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Hit driver, not 3 wood for better scoring on tight holes

by   |   December 10, 2013
Tiger Woods 3 wood v. driver

The following column is an excerpt from my recently published annual e-book, 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis. There is a link below in my profile data for those whom would like to purchase the book for only $10.

Early in the 2013 season, I wanted to research one of the key questions golfers have often asked themselves: Is it better to hit driver off the tee on a tight par-4 or should golfers leave the driver in the bag and lay up?

To learn the answer, I had to study data from PGA Tour players using the PGA Tour’s Shot Tracker system. Furthermore, I needed to find holes where there was roughly an even split between golfers who hit driver off the tee versus those who laid up off the tee so there was a large enough sample size for both golfers who hit driver and those who laid up.

The numbers supporting laying up

There are two methods of looking at whether or not to “go for it” off the tee or lay up. One method is to look at the average proximity to the cup on shots from the fairway versus shots from the rough on Tour.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.37.45 AM

There is a clear advantage to being able to hit a shot from fairway rather than from the rough, as shots from the fairway finished 33 percent closer to the hole. In fact, we see that average Tour players hit the ball closer from 175-to-200 yards in the fairway (34.2 feet) than they hit it from the 125-to-150 yards in the rough (35.8 feet). This data clearly argues in favor of laying up off the tee so that golfers can find the fairway and hit their approach shots closer to the hole.

The numbers supporting going for it

The main flaw in the table that supports laying up off the tee is that it assumes that golfers who use a driver off the tee will automatically miss the fairway, and that golfers who lay up off the tee will automatically find the fairway.

Based on those average proximity to the cup numbers from various distances, I created a “break-even” table (below). It assumes that the golfer hits his driver approximately 25 yards farther off the tee than his 3 wood.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.38.01 AM

The table is a bit difficult to decipher, so I will help you with an example.

Let’s say that a Tour player is playing two balls. He reaches a par 4 where if he hit driver off the tee, the ball will end up between 125-to-150 yards from the hole. If he hit 3 wood on that same exact tee, his shot will end up between 150-to-175 yards from the hole; a 25-yard difference.

If golfers hits their 3-wood off the tee and find the fairway 80 percent of the time, it would leave them with a forecasted proximity to the cup of 30.8 feet. That is because they average 42.5 feet to the cup on shots from 150-to-175 yards from the rough and 27.9 feet on those shots from the fairway.

If the golfer was playing the same hole and hitting driver, he would need to find the fairway only 39.5 percent of the time in order for the golfer to “break-even” to that forecasted proximity to the cup of 30.8 feet.

Notice that each table makes a strong argument: the first for laying up, and the second for “going for it.”

My first article for GolfWRX examined “going for it” versus laying on the tricky No. 10 at Riviera Country Club. The hole gives some players fits; so much that second-place finisher Charlie Beljan had some choice words for it on Twitter. Beljan hit driver on Sunday both times he played it (he was in the playoff as well) and bombed both drives well left. He bogeyed the hole in the final round, and then took an “X” in the playoff.

With that said, the “go for it” players beat out the players who laid up for the week on that hole; a 4.025 stroke average versus 4.080. But upon closer inspection, the only problem with Beljan’s choice to hit driver is that he hit it on the day with the wrong pin position, as there was a clear advantage toward the “lay it up” golfers with the back pin location on Friday and Sunday.

I started to find more holes to research based on suggestions from Tour clients. TPC Sawgrass was a good course as Nos. 1 and 4 were both holes that clients of mine wondered if it was better for them to lay up off the tee or just hit their driver. And I decided to record the following for both the “go for it” and the “lay it up” golfers:

  • Score
  • Hit Fairway Percentage
  • If the ball missed the fairway, did it go into the rough, fairway bunker, water, etc.
  • Yardage to hole on second shot
  • Proximity to the cup after the second shot

I feel that the average proximity to the cup after the second shot was the metric that was the most important. From my vantage point, that is Golf 101: Get the ball closer to the hole. If a golfer shoots worse scores because he putts poorly, that is not the fault of the golfer’s strategy.

What I started to find with these holes was that not only were the golfers who hit driver off the tee averaging lower scores, but they were also averaging a closer average proximity to the cup after their second shot. But here was a giant surprise in the results of the research.

The golfers hitting driver were hitting it much more accurately and precisely than the golfers hitting 3 wood. Here is a chart showing the fairway percentage differences.

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 9.57.53 AM

My original inclination was that the golfers who hit driver off the tee would end up better off based on my break-even table and some other numbers I had ran. I estimated that golfers who hit 3 wood and find the fairway 80 percent of the time should be able to find the fairway at least 39.5 percent of the time with the driver in order to “break-even.” But the real surprise was that the golfers hitting driver off the tee were finding the fairway much more often than the golfers hitting 3 wood. That is exactly the opposite of why golfers generally choose to lay-up off the tee.

This started to make some sense when I started to examine many of the “critical holes” on Tour, which I discussed in this GolfWRX story. As the year went along, and I started to examine more of the “critical holes.” I started to notice that one of them was usually a par 4 where either hitting 3 wood off the tee was mandatory, or there was a split between hitting driver and 3 wood off the tee. And it became apparent to me that even PGA Tour players struggle at hitting precise 3 woods off the tee.

The big question that I was left with was why are PGA Tour players hitting their drivers more accurately than their 3 woods off the tee? Let’s go into what we know about the components of your typical 3 wood versus your typical driver.

  • The 3 wood is shorter in shaft length.
  • The 3 wood is heavier in static weight and shaft weight.
  • The 3 wood generates more spin.
  • The 3 wood flies a shorter distance.
  • The landing angle of the ball is steeper with a 3 wood.
  • The 3 wood has a smaller sized head.

The only component that would lead to a 3 wood being less accurate is its smaller-sized head. The rest of the differences in components would lead to a 3 wood being more accurate off the tee.

Part of what I had to remember is how important head size is to driving the ball off the tee. Remember, the true sweet spot on a club is only the size of about a needle point, and golfers don’t hit it as often as most golfers think. And larger heads do not have larger sweet spots, either. They are just more forgiving around the sweet spot area because of their larger moment of inertia, which helps keep the club from rotating on off-center hits. That creates less gear effect, usually resulting in straighter shots that have a ball speed more similar to those struck on the sweet spot.

I had to remember back to the days when titanium drivers with their larger heads were replacing steel and persimmon driver heads. One of the advantages of titanium was that the substance was so light that the manufacturer could design a larger head and allow the club head to be much more forgiving than those old 200-cubic-centimeter driver heads. The same applies to hitting a 460cc driver versus a 190cc 3 wood.

Hopefully, this will make golfers think twice about leaving the driver in the bag the next time they are hitting into a tight fairway.


Richie Hunt is a statistician whose clients include PGA Tour players, their caddies and instructors in order to more accurately assess their games. He is also the author of the recently published e-book, 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis; the Moneyball Approach to the Game of Golf. He can be reached at or on Twitter @Richie3Jack.

Purchase 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis E-book for $10


  1. tbgolfer

    February 27, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    How do you know if the players were hitting 3 wood or Driver? I don’t believe the Shot Tracker system provides this information. If you’re basing your decision purely on distance the ball traveled, you can obtain reach a very misleading conclusion as to what club was hit. For example, a player may hit driver left, snag the rough or hit a tree, and only travel, say, 252 yards. Yet you may see this and assume it was 3 wood. Similarly, a player could hit a very solid 3wood that runs out in the fairway to, say, 288 yards. You may erroneously attribute this shot to a driver.

  2. Real stats guy

    January 10, 2014 at 11:12 pm

    How can you publish something so poor? Here are the reasons why.
    1. You cannot assume that a tee shot finishes either on the fairway or in the rough. What about if it ends up in a bunker? What about in a water hazard or O.B.?
    2. 99.9% of golfers have got more dispersion with their driver than with their 3 wood. It’s laughable that you are trying to demonstrate that PGA Tour players are hitting their driver straighter than their 3 wood. It will never happen because of various mechanical, physical, biomechanical and geometrical reasons.
    3. The average proximity to the hole is not a good measure to compare players, but you probably will not understand why given that you didn’t get points 1 and 2.
    I just hope that you will publish something more clever in the future.

