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# The Downwind Debate: Do 3-Woods Go As Far As Drivers?

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July 18, 2011
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Driver Discussion: Mickelson eventually hit driver, but not before putting forth a theory on why 3-wood would be best.

On the fifth hole of the final round of the British Open at Royal St. George's, Phil Mickelson and his caddie, Jim (Bones) Mackay, engaged in a debate as to what club to hit off the tee on the dogleg-left 419-yard par 4.

Mickelson needed a 320-yard carry to cut the corner --the question was how. Normally a 320-yard carry requires nothing but driver, but the hole was dead downwind, with the breeze blowing at a stout 25 miles per hour.

Said Mickelson, "I think 3-wood is going to go as far as driver because it's going to get up [in the air] and have more spin." Bones countered, "I don't agree" and mapped out the yardages for his boss. Lefty, still not convinced, said, "I just remember the time we spent with [Dave] Pelz, and he said that when it's 15 knots [17.3 mph] or more downwind your 3-wood will go as far as your driver."

True? Using a trajectory model with no wind, a driver shot producing a ball speed of 175 mph, launched at 10.5 degrees and 2,700 rpms of spin produces a carry of 287.8 yards and a total distance of 300.9 yards. With a 17.5 mph tailwind, a driver struck with those launch conditions would carry 314.3 yards and have an overall distance of 344.3 yards.

The same trajectory model reveals that although a 3-wood shot may not equal those numbers, they are startlingly close, especially in terms of carry. A reasonable ball speed for a 3-wood swung by a player such as Mickelson would be 162 mph with a launch angle of 12 degrees and spin rate of 3,500 rpms. Under those conditions and with a 17.5 mph helping wind, the trajectory model says the ball would carry 297 yards and have a total distance of 318 yards.

But a trajectory model can only figure out so much. The reality, said Dr. Alan Hocknell, senior VP of R&D for Callaway, is different. "Although the 3-wood will go higher, the additional spin on the ball will give it more lift and more drag, so for there to be a significant difference relative to the driver you would have to believe that the gradient of increasing wind speed as you go up from the ground is quite severe and that the tailwind somewhat negates the added drag but allows the lift force from the spin to remain," said Hocknell. "I'm with Bones on this one unless there's something I'm missing."

Tim Reed of Adams Golf also isn't buying a 3-wood shot will go as far as a driver. "It's just hard to make up for the difference in ball speed," said Reed, the company's VP of R&D. "Plus, because of tee height and center of gravity location, you're not really looking at a higher launch angle. I think the driver will always go farther."

Which might have been why Mickelson ended up hitting driver after all.

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