Hot List Extra

You likely need more loft on your fairway woods, our test shows

June 13, 2024
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In our Hot List test, of the players who hit higher-lofted fairway woods as far or farther than their 3-woods, most had driver swings of less than 100 miles per hour, a speed that is comfortably above average for recreational golfers. That would mean the majority of golfers ought to consider more loft on their lowest-lofted fairway wood. Photograph by Jesse Rieser

As golf-club and golf-ball designs have pursued less spin in search of extra distance, average golfers aren't always reaping the benefits for one reason: loft. If you want distance, speed is great, low spin is helpful, but launch is paramount.

Nowhere is that more of a struggle than with your fairway woods. This is particularly true when it comes to your lowest-lofted fairway wood. The fact is, a healthy percentage of average golfers are playing too little loft on their lowest-lofted fairway wood, and our Hot List testing reveals that more loft is going to be a better choice more often for as many as a third of all golfers.

Data from our Hot List testing, as tracked by Rapsodo’s MLM2 Pro launch monitor, shows that of the 22 players on our Hot List panel who hit 3-woods, 4-woods and 5-woods, eight produced similar or better results with a more lofted 4-wood or 5-wood than with the lower-lofted 3-wood.

Now, it is true that 3-woods have become easier to hit thanks to weight-saving technologies like lightweight carbon crowns that help lower the center of gravity to improve launch. Turf-friendly sole designs have mitigated the negative effects of poor contact, and ultra-thin, fast-flexing face designs have yielded the potential for extra ball speed. However, it’s also true that many of those same attributes are part of the higher-lofted versions, which are easier to hit.

Golfers need to rethink their fairway-wood makeup in a more regimented fashion, says Woody Lashen, co-owner of Pete’s Golf, a perennial Golf Digest Best Clubfitter in Mineola, N.Y. From Lashen’s viewpoint, a golfer needs to be aware of his or her driver distance and the distance of the longest iron or hybrid in the bag. Then it’s a matter of fitting two or even one fairway wood in that gap. It isn’t a matter of automatically choosing a 3-wood with a loft of 15 degrees. A 16.5-degree 4-wood or 18-degree 5-wood might be more effective and easier to hit, he says.

“I’m not worried about what the number says on the bottom,” Lashen says. “I’m worried about what’s happening to the ball. I don’t care if it says 3-wood, 4-wood, 5-wood. I’m not even worried about filling all 14 slots in your bag. It’s what can I give you that’s going to give you the most consistency to fill a distance gap.”

In our Hot List test, of the eight players who hit higher-lofted fairway woods as far or farther than their 3-woods, six had driver swings of less than 100 miles per hour, a speed that is comfortably above average for recreational golfers. That would mean the majority of golfers ought to be looking at more loft on their lowest-lofted fairway wood.

Average golfers also should think about how they use their fairway woods. If their lowest-lofted fairway wood is a club designed to advance the ball down the fairway, a more-lofted, shallow-faced club is likely going to be the most effective. If a player likes their lowest-lofted fairway wood to serve as a backup driver on shorter and tighter holes, and especially if this is its primary use, then a slightly larger, deeper-faced fairway wood could be a better option. One basic idea is to look at fairway woods with an adjustable loft sleeve. This allows a player to see if adding loft produces better results. Generally speaking, you are looking for about 20 yards distance difference between your driver and your lowest-lofted fairway wood.

In fact, some players might benefit from clubs like the TaylorMade BRNR Mini Driver or Callaway Paradym Ai Smoke Ti 340 Mini Driver. Those clubs have larger heads and adjustable lofts that allow them to serve almost exclusively as an alternative driver that’s easier to square up thanks to its shorter shaft length.

Although fairway woods can be the most challenging clubs to hit off the deck, rethinking how much loft is the right loft could go a long way to making that part of your game more playable.