  3. Real stats guy

    January 10, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    You even dare to say: “Thus, my theory that the MOI difference is offsetting any increased difficulty of tilting the ball’s spin axis.” This is just so wrong. It’s much more difficult to hit a driver straight than a 3 wood.
    And then also: “Typically we are looking at only a 4-5* difference in loft between the 3-wood and the driver”. How about attack angle?
    It’s a shame that you don’t know what you are talking about and yet you want to look like an expert.

  4. Rich

    January 9, 2014 at 7:53 am

    What a load of garbage. Who cares what the pro’s stat’s tell us. The game they play is no resemblance to the the game of golf most of us play so there should be no correlation, stat’s or otherwise. These guys can hit their 2 iron as far as I hit my driver. There’s no comparison. It shows how much you don’t understand about the regular players game to suggest the average golfer should do something based on stat’s from the PGA tour. All you’ve shown is that PGA tours pro’s should hit driver not 3 wood on tie holes (if that even). The article was a waste of space IMHO unless you were only writing it for the +4 indexes and better out there.

  5. stephenf

    January 5, 2014 at 4:19 am

    I think you’ve hit it. Truth is, there just isn’t enough difference between the forces exerted with a driver versus those exerted with a 3-wood, particularly for a good player or pro, to make all that big a difference in fairways hit. Once you factor in the fact that the pro has been hitting driver all day every day, that familiarity most of the time is going to overwhelm any small differences there are in accuracy. If you get down to a hybrid or a 3-iron, maybe you have a really significant difference. Not between driver and 3-wood.

    • stephenf

      January 5, 2014 at 4:21 am

      …and then, as you say, the further point is that unless you have a very big difference between driver accuracy and 3-wood accuracy, you’re not going to overcome the differences in distance to the green and how that affects the ability to hit the green. Very penal rough could be a factor, as could somebody who is unusually good with the 3-wood, but those are special circumstances that wouldn’t apply in a general assessment of this kind.

  6. Taylor Made

    January 4, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Most amateurs cant hit 3 wood worth a squirt. Go ahead..

  7. Brian Cutler

    January 3, 2014 at 11:08 am

    As a fitter I have found that if I raise the loft on the driver, and take some length off the shaft, I can convince the 3 wood off the tee guy to hit a driver again.

    What I’d like to see is a 14 degree driver/fwy hybrid that can be hit well off fairways and is ideal off the tee.

    My dream club for the player who prefers 3 wd off the tee and refuses to carry driver: adjustable 13-15 degrees, 44” length, 415 cc head.

    • Frank A. McCafferty

      January 8, 2014 at 11:53 pm

      Build me one!

  8. Bob

    December 18, 2013 at 1:54 pm

    Obviously the golfers who choose to hit driver feel more confident with their driver and perhaps would be better drivers with their driver or their three wood. The ones who hit three wood are simply worse at hitting the long clubs and so might not be even as accurate as those who are better drivers of the ball. A better and more difficult study would be to have the same golfer hit both driver and three wood off the tee and see what happens.

  9. joro

    December 18, 2013 at 11:00 am

    What is the point in hitting a 3 wood, 5 wood or long iron into trouble. Go with the Driver, that is what it is for. If you are that afraid of your swing you aren’t very confident anyway. What is better, short in trouble or long in trouble.

  10. Mad-Mex

    December 16, 2013 at 1:12 am

    I have read and re-read this and the only conclusion I have come up with is that this is a article which proves that these statistics only apply to professionals. You are missing data for different handicaps, what is considered a “tight” hole and the hazards involved. I can very easily say that hitting a club that you comfortably hit 170 yards will give you a birdie putt on every par 5 over 500 yards. Furthermore you did not state the average score of those hitting driver and those hitting 3 wood off the tee, nor how many of those which did hit driver had to scramble VS those which hit 3 wood,, I’ll continue to take the advise of the greats of golf such as Snider, Hogan, Nicklaus, Trevino and hit 3 wood, mid iron short iron and putt for a boring birdie,,,, like my statistics professor said “”Lies, damned lies, and statistics”

  11. Birdman

    December 14, 2013 at 3:10 pm

    A nice article, however driving accuracy is not a premium on the Pro tour. Surely you need to take into account that 2nd shots from off the fairway are unplayble, hazards, water, trees, gorse etc. I agree with stats only to the point that rough on the pro tour is just slightly longer fairway, so in that case, go for it.

  12. 4under

    December 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    BS. Higher spin-loft = Less spin axis. If fit correctly your 3 wood will always fly straighter than your driver with a center hit.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 13, 2013 at 4:32 pm

      The problem is that the sweet spot for a driver is the same as a 3-wood, roughly the size of a needle point. It’s very easy to miss the sweet spot, even for Tour players. The MOI around the sweetspot is significantly less with the 3-wood than a Driver. Thus, my theory that the MOI difference is offsetting any increased difficulty of tilting the ball’s spin axis. Typically we are looking at only a 4-5* difference in loft between the 3-wood and the driver. And according to Trackman, the launch angle with the driver on Tour is *higher* than the launch angle with the 3-wood. Obviously, one is teed up and the other is likely off the turf. Although I wonder how much would be increased for a typical Tour player teeing it up. The difference in spin is roughly 1,000 rpms.

      And we still have to account for the issues that Tour players have hitting 3-woods off the tee than drivers. It’s real data that was recorded. The finding is there, the question is ‘why?’

      • preston

        December 13, 2013 at 5:19 pm

        you don’t seem to very open to disagreements with your findings. Knowledgeable club fitters have tried to tell you that your theory on driver vs 3 wood spin is not correct, but you don’t listen. I think that most would agree that your findings back up what is going on with Tour players, but that they don’t apply equally to amateurs. You would need to do a study with data from courses that amateurs play….

        • Mike

          December 13, 2013 at 11:51 pm

          Absolutely agree. I would rather see the comparison between amateur and pro.

          and, I hit more fairway compare to driver, simply because it is shorter shaft length for easier control. Yes i got shorter distance but i have lesser trouble in 2nd shot.

          • JD

            December 19, 2013 at 2:22 am

            The guys pulling driver on tight holes are better drivers of the ball.

            Tiger pulls 3 wood because he has the ability to hit the foul ball with driver.

            These statistics ignore how individual ability, even at a professional level, is related to club selection.

        • Richie Hunt

          December 19, 2013 at 10:32 am

          I feel I have been very open to disagreements. I’ve certainly posted responses that were well thought out for those that have disagreed with me. I should also tell you that I am a clubmaker and clubfitter myself. I would be MOI certified if I chose to be and have read virtually every book written by Tom Wishon on clubfitting and clubmaking.

          4under’s statement was that the 3-wood would *always* fly straighter than the driver *if* it were ‘fit correctly.’ My rebuttal is that 4under’s statement does not consider mis-hits and how much the spin axis would tilt on shots that miss the sweet spot which is only the size of a needle point.

          This is based on my experience and knowledge of clubfitting and club design. Lastly, there is a reason why ‘deep face’ 3-woods are designed with the intention of making them more tee shot friendly. I’ve discussed this matter with engineers from Cleveland Golf and Titleist.

  13. Lazza

    December 13, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    At my home course in the KZN Midlands in South Africa you have a reasonable margin for error, but you will still only play maybe 6 holes with a driver because there are some strategically placed water hazards where only those who comfortably carry 280+ yards will use driver.

    When I play the coastal courses like the GD top 100 Durban Country Club you daren’t play driver for the first few holes because there is impenetrable bush on either side. Even tour pros like Ernie Else and others will play irons off the tee on the 420m 5th. It is an almost instant double drop if you stray a few degrees either way.

  14. Claiborne

    December 13, 2013 at 2:25 am

    I agree with the article for the better player. Well written and observed. However for the average player they may want to stop by the ATM before they pull the big dog…

  15. Preston

    December 12, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    This is all well and good when dealing wih tour players, but most amateurs get into more trouble with a driver when faced with a pressure filled tee shot. It would be like saying that we should all drive 200 mph because there are less wrecks in the Daytona 500 vs going 55 mph on city streets. The whole thing is skewed because you are trying to apply a study of apples to a group of oranges.

