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Why your traditional 3-wood might be extinct

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Golfers of all skill levels either love or hate their 3-woods. It can be an arch-nemesis or a safety blanket depending on the day and the shots you are trying to hit, but most golfers know—when you find a good one, you hold onto it.

What makes the 3-wood unique from almost any other club in the bag is that it has to be multi-faceted, since, depending on the golfer, it will be used off the tee, from the fairway, or from the rough. And, after the driver, it’s the largest-volume club in the bag.

This is why, for club designers, it’s crucial to keep the intended target audience in mind when designing fairway woods, and why you see multiple options from each OEM—one size does not fit all!

The Callaway Mavrik line offers 3 distinct fairway models

With modern equipment technology, including low spin golf balls, combined with higher-launching, fast-faced, lower-spinning fairway woods, the question becomes “at what point do you still need a 3-wood in your bag?” You see, at lower swing speeds, the ability to create launch and spin becomes much more difficult—it’s the same reason traditional longer irons have become more difficult to keep in the air, because to create enough lift to maximize carry, you need a lot of speed.

Maximizing your 3-wood for its intended purpose is no different than making sure your irons create the correct descent angle (This is the most important iron fitting parameter), because if you don’t create enough lift, you are leaving precious yards on the table.

How to maximize your fairway wood potential

A common question I hear from golfers when they are hitting fairway woods is

“How come I hit my 5-wood further than my 3-wood from the fairway. Shouldn’t my 3-wood go further because it has less loft?”

You would hypothesize that a 3-wood (for argument’s sake a club with 15 degrees of loft) would travel further than 5-wood (a club with 18 degrees of loft), because, just like irons or wedges the lower-lofted ones should travel further—FALSE!

Creating extra distance, especially carry distance, is all about creating the best possible dynamics at impact, and if that means using a higher loft in your longest fairway wood, then so be it. It’s the same reason some golfers hit a 10-degree driver further than a 7-degree one—it’s all about optimizing launch conditions, and eventually, you will get to a point of diminishing return.

Not enough launch and spin

Using the Flightscope Trajectory Optimizer  (be sure to check it out, it’s a fun tool), I created some standard launch conditions for a medium speed player creating 135 mph ball speed. The biggest takeaway is how low the peak height is and how far the ball carried: only 202 yards rolling out to 219.

More ideal launch and spin

This shot was created using the same 135 mph ball speed, but with five-degree higher launch and 250 more rpm. The distance gain is over 15 yards of carry and a more impressive 7 total yards. If it was between these two clubs, the below option offers much greater playability and better scoring opportunities for the golfer.

The solution

When looking for your next 3-wood/longest club after your driver, worry less about the loft on the club, and instead, focus on the dynamics of the ball flight to make sure you are creating ideal launch conditions. Be sure to test 4 and 5-wood options and dial in the loft if you are hitting a club with an adjustable hosel.

Adjustable sleeves allow you to fine-tune loft and launch conditions.

This could mean taking a 3-wood and adding loft, or starting with a 5-wood and removing loft to find your ideal club. If you use your 3-wood a lot, then it’s important to have a club you can trust and have confidence in it because, as a fitter, it’s my goal to make every club your favorite club!

 

 

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Ryan Barath is part of the Digital Content Creation Team for GolfWRX. He hosts the "On Spec" Podcast on the GolfWRX Radio Network which focuses on discussing everything golf, including gear, technology, fitting, and course architecture. He is a club-fitter & master club builder with more than 17 years of experience working with golfers of all skill levels, including PGA Tour players. He is the former Build Shop Manager & Social Media Coordinator for Modern Golf. He now works independently from his home shop and is a member of advisory panels to a select number of golf equipment manufacturers. You can find Ryan on Twitter and Instagram where he's always willing to chat golf, and share his passion for club building, course architecture and wedge grinding.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. ChipNRun

    Jun 30, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Years ago when I switched from stiff back to regular shafts, I also started having trouble with 3W – it wasn’t launching high enough. Solution: I’m now on my ninth season of 4W + 7W.

    The new angle of FWs came on strong at February golf expo. TaylorMade was touting the various SIM FWs, with the return of the V-Steel heavy sole from circa 2005. Likewise, the Callaway rep said the new Mavrik family FWs had sole weighting to promote higher launch. He said basically “no one wants to hit a 4 wood – they want a 3 wood.”

    Even Tour Edge has jumped on board. Their new EXS 220 FWs list three 3Ws: 13.5° / 15° / 16.5° (uh, guys, the last one is a 4W!)

