the world is a mixed bag. Graeme McDowell (No. 4), Steve Stricker (No. 5), Phil Mickelson (No. 6), Jim Furyk (No. 8) and Luke Donald (No. 10) carry hybrids, two in McDowell's case, but Rory McIlroy (No. 7) and Paul Casey (No. 9) use a 5-wood before transitioning to their 3-irons. In other words, it's five for the high-lofted fairway wood and five for the hybrid.

Of course, the needs of top-ranked tour players and average golfers aren't the same. Tour players aren't using hybrids to replace to many 4-irons, where an average golfer might benefit from not sticking with hybrids until he gets to his 6-iron. In other words, average golfers might want to explore the benefits of both higher lofted fairway woods and higher-lofted hybrids. In the end, it's not which type of clubs you use, it's making sure each club services a specific and exclusive distance.

--Mike Stachura