  16. Mark

    December 11, 2013 at 9:44 pm

    Richie, really nice analysis. If I may, I’d like to extend a couple of thoughts. I noticed your analysis was with tour players, which makes sense because the tour has the data. But we are not tour players, even a scratch player like myself knows there is a huge gap between us. This leads to some thoughts about translating that to the typical amatuer.

    1. The difference in head size is a much bigger deal for amateurs. We utilize that extra forgiveness all the time! Another point in favor of using driver.

    2. We also don’t play under tour conditions (as much as we’d like to think we do). Nor do we have the skill level of a tour pro when it comes to hitting out of the rough. Don’t know how that balances out for the average amateur. But I’d suggest each person looking at this compare their performance rough vs. fairway to the tour stat. If the average tour player has a 33% improvement in distance to the hole fairway vs. rough and your performance is in that neighborhood stick with the driver. But if you don’t even put it on the green 10% of the time from the rough from 100-150 yards out, but do so 70% of the time from that distance in the fairway, you need to favor getting it in the fairway much more than the tour pro.

    If the latter is you, can I suggest another route? Stick with driver, but choke up and inch and swing smooth. I’ll bet you’ll find that fairway much more often than using the 3-wood.

  17. Kevin

    December 11, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    Pull what you want, be comfortable with what you pull and play the next shot where ever it goes.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 12, 2013 at 10:31 am

      I agree. I would never tell somebody to pull a club that they don’t feel any comfort level with. My point is that there are issues, even on the Tour level, with many golfers that pull 3-wood. So the average golfer may really want to think twice before leaving the driver in the bag. But whatever you choose to use, it’s crucial to be decisive.

  18. charlie

    December 11, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Wouldn’t a better scenario compare the same player hitting driver vs. 3wd.

    For instance, guys hitting driver over 3wd tend to be shorter hitting players, but also usually more accurate. An accurate driver of the ball is probably going to be more accurate than a long hitter with a 3wd.

    Zach Johnson isn’t a long driver, therefore he’d most likely hit driver, but he’s accurate. Imagine he hits fairway 8/10 times with driver. Now if longer hitter like Scott, Woods, McIlroy, choose 3wd, and hit 7/10 fairways….all this says is that Z. Johnson is more accurate w/ driver than McIlroy with 3wd.

    McIlroy, Woods, and Scott, had they pulled driver instead, may have hit 6/10 fairway, thus proving that odds of hitting fairway are greater with 3wd. Same goes for Z. Johnson. Had he hit 3wd, he may have 10/10 fairways.

    its interesting article, but the only real way to solve this would be to take a large sample of tour players, have them hit drives with both 3wd and driver on multiple days, and compare the individual results between each player.

    The entire study eliminates the variable that those choosing driver are typically probably shorter and more accurate players than the players choosing 3wd who tend to be longer yet less accurate.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 4:25 pm

      I agree that would be a better scenario. I did see some of that going on where a player would hit driver one day and then 3-wood the next. However, I don’t agree with your sentiment that the longer hitters lay up and the shorter hitters hit driver. I created an algorithm to figure out the ‘tee shot aggressiveness’ of players on Tour. The top-5 aggressive players were:

      1. Mickelson
      2. Poulter
      3. Matt Every
      4. Brian Harman
      5. Webb Simpson

      Bubba Watson is also quite aggressive off the tee.

      There’s little correlation here. Some hit it long, some hit it short, some are good and accurate drivers of the ball, others are not.

      My research tells me that aggressiveness off the tee is more of a personal outlook on the game by the player. They are either conservative or they are aggressive in nature. I think it has little to do with confidence. And the other factor is their score with relation to the cut line or the lead. If they really need it, they’ll go with the driver. If they don’t, they’ll lay up.

      • charlie

        December 12, 2013 at 10:11 am

        i’ll agree that aggressiveness is a personal trait individual to each player. When phil grabs driver, he’s most likely being aggressive. However, on that list, i would think that Brian Harmon pulls driver not because he’s being aggressive, but because his length requires that he hit driver.

        Overall, i guess i’m still not convinced that 3wd isn’t safer. it doesn’t guarantee the fairway for any player, but more loft and less sidespin is going to produce straighter shots. I’m willing to bet even a 15 handicap, with a large sample size, would be more accurate with 3wd. Sure, they’ll pull driver because they think the 3wd isn’t a gaurantee so why not just hit driver, but ini reality the odds of a straight shot go up with higher loft….IF the player is playing correct lofts.

        If a 15 handicap is playing a 9.5 degree loft and the 3wd is 15* with an 85mph swing, chances are they hit the 3wd farther, while the driver barely gets off the ground.

        But for players on tour, i have no doubt 3wd is more accurate, and trying to compare different players hitting different clubs isn’t the way to go about proving driver accuracy over a 3wd.

        This is like putting grandma in a ferrari and Jimmy Johnson in a Ford Taurus and seeing who can complete 10 laps fastest. I’m sure your results would show the Taurus is ‘faster’….because you’re eliminating the results of putting Johnson in the ferrari. Wouldn’t it be equally ridiculous to put a scratch player using a 5wd against a 20+ handicap using a 5 iron and measure accuarcy. Would the conclusion be that a 5wd is more accurate than hitting 5 iron off the tee, ignoring the variable off skill level of the player hitting shot. I’m betting the scratch player hits more fairways with 5 iron, but thats being ignored.

    • Nocke Chiangmai

      December 11, 2013 at 7:27 pm

      For us usual hackers it’s another story. We use the driver on most of the long holes, so we are probably better and more confident with the driver than the 3wood. I use the 3wood just once in a while and for me the driver is my favorite choice. I hit it around 250 yards every time and more accurate than my 3w.

  19. Hellstorm

    December 11, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Leave the poor guy alone. He wrote an article based on actual data collected and a statistical analysis of that data. Its not his personal opinion or feeling. All he is saying is that based on his statistical analysis, you are going to get the ball closer to the hole the closer you are to the pin. Its not rocket science. You have a better chance of getting the ball closer to the pin from 25 yards closer and since there is no guarantee you are going to hit the fairway with either club, take the distance. People will do what they want anyway…

    • naflack

      December 13, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Poor guy? Come on now…

  20. rmgatl

    December 11, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    I was mostly struck by your finding that world class tour players are inconsistent hitting 3 wood off the tee. Inability to safely hit your safety club negates the whole strategy.

    You mention data going back to 2002 showing an on-again/off-again 3 wood performance pattern. I think this is the real finding and would like to see more.

    Do you hypothesize that 3 wood MOI is the issue? Can you use WITB data to test this? The 3 wood must otherwise offer significant benefits, i.e. higher loft negating side spin and a shorter shaft. Of course, there is the (in my opinion bad) trend toward longer/lighter shafts.

    I assume your prescription (besides hitting driver) is to carry a high MOI 3 wood (or 2 wood) as a specialty club for tee shots? There are situations where the landing area is better for a 3 wood distance than driver distance.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 2:42 pm

      The extra loft of the 3-wood does make it harder to tilt the spin axis of the ball, but at 4-5* difference, I don’t think there is that big of a discrepancy (think of how much straighter you would hit your 8-iron vs. the 7-iron, probably not much). I think the head MOI is the primary problem with 3-woods.

      I also find that the total club MOI (something Tom Wishon discusses in MOI matching) is an issue with 3-woods as well. Because 3-woods are shorter in length, companies usually make them with shafts that are 10-grams heavier. However, I’ve found that it makes for too light of a 3-wood heft. There’s a big jump in driver length (let’s say 45″) versus 3-wood length (43″). I think it requires a much heavier shaft than just 10 extra grams.

  21. Josh

    December 11, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    Really fascinating article. I think there is one other factor that allows players to be more accurate with the driver on these in-between holes: how hard they swing. If you’re on one of those in-between holes and you reach for 3 wood you’re generally going to go at it full throttle in an attempt to get your maximum distance out it to get yourself closer to the hole. However, on the same hole hitting driver, since you don’t need your absolute maximum driver length, you tend to throttle back a little bit, making you more likely to hit the fairway.