  2. Jack Nash

    Jun 29, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    Got rid of the 3wd years ago and have had a 4 Hot X ever since and it’s worth it’s weight in gold.

  3. JD Loic

    Jun 28, 2020 at 4:42 pm

    My problem with woods isn’t launch and distance but that ball lie affects the outcome so much: slightly buried and I won’t use it. Find a 16 degree hybrid sooo much better in that regard than a 3w, that I am unlikely to ever buy another wood again.

  4. Rob Infanti

    Jun 28, 2020 at 10:20 am

    About 15 years ago, I gave up on my 3 wood. Once I found that I was hitting my 5 wood further, I pulled it out of my bag. When I bought new clubs a few years back, I didn’t even bother with a 3 wood. I have a swing speed of about 80mph and just cannot generate enough spin. The same goes for my long irons. My 3 and 4 irons don’t go any further than my 5 iron. I replaced them with a 3 hybrid that fit perfectly distance-wise between my 5 wood and 5 iron.

  5. Karsten's Ghost

    Jun 28, 2020 at 6:31 am

    This misses the point for mid- to high-handicappers.

    “3-woods” are two categories of clubs; either they’re tee-box clubs (tall face) or they are advancement (short face).

    A 10 or less can strike a ball well enough that most fairway woods are ok for both scenarios. But for the 15+ crowd, it’s not recommended. Either buy one that you plan to normally tee up, or get a 5 wood for off the deck. If you’re a 15+, never buy anything lower than 16º as your second club, unless you have wicked speed and no short game.

    It’s a shame this article does not differentiate the two styles. Even for better players, it’s a decision point. Either way, choose well for your game, and don’t be afraid to go driver-17hybrid, either. Whatever you hit well.

  6. dave

    Jun 28, 2020 at 2:56 am

    How the low-spin modern ball affects slow- and medium-speed swingers’ trajectories when hitting longer clubs off turf is something I don’t think gets picked up enough in club/ball fitting with modern gear.

    I played a lot til about 2000, then played once a year while raising kids, started playing 80-100x a year again three years ago. So I left the game just as the V1 came in. Lowest previous hcp was 9, currently 8.5. Guessing I swing the driver around 95 mph based on my carry distance.

    In other words, I don’t hit it very hard.

    I love/loved my 1972 Hogan Apex blades, which I bought used in the early 90s. But I noticed right away as I started playing again that I couldn’t launch the new balls with the long irons like I could when I played high-spinning balata in the 80s and 90s. Playing Mizuno blades right now but finally understand that it’s horses for courses and I need to get some long irons that have more mass lower down and/or a hotter face to get a decent launch angle with the modern ball at my swing speeds.

    • Matt

      Jun 29, 2020 at 1:40 pm

      Balls also differ, so find the optimal ball for your swing speed. Soft compression ball is better for slower swing speeds

  7. Phil

    Jun 27, 2020 at 10:59 pm

    14 degree 3 wood is always in mybag. Can work it both ways and hit it constantly straight. Use it off the tee for tight par 4’s.
    Only use the 7.5 degree drive on long holes or holes with open fairways.
    Looking at getting a 4 wood to give a bit more distance than the 2 iron in winter.
    People should use the 3 wood more, rather than always pulling out the drive. It is more than just a club to use on second shots to par 5’s.

    • ChipNRun

      Jun 30, 2020 at 2:22 pm

      Phil,

      People who are hit-and-miss with 3W (good days and bad days) may suffer from not using it enough. On occasion they should play a 3W for all tee shots and longer fairway shots. Hitting the 3W 15 times a round rather than just two or three can help you get the groove.

      I do this on occasion with my 4W. (I’m a longtime 4W + 7W guy)

  8. Mick

    Jun 27, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    Forget that. 3 wood is my fave club!!. Titleist TS2- rocket launcher. Will never give it up. People need to learn to hit it, anyone can with practice.

  9. Sam

    Jun 27, 2020 at 8:45 pm

    It all has to do with launch angle and spin rate. How you achieve the correct launch angle and spin rate is of course based on loft, shaft, angle of decent, etc… And all those numbers depend on the golfer. Don’t let your ego get in the way if a 16* fairway goes further than your 13*, or your 18 goes further than your 15. Hybrids can’t match the center of gravity of a fairway but for some their steep angle of attack makes hybrids work better for them. Experiment, check your ego’s, and have some fun. That’s what makes golf such a blast.

