Maximise Your Woods From The Fairway

We had a look at fitting for a driver in the first of this series. This time around we will tackle the shot where the ball has made its way off the tee and you’re looking at your second shot off the deck. We will examine using a 3 wood from the tee in a later article.

Let’s Get it Down There

There are a few things to consider here. What I would like you to keep in the front of your mind is that we need to find “any” club that will propel a ball the best and longest off the deck. For a few of you out there that may mean that a 3 wood might not be the answer! The reasons for this will become clear as we walk our way through this discussion. The two keys to distance are clubhead speed and control of the clubface for centre hits.

Club Length

So let’s look at the issue of club length first. The longer a club is, the harder it is to control both its plane and its face. It is a sad fact of life that length does equate to a magnifier for any swing errors, both for plane and face control, that we have.

Most 3 woods are 43 inches long from the factory and many golfers find these 3 woods easier to hit even off the tee than their 45 inch drivers. It is also true to say that most weekend warriors hit their 5 woods proportionately better than their 3 woods too.

So first step is to get an impact decal from your local pro or online and see how often we can nail the sweet spot. If it is all over the place at 43 inches then choke down the club an inch and try again.

It should be a little better off or at worst the same – if it is worse go see your pro.

Clubhead Speed

The next thing to consider is that we wish to play as long a 3 wood as we can control because we need to maximise our clubhead speed. In theory, the longer the length, the more speed we can generate with a useful swing, which translates into a longer ball flight.

In the physics equation, speed is a squared input so every little bit is worth trying for. The proviso here is speed as its no use to us if we miss the sweet spot by more than a quarter of an inch.

Anywhere away from that spot and distance is eaten away by leaked power. So we need to find a club the correct length for us to achieve the best chance of nailing the ball with that sweet spot with the clubhead going as fast as is personally possible.

Launch and Loft and Landing

So now we have worked out the length we can handle to give us both speed and most centre hits so now need to consider the loft of the 3 wood itself.

We need to delve into whether we have enough swing speed to generate enough lift with a strong 13 degree wood or see if we might need a 14.5 or more degree 3 wood.

If you are a powerful ball striker look first try out the lower lofted 3 woods. If you are an average or senior player then by all means try the lower lofted woods though it is going to be easier to see you finding more loft being of much greater benefit.

We need to maximise carry as well as get a good angle of decent out of the balls flight to squeeze out a few more metres of run where we can.

Not enough loft will create weak ground burning ball fight and rob us of distance. Too much loft creates a ballooning ball for higher swing speedsters and a plugged ball on landing.

To determine the loft that will give us the best chance of success, find some demo clubs with different lofts and make sure you use a length marker to get your grip in the same slot each time.

If you have a launch monitor handy now fire away and get your clubhead speed, ball speed and launch angles.

If you do not have access to a launch monitor, you’ll need to head out to the range right away and you will have to trust your own eyes.

The beauty of using a launch monitor, like a Zelocity Pure Launch, Vector, or Flight Scopes or the grandaddy of them all a Trackman, is that you can try out a lot of combinations indoors, or out, and then take just a couple of demos to the range to fine tune your findings – often just to verify what you think you know.

Clubhead Design

Yes, two clubs with the same loft may well launch at different angles (with the same shaft in play). Low profile heads have a lower Centre of Gravity and so will launch a ball higher than a taller faced head.

More importantly is that, combined with a deep face to back of the club measurement, the further back the COG is, the higher it will launch too. So if you wish to get more help getting the ball up, look for these sorts of heads.

If its going to high for you now look for a stumpier looking head with less depth. So do pay attention to the heads look and ask the sales people, which head is designed to do what.

Clubface Angle for Directional Control

Another point to consider now that we are getting the ball launched properly, is the direction in which the ball going. 3 woods are built in 4 main formats.

Open faced for great players, square for those who have pretty good control of the balls flight and then closed faced and or offset efforts for those who struggle with the “Fore Right” syndrome.

Offset woods have a design where the clubface sits a little behind the shaft hosel line. This allows for two things to happen for a slicer.

First the face has a little longer to get around to closing to be square and also because the head is placed further back, the COG is also back, which aides in increasing the launch angle of the ball.

If you prefer the look of a closed face to counter the rights, please remember that for every degree the face is closed by design (to cater for your opening hands) it will add dynamic loft to the launch.

You may need to look at a lower loft to gain the same distance as you were managing in the launch part of the process.


Play with the lightest most flexible shaft that you can control. For some that means a long stiff one. For others a cut down whippy stick will be just perfect.

In both instances, we need to find a clubshaft that will allow us to feel where the clubhead is and so maintain our clubhead lag for as long as possible as well as what the clubface is up to.

Generally speaking if you have been fitted for a driver shaft then it is not a bad idea to keep your woods of the same shaft profile.

There is one other quick item to note when it comes to shafts.

Most wood shafts have a diameter of .335” with a few out there with .350” or even .400”. The latter are thinner walled though can be more stable torque (head twisting) wise as opposed to flex wise.

Many OEM drivers are sporting the wider shaft sizes to cope with the 460cc head designs. This is not necessarily required for the smaller fairway wood heads so do not be worried about having a .350 driver and a .335 fairway wood shaft from the same shaft company range unless you are trying to specifically match how the .350 flies in that fairway wood for some reason.

The Final Test

All this to hit a ball off the fairway long and straighter.

I hope that your attention to the longest club off the deck has just gone up a notch or three. And now comes the final crunch test. Reach for the 5 wood of the same determined head and shaft design. We are, after all, looking for the correct tool to get that ball as far down the fairway as possible.

Test the 5 wood out and see where that will send your ball.

In the table below you can see some basic results from a senior aged player using just this process of elimination at work. Why can this player swing the 5 wood as quickly as the 3 wood? Pure confidence that he can middle it means maybe a little more can be given to a shorter club? It is a good example of never assume you swing a longer club faster.

  3W – 13° (Strong) 3W – 14.5° (Mid) 5W – 18° 5W – 19°
Ball Speed (mph) 131 132 135 134
Launch 7.7 8.1 9.8 10.8
Total Length (metres) 152 171 165 172

If the 3 wood is not going to be longer, then either stick the 5 wood in the bag as the longest ground hitter, or even test out a 4 wood and abandon carrying the 3 wood.

The 4 woods were highly popular 20 years ago and could well see a resurgence in the average players bag if a marketing department or two decide to dust off the cobwebs for the next greatest idea.

Good luck in finding yourself a better behaved 3 (or 5) wood.

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