  22. Duncan Castles

    December 11, 2013 at 10:03 am

    Thanks for another fascinating article, Rich.
    After reading your work on the advantages of going for par 5s in two shots versus laying up to a favourite wedge distance, I changed my strategy for par 5s and long par 4s where I’m not sure I can make the distance and generally play to get as close to the green as possible if there is not huge danger. I’m not a long hitter, so don’t make many par 5s in two, but getting closer with the second shot has definitely helped my scoring.
    Given the accuracy problems with fairway woods, how many Tour players have taken fairway woods out of their bag and employed low-lofted hybrids or driving irons instead? Do you include players who use these clubs in the analyses above?
    Of those who have dumped fairway woods, what are the accuracy statistics for their lowest-lofted hybrid or driving iron, and what do the pay-off tables look like in terms of fairway hit percentage required to get the same second-shot outcome in foot to hole as a driver?
    Like you, I use Wishon clubs, but have taken the fairway out of my bag in favour of a 17* hybrid because I’m a lot more consistent with it. I don’t have the same maximum distance with the hybrid as the fairway wood, but the average distance and dispersion is better.
    (I don’t think this is a clubhead design or shaft issue, by the way. I think it’s just psychologically easier to use either driver, hybrid or iron, rather than driver, fairway, hybrid or iron. I tried having the fairway cut down and reweighted until the shaft length was in step with my 21* hybrid, but that didn’t work either…)

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 2:44 pm

      Very few from what I’ve seen have taken out their fairway woods. I think Bubba did some of that. Usually it’s the deep bombers that remove the 3-wood from their bag all together.

  23. Alan

    December 11, 2013 at 9:16 am

    My game supports the argument Richie is making. I almost always hit driver because I know I hit it straighter and more consistent than my 3 wood. I play on a course with very thick rough, and I’d gladly take 25 yards off to be in the fairway, but I simply hit my driver better.

    And the thing I hate most is when I lay up and miss the fairway. Just like many shots in golf it’s about risk & reward. I say it’s ALMOST always better to go for it. And when you “play it safe” and miss anyway, it’s really frustrating and can get me down. If you miss with a driver, at least you had a shot.

  24. td

    December 11, 2013 at 7:30 am

    With your thinking, stats, you can make the same argument that using your 6 iron off the tee is a better option.Maybe even your putter!

  25. birly-shirly

    December 11, 2013 at 6:12 am

    Good, thought-provoking, article. At the end of the day though, it does largely boil down to whether the individual player really does hit their driver more accurately than their 3 wood (and whether the loss in distance is worth the benefits of an increased chance of hitting the fairway). Each player needs to figure this out for themselves – rather than draw conclusions from the figures presented here.

    I take issue with one point in the argument though. Surely a larger clubhead should NOT be a good explanation for hitting the ball straighter with the driver. Higher MoI should result in higher ballspeed on mishits, but NOT more balls in the fairway. Clubface bulge, if properly designed, should neutralise the left/right misses from off-centre hits regardless of the size or MoI of the clubhead.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 2:47 pm

      I would think that a higher MOI would stabilize the face better thru impact. As Trackman has pointed out that gear effect plays a crucial role and now they are stating that Rate of Closure also plays a role in where the ball starts out and thusly, curves.

      • birly-shirly

        December 11, 2013 at 5:42 pm

        More stable, yes. But again, well designed clubface bulge should offset whatever gear effect results for a given clubhead MoI. A high-MoI driver should have less bulge than a lower MoI 3 wood – but both should land mishits in the fairway unless the path and face were misaligned to begin with. The high-MoI driver head’s advantage should be distance and a smaller loss in ballspeed on mishits, not lateral accuracy.

        Poor fitting 3 woods could be part of the answer though. I’m in no position to know, but perhaps more time and effort goes into driver optimisation than 3 wood.

  26. Mad-Mex

    December 10, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I did not see it asked, so am asking, where is the study taking say, 4 groups of handicaps? say scratch-5, 5-12, 12-24 and 24 and above.

    Furthermore, statistics can be skewed very easily, and in closing, this contradicts tips given by just every major instructor,,,, nice article, but, I’ll stick with proven advise.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 9:05 am

      I am unclear how the advise of an instructor to play conservatively is ‘unproven.’ What have they proven? At least I have shown actual evidence of hitting driver was superior to hitting 3-wood thru actually recording data.

      As far as handicaps go, I think much of it depends on the golfer and how well they are fitted for their driver. The average length of a driver on Tour is about 44.75″ long. For amateurs, it’s probably closer to 45.5″ to 46″ long. I think that’s a major reason why some amateurs hit their 3-wood better. According to Tom Wishon, he states that many golfers also play with not enough loft on their driver, so when they hit their 3-wood they are hitting a club with a loft more in line with their swing speed.

      Combine the two and that is why some amateurs may hit their 3-wood much better than their driver. But, if they are properly fitted for both, then they should be able to take a similar swing with both clubs and therefore, I would recommend hitting the driver based off the evidence I have seen.

      • Mad-Mex

        January 7, 2014 at 2:52 am

        Very interesting reply to my edited post, I checked for 3 days and no reply, now it shows you replied the day after my post,,,,

  27. j

    December 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm


    What is your opinion of carrying 2 drivers? One standard length and then another at say 43″ for short tight holes. Both have big sweetspot but theoretically more control with shorter driver.

    Or should we just be playing bigger more forgiving three woods?

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 9:08 am

      j – That’s what I do. I call it the ‘Gonzo Wood’ and wrote about it in 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis. I carry a 10* driver with a 44-3/8″ shaft and a 12* driver with a 43″ shaft. The 43″ driver is trimmed like a 3-wood. The important part is getting the heft (total club MOI) and balance of the club right. I feel I am pretty much money with the Gonzo Wood. It’s a Wishon club and because it features Graduated Roll Technology, I have little issue hitting it off the deck as well.

  28. Guest

    December 10, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    You may have a statistical problem where there is no statistical control in the regression to control for biases of your data samples. Those who would pull 3-wood on the tee box are worse drivers (hence their decision to pull what they think is an easier club). Therefore, the outcomes for players who hit a 3-wood are worse than driver because the samples themselves are biased; 3-wood hits are from worse tee box players and driver hits are from better players. You would need to run a multivariate regression in STATA controlling for natural talent in the tee box (somehow).

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 9:22 am

      I keep track of each player and their results when I record all of the data. I don’t necessarily disagree with your thoughts, but I can tell you that from looking at the data that aggressive or conservative players have little to do with how well they strike it and more to do with general philosophy and how they feel that particular day. And often times it boils down to their score with relation to making the cut or where they are projected to finish. It’s actually quite common to see a player hit driver in one round and then hit 3-wood in the next round for no real apparent reason.

      Furthermore, in my book I have an algorithm for ‘Driving Aggressiveness.’ It looks at how aggressive the golfer is off the tee; hitting driver or laying up.

      The top-5 most aggressive drivers of the ball were:

      1. Mickelson
      2. Poulter
      3. Matt Every
      4. Brian Harman
      5. Webb Simpson

      The least aggressive?:

      176. Ricky Barnes
      177. Michael Bradley
      178. Henrik Norlander
      179. DJ Trahan
      180. Brandt Jobe

      None of the top-5 are really overly adept drivers of the ball, particularly Mickelson and Poulter. With the bottom-5, Trahan and Jobe are fairly competent.

      I’ve also performed regression analysis looking at par-4 performance (overall). I was able to factor out Putts Gained in par-4 performance and there is a correlation between tee shot aggressiveness and par-4 play. It’s not strong enough to run a linear regression, but it’s certainly there and has been in each year since 2003. And to counter, I haven’t figured a way to counter aggressive drivers of the ball that are poor iron players.

      I appreciate your thoughts and advice. That’s my .02 on the subject.

  29. David F

    December 10, 2013 at 6:45 pm

    Interesting, but it’s quite a stretch to apply statistics collected about Tour Pros to regular golfers.

    • naflack

      December 10, 2013 at 8:15 pm


      • david

        December 11, 2013 at 4:44 am


      • BallBuster

        December 11, 2013 at 4:11 pm

        I say it still does apply to golfers of “fair” ability. Only because our likelihood of 3 wood vs driver accuracy may not be the same percentages as a tour player’s with them, but would still be proportionally the same when comparing club to club and not player to player. I have a 9, but I still know I hit my big headed driver more consistent than my 3 so I usually go with it. I agree with the story, size matters…

    • Domenic

      December 11, 2013 at 10:15 am


    • Drew

      December 11, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      When I read the first line about data collected is for pros, I stopped reading. These guys are out there day in and day out, practicing and routinely hitting driver. What Joe reading this article does that?

