PGA Championship

Valhalla Golf Club



sound advice

That 3-wood in your bag is more a problem than a solution

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Andrew Redington

A 3-wood is a staple in the high majority of everyday golfers’ bags. It’s almost a default choice. Driver/3-wood/5-wood is a setup as common as a three-jack from 70 feet. But as Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake. Huge!”

Although conventional thinking among golfers is to carry a 3-wood because you want to hit your fairway woods as far as possible, fact is you’re likely doing yourself a disservice. Less loft equals more distance is one of the biggest misconceptions in golf. Stronger lofts might result in more ball speed but will result in more distance only if you strike the ball with a high enough launch angle and with enough spin to keep it airborne. The fact is that most golfers would greatly benefit from more loft, not less.

Craig Zimmerman, director of retail at RedTail Golf Center in Oregon gets more specific. “Angle of descent is a key factor in determining distance,” he says. “No matter the loft of a club, a player should have a landing angle between 45 and 50 degrees. Anything less than this angle and a player will most likely lose carry yardage and it will be difficult to hold a green.”

Unless you play golf for a living, you probably do not have that landing angle with a 3-wood.

Players with slower swing speeds, too little launch or not enough spin on their shots will likely hit the ball shorter with a stronger lofted club. That’s because it can result in a “knuckle ball” effect where the ball does not have enough height or spin and is falling out of the air too quickly. In other words, it’s why many golfers hit a 5-wood or even a 7-wood longer than a 3-wood.

If you think about the technology in fairway woods, 3-woods got a lot longer but also a lot more difficult to hit for the average player dating back to the TaylorMade RocketBallz. That club changed the dynamic with 3-woods as designers chased max distance at the expense of height, leading some to dub it “RollerBallz.” A higher-lofted fairway wood carried farther for many everyday players. It had more backspin, too, which made it go straighter.

“Carrying a 3-wood today likely puts you at a disadvantage,” says Chris Marchini, director of golf experience for Golf Galaxy. Most players see distance gains by playing a 4-wood or 5-wood. The high lofts create a more playable flight, and another benefit is the higher lofts tend to be more forgiving.

”There are intangibles at play, too. Many golfers feel more comfortable seeing a larger portion of the face when hitting shots off the turf. That added confidence often leading to a more relaxed swing resulting in better contact.

It’s something even tour pros are realizing. Although tour players have no issue hitting 3-woods (and a high majority still employ one), they also see the benefit of higher-lofted fairway woods. Tommy Fleetwood and Dustin Johnson are not exactly everyday choppers, but they carry a 5- and 7-wood and 7-wood and 9-wood, respectively.

Of course, some will still not be convinced, pining for the opportunity to bust a 3-wood off the deck in hopes of reaching that short par-5 in two. Please. For those we point you to the title of this article.