      This is just something that didn’t need statistical analysis — it only needs good ole’ common sense. When you don’t play often, a driver is a very hard club to hit! When you’re a pro, you’re Phil Mickelson and you’re considered bad off the tee, but still far better off the tee than over 99% of the amateurs out there.

      It might be a good article if it’s a recommendation to the pros or to scratch golfers, but to the rest of people out there in only forces them to hit 3 off the tee.. And that surely isn’t the way to crush a tight par 4.

      3 iron off the tee FTW

  30. Dan

    December 10, 2013 at 4:50 pm

    Not sure I agree that the data from TPC Deere Run #14 can be used here. From what I’ve seen, guys hitting 3 wood off the tee on that hole are also ‘going for it’. If a pro is going to lay up there, they’re going to hit 6-iron off the tee, and still have <100 in. Leaving it short on the hole brings more into play (esp the bunkers on the left.) I would guess the driver accuracy is higher there because of the large fairway collection area to the left of the green than catches anything that does not land on the putting surface.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 5:31 pm

      Some players can go for that hole with a 3-wood. A player like Bubba can’t use driver on #4 at Sawgrass because he’ll hit it into the water unless he really manipulates the drive to hit it shorter. Those players are accounted for at Sawgrass. For #14 at Deere Run, I don’t count those players because as you mentioned, the intentions are a bit different and I can’t expect a player to hit driver for the sake of hitting it if it is too much club. I think you’re on track with the thoughts as to why drivers found more fairways. It’s one of the hidden flaws of conservative strategy on *some* of the holes…often times you’re actually hitting into a smaller landing area.

      • Jeff

        December 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm

        Great data, But, I don’t think the fear is missing the fairway but hitting it into a place they can’t access the pin, like in the trees or just a poor angle. The other issue is guy’s that chose a driver are generally more accurate of the tee and the others not so good. Did you happen to record green missed from fairway and rough and scoring average from each? Or how many balls went into the shit? How many hit hybrids or Iron on those holes?

        • Richie Hunt

          December 11, 2013 at 4:19 pm

          I recorded how far the 2nd shot was into the hole. I recorded whether the ball was in the fairway, rough, fairway bunker, water or ‘other’. I recorded the proximity to the cup off the 2nd shot. And I recorded the score for each golfer. I didn’t record GIR because I recorded proximity to the cup instead (prox 2. cup is usually more important to score).

          18 at Bay Hill the fear was either going into the water or the left rough. When all was said and done, the Tour players hitting driver had little issue with the water. The left rough was a little more difficult to avoid, but they could have a 140-150 yard shot into the green. And the positioning was such that they had more access to the green and if they missed the green, they could end up okay and possibly get up-and-down for par.

          With the 3-wood off the tee, now they were looking at 175+, over water, to a shallow green. And if they missed the fairway with the 3-wood off the tee…’fuhgetaboutit.’ Not only was making the green almost impossible, but trying to ‘lay up’ on the 2nd shot was very hard.

          #4 at Sawgrass was similar. I had one client that refused to hit driver because he said ‘well, I only have a 9-iron into the hole.’ Thankfully, he hit his 3-wood well this year. But, the other players laying up were actually hitting into a more tricky landing area because there was of the fairway bunker on the right and the moguls/deep rough on the left. If they hit driver and could avoid the water (which all of them did), they were likely left with at worst…a 100 yard shot from some thick rough. If they hit driver and were in the fairway or 1st cut, they would often hit it very close. Compared to that hole where hitting 3-wood would leave them with roughly 140-160 yards over water ( If the pin was cut left, that was a hard flag to shoot for from 140-160 yards, even in the fairway. And if you missed the fairway, it made the hole more of a bogey hole. And real disasters happened if you found the fairway bunker.

      • Lou

        December 19, 2013 at 9:16 am

        Tiger vs. The field…tiger hits (4) drivers a round..he is also in contention more frequently then any other player. It seems the aggressive players play themselves OUT of contention more then they play themselves In to contention. Tiger plays with precision/his OWN odds of giving myself the best chance to shoot the lowest score on a hole. Things that he considers where is the best place to play from to attack the flag…most Am golfers don’t have the ball-control nor the versatility to make-up for being out of position. Being closer sometimes makes the approach shot harder…stats don’t tell the whole story they are more a reference point..need to be tailored toward each player & what they are good at! Great article..Still need to play to your strengths!

    • david

      December 11, 2013 at 4:46 am

      can we c all the holes that they split D and 3w? instead of just those 5 that all support your case?

      • Richie Hunt

        December 11, 2013 at 9:34 am

        I don’t have all that data. This was a subject that I was interested in the beginning of last year. The first hole I came across where I thought there would be a split was #10 at Riviera. I recorded that data. Since that is a hole where golfers ‘go for it’ with a driver, I think getting fwy % data is not really the point, so I instead looked at scoring average.

        From there, I simply tried to look at each tournament where there was a possibility of a 50/50 split. I didn’t have the time and resources to look at every hole, but that is what I found throughout the year.

        For instance, #9 at Harbour Town is a short, tight par-4, but you may only get about 3-4 golfers that hit driver on that hole because there is a giant tree in the way. That just doesn’t provide a large enough sample size for me to compare.

        #16 at TPC Louisiana only had 1 player ‘go for it’ (Andres Romero). I plan on looking at future holes. I have more full-time clients on Tour and I can communicate with them on what holes they think are going to be closer to a 50/50 split. I was very conscious of ‘selection bias’ and I understand that the sample size is not enough. But, it was such a glaring discrepancy that I thought it warranted a column.

        If you have any ideas of holes that there may be a 50/50 split on Tour, please contact me at

  31. Birdie

    December 10, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    Just get a 913fd 13.5* and no driver required.

  32. JD

    December 10, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Hi Rich

    Firstly I enjoy your articles and have been using them for the past few months. I am a professional golfer (no longer play) and now are a professional caddie so have found them very interesting.

    With regard to the latest article I have a few questions and thoughts that may or may not be relevant.

    1. Saying a player hits the fairway more often with the driver than fairway wood is a strong argument.

    How do you factor in a players comfort level and confidence? With the holes you have used could it be that the guys more willing to hit driver are the guys playing well with high confidence resulting in more confident swings and better results. I know my guy will pull 3 wood if is struggling or low on confidence and vice versa if confident.

    Is it possible to see the scoring averages for each group of players for the whole round as to see which group was playing better and see if that coincides with the results of fairways hit.

    2. Also with the same point surely the only way to measure how accurate tour players are with 3 wood or driver has to be with less variables.

    Getting statistics on holes than result in nearly every player in the field either hits driver or 3 wood and comparing them could be more relevant? Ensuring these holes are very similar in fairway width and other variables such as fairway bunkers hazards etc.

    Do you have any stats for this scenario that you could share?

    3. Lastly with the 5 holes selected the driver hit numbers are very high, even higher than the tour leader in driver accuracy for every year. SO there has to be a reason for that.

    Is it because the landing area for driver on these holes is much wider than normal and compared to the same holes 3 wood landing area? There must be a point of difference with these 5 holes to get such high numbers.
    ( Not on caddying on US tour )


    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 5:27 pm

      1. The counter to that argument is fairly simple; the holes I examined the players hitting driver were hitting much more fairways than with 3-wood. We would *assume* that the driver is much more difficult to hit accurately. So these players that have a lack of confidence and hitting 3-wood are still missing MORE fairways. They are trying to make it easier for their lack of confidence by hitting 3-wood and they are still not hitting as many fairways. Plus, not all of those hitting 3-woods off the tee are lacking confidence…and they are still missing more fairways as a group.

      If a player really lacks confidence, they may want to drop down to another club, perhaps a 5-wood or a hybrid. The ball will not travel as far and thus, the geometric angle of error will widen. Plus, they will get more spin and a steeper ball landing angle, making it easier to keep in the fairway. The trade-off is the distance, but if you lack confidence and are an average 3-wood player, hitting 3-wood could give the golfer a very bad result.

      2. I used the holes where there was closer to a 50/50 split so I would have a large enough sample size for both strategies and I would not here the ‘there was more pressure on that tighter fairway’ argument. Essentially, trying to get an apples to apples comparison.

      3. There is some to that. #18 at Bay Hill has a smaller landing area with the driver. #4 at Sawgrass is a bit tricky given how the fairway is shaped. The kicker with #4 at Sawgrass is that the right fairway bunker comes into play if you lay up. It doesn’t if a Tour player hits driver. #18 at Bay Hill there is water on the right and the left rough is very thick. But, typically the Tour players can avoid 1-side without much issue. If they go in the left rough with the driver, they have 140-150 in. If they miss the fairway with a 3-wood, now they have 190+ into a very shallow green. And if they find the fairway…they still have 180+ into a shallow green (over water).

      #1 at Sawgrass the landing area is about the same. Same with #12 at Redstone.

      A lot of it is the argument of ‘well, if I hit 3-wood I will still only have a short iron into the green). But, every yardage counts. The closer the Tour player gets to the hole, assuming the same lie, the closer they are likely to hit that shot to the hole. It doesn’t always work out that way, but on average it does.

  33. michael

    December 10, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    i so disagree with this topic, expecially the fact its showing the picture of tiger woods, he plays his 3 wood majority of the time than anyother tour player..

    last week #18 3 wood? not dirver

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      Yes, and Tiger is accounted for when I do the research and if he is playing in the field. In fact, Tiger’s inability to hit the driver well enough where he doesn’t have to hit 3-wood has hurt his game. The metrics bear this out. He just makes up for it with brilliant iron play, particularly on longer approach shots. He was also a top-tier putter and Short Game player in 2013.

      Most Tour players hit their driver more consistently and accurately than their 3-wood. Phil and Tiger are exceptions. Boo Weekley is a good exception as well, but he hits both the driver and 3-wood very well off the tee.

  34. pablo

    December 10, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    What is the e-book format?

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 4:21 pm

      PDF file.

  35. pablo

    December 10, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Good article. The only time I tee with less than driver is if there is and end-of-fairway condition (examples: water, creek, waste area, etc) between me and the hole.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 11, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Thanks Pablo. I think it’s pretty sound idea. Generally, I feel that golfers should try to factor in the width of the factors that get you in trouble. For instance, if the fairway is only 22 yards wide, focus on the width of the trouble (i.e. the width between the fairway bunker on the right and the trees on the left).

  36. oikos1

    December 10, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Nice work, Richie. The way I interpret the data you collected is if you are hitting driver good that day, keep pounding it and don’t over think a tight fairway. Most guys complaining about this already know what they can handle on a tight hole and might not be happy with your interpretation. Good, more birdie opportunities for me…

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Thanks oikos1. I would definitely agree that if you’re hitting the driver well that day and it is fairly feasible to hit driver on the hole, keep doing it. However, I would just say in general that the numbers for the typical golfer favor hitting driver (if feasible). Unless the golfer runs into a situation where they hit the 3-wood much more accurately and consistently off the tee than the driver. I just showed how much Tour players struggle hitting 3-wood off the tee and how so many of them could still hit driver and actually find the fairway more often.

  37. Chris

    December 10, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Great article. I always enjoy reading about how statistics can be used to make a game-plan and lower scores. My question for you is, how does one get started/find a job doing what you do? I am finishing my master’s degree in mathematical finance later this month and looking for jobs in finance but this seems like it would be something I would enjoy doing much more. Throughout my program, I’ve always thought that the concept of maximizing expected return while minimizing risk subject to certain parameters is one that could be used to analyze golf and could really be valuable for players to know, especially those who are already pay close attention to their own statistics.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 3:33 pm

      I work as a statistician as a full-time job. I work giving a ‘Moneyball approach’ to golf and work with Tour players in my spare time.

      I’ve been reading Bill James’ Historical Baseball Abstract when I was 11 years old (over 25 years ago). In the meantime, I would read other Bill James-ian approaches to sports like Football Prospectus and Basketball Prospectus.

  38. Nick

    December 10, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    I wonder if there isn’t some confusion with correlation and causation here. There may be some bias as the golfers who favor driver are clearly exhibiting an aggressive strategy that suggests a comfort with their game that particular day. I pull a lot more three wood when my game is not quite feeling right in an effort to avoid a penal big miss off the tee. That being said, I still probably score better on driver days, not so much because of the choice to hit driver, but because I’m just striking the ball better on days where I have the confidence to pull out driver.

    • Nick

      December 10, 2013 at 2:01 pm

      Damn, Matt beat me to it by 2 minutes!

      • Evan

        December 10, 2013 at 2:47 pm

        I also agree, kinda what I was trying to get to with my previous statement… you just summed it up better! I think the conclusion of ill-designed equipment to what seems to be a strategy/ confidence issue does not seem to line up.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      I would suggest that you may want to pull the driver on the days you are not feeling as good. This is just based on the data in the graph that shows golfers hitting a much lower % of fairways with the 3-wood than the driver. The driver head specs are still the same in the sense that the head is much more forgiving than the 3-wood head. Bigger head has more MOI around the sweet spot. So if your swing is off and you’re choosing a 3-wood, you’re now requiring more precision when it comes to face contact.

      • Evan

        December 10, 2013 at 8:14 pm

        And a driver is usually 2 inches longer and has less loft (more sidespin)…

        • Richie Hunt

          December 11, 2013 at 9:39 am

          Driver does not have more sidespin than a 3-wood. Spin rate is spin rate. The axis tilt of the ball can be considered ‘side spin.’ Driver’s tend to spin much less than 3-woods. It’s easier to tilt the axis with less loft, but you’re only talking about 4-5* difference in loft.

      • playsted

        December 13, 2013 at 11:21 am

        You try to counter his point by referencing the exact data that he is suggesting may be biased. Not exactly a good way to respond to his comment.

        Your conclusion is that tour players are more accurate with their drivers off the tee than with three woods. You jump through a lot of hoops to get to that conclusion, each one with assumptions. If you work with a bunch of “Tour clients”, why not sit them down behind a trackman and have them all hit some drivers and 3 woods and look at their dispersion?

        Also looking at the data the driver accuracy is well over 80% for the hole you are looking at. The PGA tour LEADER in driver accuracy is under 80% and average is around 60% so obviously (if these stats are correct) these holes have some built in bias in some way (why else did the accuracy jump 20% on these holes).

        I like the break even analysis. However the next driver vs. 3 wood and resulting conclusions are much too broad.

    • Mark

      December 11, 2013 at 10:36 pm

      Actually, saying “golfers who favor driver are clearly exhibiting an aggressive strategy” is a BIG assumption on your part. There are lots of players who feel more comfortable with the driver, or feel more comfortable with the driver on a given day, and as the author showed in two comment responses above, there was no conflict in the results based on whether the player is an aggressive or conservative player.

  39. matt

    December 10, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    The big problem with this analysis, is that, only those players hitting their driver well will hit it on these holes. IE if I am confident and driving well, I’ll hit the big dog. If my swing is out of synch, I will hit the 3 wood limiting the potential damage. A better way to compare would be to see how THE SAME player plays a hole on the same day with both clubs off the tee…..

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      I agree Matt and I will try to do something similar in 2014. Players that hit driver one day and hit 3-wood another day. I think one can argue the confidence factor, but less so since it would be in the same tournament.

  40. Brady Wilson

    December 10, 2013 at 1:11 pm

    People need to realize that you don’t score from the tee, ever. You score with the short clubs. just hit the driver.

    • Nick

      December 10, 2013 at 1:46 pm

      Yes but a tee shot that finds the water or OB will have a distinct impact on your score no matter how well you wedge it.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      Driver plays a big part in a person’s score though. If a golfer hits a driver to 120 yards and splits the fairway versus hitting it to 190 yards and in the rough, their expected score will be much lower for the 120 yard drive that splits the fairway. They are much more likely to make birdie or par and avoid bogey, regardless of how skilled they are with their irons, short game and putting.

      My contention in this article shows that the ‘break even’ points on Tour tend to suggest that driver is a better play. A golfer that can hit their 3-wood off the tee and find the fairway 80% of the time only needs to hit the 39.5% (depending on how far to the hole they are). For a tour player to only need to hit the fairway 39.5% of the time is generally pretty good odds for them.

      The 2nd point of contention is that the big issue is that even Tour players do not find the fairway with the 3-wood very often. In fact, on the holes that I selected (completely unbiased), they were finding more fairways with the driver than the 3-wood.

    • naflack

      December 10, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      I tend to agree with you Brady…
      No matter how well I’m playing I will shoot better scores hitting shorter clubs into greens. If I’m concerned I still hit driver I just swing a little smoother.
      I only pull 3 wood if I have to worry about the fairway running out.

  41. Zach

    December 10, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    Not taken into effect is the golfers confidence. The guys hitting driver are probably confident they can hit the fairway with anything so why not hit driver, the guys having a little trouble with their swing are more likely not to want to hit driver and drop to the 3w, they are naturally not as confident and end up screwing that up anyway. Of course there are exceptions but that could be a big part of it.

  42. North

    December 10, 2013 at 12:33 pm


    I’d be interested in the characteristics of the Par 4′s where the pros are of a split mind when it comes to driver vs. 3w. What is it about the hole (trouble only 1 side, width of fairway, required shape of shot matches pros preferred shot) that half the pros pull the driver and half don’t.

    Your comment about # 4 at Sawgrass is to the point – a right side bunker short and water long.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 2:16 pm

      North, that’s a good question.

      I think part of it is the general influence of decision making. One golfer may lay up and have success and the rest will tend to follow. Why? Because the others are laying up. There’s a hole at TPC Louisiana where practically everybody laid up except for Andres Romero. Romero made par even after a poor drive. I really think golfers could hit driver there, but they don’t seem to want to.

      Anyway, I think the #1 characteristic is usually the length of the hole being shorter. The golfers on Tour I work with that are resistant to hitting driver will often say to me ‘yes, but if I lay up I only have a 9-iron into the green.’ But often times that is the incorrect thought process. #4 at Sawgrass is a perfect example of that. If they lay up and split the fairway, the 9-iron should get them on the green, but they’ll need to hit a nice shot to get it close. And if they lay up and are a little off, now they’re screwed for that 2nd shot. Conversely, if they hit driver and are a little off they can still have a SW from the rough. They are likely to find the green and have a decent shot to get it close. And if they hit driver and find the fairway, now they are in prime position.

      Ironically, I had a client that played #4 at Sawgrass at -2 this past year. He hit driver each time. He found the rough in rounds 1, 2 and 4 and hit his 2nd shot to an average of 7 feet. Then in round 3 he hit driver and split the fairway. Airmailed the green into the back bunker and made bogey.

  43. Jay

    December 10, 2013 at 12:29 pm

    I would like to see what the proximity to the cup is when players use a iron versus a wood (driver or 3 wood). I know from the data that i have collected for myself is that i have a higher % of fairways hit when using an iron or 3 wood off the tee. I am a member of a shorter (6000 yds) muni so my data is coming from me playing the same holes quite a few times in a year. So many times i am using iron or 3 wood to set up myself up for a “better” second shot IE avoiding trouble or not driving it through a dogleg.

    But thanks for the info and i think come spring i am going to play 4-5 round just using my driver and see what my scores come out to be.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 2:18 pm

      The average proximity to the cup was much closer for those that went with driver off the tee than 3-wood off the tee on those holes mentioned. It works logically because on each of the holes I analyzed, the average score supported the driver off the tee than the 3-wood off the tee. And proximity to the cup off the approach and average score have a very strong mathematical correlation to each other.

  44. Progolfer

    December 10, 2013 at 11:20 am

    I’m a professional golfer, and I must say I disagree with the “findings”. In the end it’s all about comfort of the golfer. If I see a tight fairway off the tee, I almost ALWAYS grab the 3-wood. It’s built to be more accurate and the way 3-woods are made today, they don’t go that much shorter than drivers. I don’t mind sacrificing 20 yards to find the fairway. In the end, it all depends on comfort level with the shot at hand. To definitively say “Hit driver, not 3 wood for better scoring on tight holes” is misleading and may cause golfers to gain false confidence, and lead to higher scores.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 11:38 am

      At the risk of sounding like I am talking down to you, I do not see how you can disagree with the findings. The findings are on the holes I chose, based on them being close to a 50/50 split on driver versus 3-wood off the tee, not only was the average score in favor of the driver, but Tour players were hitting the fairway much more often than the 3-wood. The finding is what actually happened and we can’t refute that finding because the findings are facts based on events that actually occurred.

      You may disagree with the interpretation of those findings.

      I do agree that the title was strongly worded. But my editor chose the title.

      There is also plenty of other data that shows hitting driver works more than laying up, particularly when you look at the most aggressive drivers on Tour and their performance on par-4′s and run a regression analysis against that.

    • Dribble

      December 10, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      I agree with progolfer. There are so many other factors that go into this 3w vs. driver debate that you simply cannot declare driver is a better tight fairway option.

      • Richie Hunt

        December 10, 2013 at 1:57 pm

        I agree that you cannot declare that a better option automatically. Again, I did not make the title, my editor did. But if you read the entire article you can see when we look at all of the scenarios, it’s better for Tour players to hit driver than to hit 3-wood. Not only do the average scores point out to that, but the break-even table points to that, particularly since many Tour players are not even coming close to hitting 80% of the fairways with the 3-wood. The break-even values drop dramatically if the golfer chooses to hit driver instead.

        • Progolfer

          December 10, 2013 at 6:49 pm

          I still believe that it’s all about comfort of the player. Statistics, in any arena, are never completely valid and can be misleading. They only point out a trend, and not a fact. To make them a fact, one’s sample size would have to be much, much, much bigger and would have to consider many different conditions to make any claims. Even then, there will always be people who prove that the “facts” are incorrect, and that’s because every person is different and different things will work for different people.

          As a point of emphasis, just look at Henrik Stenson. He has one of the fastest swing speeds on tour but wasn’t in the top 60 in driving distance. Why? BECAUSE HE HITS 3-WOOD ON ALMOST EVERY TEE SHOT. He doesn’t hit many drivers during a round, and yet he was among the leaders in driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Again, it’s all about the comfort of the player, not the trends or stats.

          • Richie Hunt

            December 11, 2013 at 9:50 am

            I agree that the sample size must be bigger. I was concerned about selection bias and sample size, but at the same time I felt that the data recorded so overwhelmingly favored the driver…both in score and fairway % that it was worth bringing up. I also had other statistical comparisons that favored more aggressive tee shot players. For instance, I have an algorithm that determines a player’s tee shot aggressiveness for the year. I then created a par-4 scoring average that took out putts gained. And since 2003, each and every year there has been a mathematical correlation between aggressiveness off the tee and par-4 play.

            The problem with your Stenson example is that it is anecdotal. There’s always going to be exceptions to the rule and stats are not about certainty, they are about probability. GIR % is also a poor way to determine ballstriking as proximity to the cup has a much stronger correlation.

            For Stenson, he is one of the rare players that really hits that 3-wood extremely well. So does Tiger and Phil and Boo Weekley. The other problem for Stenson is that if you look at the statistics behind it, you will see that most players do not consistently hit their 3-wood well. More often than not, they will hit it well one season and then poorly the next. It’s a very ‘volatile’ club in terms of performance on Tour and that is data I have collected on 3-wood play going back to 2002.

          • Mark

            December 11, 2013 at 10:53 pm

            “I still believe that it’s all about comfort of the player.”

            There are a couple of troubling assumptions implied by this statement. You seem to be saying that results are driven by comfort to the exclusion of everything else. I hope is stating it outright that you can see that is at the least overstating what is true.

            You also seem to be suggesting that all golfers will be more comfortable with a 3 wood in their hand. I can assure you that is not the case for me or many other people I know. For myself, I’ve already observed that I have much better control with a driver over 3 wood, and it’s not just a feeling, but something I’ve tracked statistically.

          • Progolfer

            December 12, 2013 at 12:46 am

            Thank you for taking the time to address each individual response and offering even more information. I appreciate your research and maybe I’ll start experimenting with driver on tight holes this offseason. Thanks again!

          • Progolfer

            December 12, 2013 at 8:35 pm


            Being a professional golfer myself, I firmly believe comfort is the most important thing in competitive golf. I would never hit a shot in a tournament that I’m not comfortable playing. Herein lies my concern with this topic: a player who is not comfortable hitting driver on a particular hole will usually not hit a good shot if he choses driver. I think that’s more common sense than anything. If you want to get more accurate results here, find out the psychological state of the person hitting the driver/3-wood– i.e. their confidence and comfort levels. That would be a much stronger indicator of club selection. Don’t simply say hit this not that. Get more into the why, and I bet you’d see that it all boils down to comfort and confidence.

  45. Derek Seto

    December 10, 2013 at 10:45 am

    One point you did not address in your article is whether the the players using drivers off those specific holes may be the shorter, more accurate driver of the ball (ie. Furyk?) and the players using 3 wood are players that tend to spray their driver? (Tiger perhaps?)

    So perhaps the short hitters are more accurate with their driver than the longer, yet wilder hitters with their 3 wood?

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 10:51 am

      Hello Derek,

      It’s a mixed bag. I created an algorithm to determine the ‘aggressiveness’ off the tee by using Driving Distance (the old standard to measure drives), Driving Distance All Drives (all drives measured by ShotLink) and club head speed. I will plug my book here for a second, but I have the rankings in driving aggressiveness in 2013 Pro Golf Synopsis.

      Anyway, you can see all sorts of players are aggressive or conservative off the tee. Bubba rarely keeps his driver in the bag. Although he did at #4 at Sawgrass. And some short and straight players are very conservative as well. Some players would hit driver one day, then lay up the next day. In fact, the most aggressive driver on Tour last year was Brian Harman. He’s about average distance off the tee and hits about 60% of his fairways which was about the average on Tour.

  46. Evan

    December 10, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Or maybe the majority of the holes that a PGA tour player pulls 3 wood instead of driver on are much more difficult driving holes (narrow fairway, dogleg, sloped). If a player is uncomfortable or unsure on a tee box they would typically defer to the 3 wood, which is a mindset/ confidence issue. If a PGA player cannot consistently hit a fairway wood more accurately, fairway woods would not be played on tour.

    Dispersion differences because of club head size between Driver and 3 wood seem to be something that could easily be measured with a trackman or flightscope.

    Strategy, mindset, fairway size/ shape, are all things that should also go into your Driver vs. 3 wood accuracy observation.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

      Those are some things I considered. I did record data of certain golfers that would lay up one round on a particular hole and hit driver in another round. The data overwhelmingly sided with the player hitting driver. You could chalk that up to a confidence issue on *that* particular day versus the other particular day, but given the other data it points to the issues that Tour players have hitting 3-woods.

      I do have data on holes where hitting driver wasn’t feasible and Tour players were hitting 3-wood instead. The fairway % wasn’t pretty and it is something to watch on Tour; how poorly Tour players struggle off the tee when they have to hit 3-wood. I think I have some ideas for next season as to how to examine those type of holes where driver is not feasible.

    • Evan

      December 10, 2013 at 10:38 am

      What I am ultimately saying is that to accurately come to this conclusion you would have to have tour players hitting 3 woods on wide open par 5s, which they won’t because they want that extra 20-25 yards.

      • Richie Hunt

        December 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

        I agree with you that the majority of holes that a Tour player is more likely to leave driver in the bag are more difficult driving holes. That’s what it states in the title and a few of the holes I focused on, #1 and #4 at Sawgrass along with #18 at Bay Hill are fairly difficult driving holes. That is why I chose the holes I did, there was a fairly close 50/50 split between players using driver vs. 3-wood.

        In each case, the players that used driver had the lowest average score than the players using the 3-wood. And part of that equation was that Tour players were also hitting the fairway more often with the driver than the 3-wood.

        As far as Tour players would not use fairway woods if they can’t hit them consistently, they still feel the need to use them on 2nd shots on par-5′s. I think they unwittingly don’t know the issues that they have hitting 3-wood off the tee based on my experience with working with several of them. I had one client tell me that he never thought about how poorly he hits his 3-wood off the tee and he hasn’t liked his 3-wood since 2008. Sometimes, they just don’t know.

  47. Will o'the Glen

    December 10, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Valid points – for Tour pros. Not all of us are actually more accurate with driver than with 3-wood off the tee. During a recent round at a local course with lots of trouble outside the fairways, I dropped down to 3-wood off the tee for the space of a few holes (medium to long par 4s) when my driver was “misbehaving”, and though I had longer approaches, I was hitting from the fairways, and had better results than I had been having from off-the-fairway approaches on earlier holes.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 10:15 am

      I think part of that goes into what I pointed below about the difference in components of a 3-wood versus a driver. I think many amateurs are more accurate with the 3-wood because their driver is ill-fitted for them. The average length of a driver on Tour is about 44.75″ long. But most amateurs are using 45.5 to 46″ drivers. That means that they are very light and the length of the shaft throws off their mechanics at address.

      • Will o'the Glen

        December 11, 2013 at 12:55 pm

        Makes sense — now I am going to have to reevaluate my driver specs (yes, I am guilty of swinging a big dog I was not fitted for…).

        Thanks, Richie

  48. totebagger

    December 10, 2013 at 10:10 am

    hit your SLDR and #take it deep!!!

  49. labomba34

    December 10, 2013 at 10:05 am

    Interesting article and has very good points, although I think this assumes that all tee shots are in play and have a second shot to advance the ball. I feel like I have more penalty strokes (out of bounds, lost ball, & unplayable lie) when I choose to hit driver over 3 wood. I would want to see these penalty strokes factored in before I hit driver every time. Especially since you lose stroke & distance (proximity to the hole could be 900ft+ now). Even if this is analyzed for the pros, amateurs are more likely to have these penalty strokes than a touring professional (even low handicappers such as myself). Thus, in the long run it may not be more beneficial to hit driver.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 10:19 am

      I agree that the one factor is if you are going to end up in what I call ‘impeded shots.’ Those are shots that end up in the trees, hazard, O.B. or a fairway bunker. The key I feel is that the golfer has to be able to gauge what their results are likely to be on their ‘average swing.’ Too many amateurs gauge results for either their ‘best swing’ or their ‘worst swing.’ The ‘best swing is too low of a probability of happening. The ‘worst swing’ strategy doesn’t take into account that if you take a bad swing and lay up, you can likely end up in just as bad or even worse trouble than if you took a driver out instead. I saw this a lot on #18 at Bay Hill. Players afraid of taking a bad swing laid up and still took a bad swing and now had 200+ yards over water into a very shallow green.

      • labomba34

        December 10, 2013 at 10:44 am

        Thanks for the reply. Keep the stats coming. Definitely makes us think about things differently.

  50. Brian

    December 10, 2013 at 10:05 am

    The unfortunate thing not taken into account is that most tour players when selecting the fairway wood or an iron of the tee might also be trying to avoid a hazard or a bunker in the fairway. Most of them also take into account playing the hole backwards. They want a specific distance left to the hole.

    • Richie Hunt

      December 10, 2013 at 10:13 am

      You would be surprised how many players actually put the fairway bunker or trees *into* play by laying up. #4 at Sawgrass is a good example. Every player that hit driver there at this year’s Sawgrass never found the fairway bunker. But the players that laid up off the tee did find the right fairway bunker. It was a little difficult for the super long hitters on that hole because they could easily find the water with a driver. They needed to find something they could hit 270-290 yards off the tee with consistency. But for the rest of the Tour, hitting 3-wood off the tee hurt their expected score by quite a bit.

  51. AkingsOMG

    December 10, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Did you even read the article? Richie’s analyses are some of the most groundbreaking to come out of the game in a very long time. I’m not sure why you’re so hostile, but if you had an even basic grasp of statistical methods, you’d see that the patterns reveal themselves.

  52. Richie Hunt

    December 10, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    I stated that Sergio was an overrated ballstriker. You could argue that I ‘made up’ my driving effectiveness ranking. It’s a proprietary formula that is based on the last 7 years of historical data.

    However, the rest is hard to dismiss. When you look at average proximity to the cup from various distances, Sergio was mediocre in most areas of the game. Meanwhile his proximity to the cup around the green from inside 20 yards was excellent and his Putts Gained ranking at the time was excellent.

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