  10. Twiggy1980

    Jun 27, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    Golf Wrx always talks a load of bollocks

    • BJ

      Jun 28, 2020 at 10:42 am

      Why is the word “bollocks” so funny to me lol

  11. sandtrap

    Jun 27, 2020 at 6:35 pm

    Much better basis for the descent angle argument this time Ryan. No weird variables. The last paragraph emphasising the importance of loft and not the number on the club nailed it!

  12. Curt

    Jun 27, 2020 at 3:12 pm

    The hybrid will kill the 5 wood first .

    • gwelfgulfer

      Jun 27, 2020 at 8:22 pm

      Has it yet? Won’t happen. All you need to do is stop with the nonesense of very light weight shafts in woods and just go shorter and heavier. It’ll out launch a hybrid.

  13. Jordan Evans

    Jun 27, 2020 at 3:05 pm

    So true. I’ve recently gone to a 16.5 deg 4 wood, 21 deg 7 wood and 25 deg hybrid. Everyone of them performs better than the lower lofted clubs they replaced. Higher launch, more carry and better distance. My swing speed is just under 100mph but I tend to deloft most of my clubs and hit down on the ball. For the first time ever I now have 14 clubs in the bag that I have confidence in.

    • Zach Bartness

      Jun 27, 2020 at 3:50 pm

      What’s after your 25 degree hybrid?

    • Slats

      Jun 28, 2020 at 5:13 am

      Yes. Likewise. Realised my traditional 15 deg three wood wasn’t working for me and now have the 16.5 TS2, and 19 and 22 degree hybrid in front of my 5 iron.

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One-length wedges are holding Bryson DeChambeau back

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Bryson Dechambeau is a golf anomaly and has been for his entire competitive golf career.

The most recent example has been his single-minded focus to get bigger, stronger, and hit it farther. And if his early results are any indication, he has succeeded in his goal to seemingly reduce most golf courses on the PGA Tour to pitch and putts.

The other well-known example of Bryson’s unique approach is the single length irons and wedges that he has used since college.

This one-length approach allows Bryson to set up the same way for every shot, but when going deeper into his stats, there seems to be one part of his game that is glaringly below-average: his wedge play. Specifically, his proximity to hole: 124th on tour.

I believe his one-length wedges are to blame.

If we go one step further, his approach proximity from 50 – 70 yards of 17’10” ranks him 152nd on tour, an abysmal ranking for one of the top players in the game.

Breaking down the dynamics of a wedge shot

Hitting short irons, particularly wedges, close is about creating consistent dynamics at impact and controlling dynamic loft, launch, spin, and friction. The higher the loft on a club, the more potential friction and spin can be created, depending on player dynamics, to the point of diminishing return where the trajectory becomes more of an influencing factor for low-speed shots where less spin can be generated.

With single-length wedges compared to standard length wedges, it is more difficult to create consistent impact dynamics because the longer wedges don’t offer as much flexibility at setup, especially when you consider how much more ground undulation is generally found closer to green areas. But don’t just take my word for it…

I reached out to one of the top fitters in the industry, Ian Fraser from Tour Experience Golf, aka TXG, to get his take on how single length wedges could be effecting Bryson’s game.

“Playing his sand wedge at 2.25” over standard would lead to a shallower angle of attack which is detrimental to increasing spin loft—also being shallower with a low point closer to the ball increases the likelihood of picking up debris (moisture, grass etc) prior to impact which also reduces friction and spin control.

“We look for around 45-47 degrees of spin loft to achieve maximum friction, so unless Bryson can get steeper, the ball will launch higher due to the loft portion of that ideal spin loft.”

A further explanation

  • Single-length (longer) wedges: Longer wedges lead to less control as lofts get higher because of the naturally shallower angle the club wants to approach the ball. This extra length also leads to the inability to fluctuate ball position as lies differ greatly as you get closer to the green resulting in less control of launch and spin, leading to poor distance control.
  • Standard variable-length wedges: Standard wedges allow for greater control because it is easier for golfers to change ball position, which leads to greater control of impact dynamics which in turn offers better control of launch and spin, resulting in improved distance control. Not only that, but when you combine the shorter lengths with flatter lie angles into the sand and lob wedge (a setup recommended by most fitters) you get even more versatility.

Conclusion

Bryson is currently ranked 11th in the Official World Golf Rankings, and if he continues his fantastic form, that ranking is bound to improve as he puts himself closer to the green with every tee shot and in better scoring positions—he just needs to take better advantage of these shorter approach shots.

As someone who boasts about his willingness to experiment, Bryson has certainly tinkered with a number of wedges from his club sponsor Cobra as well as others in search of improvement, including PXG and Artisan Golf, within the last year.

I believe the next step for Bryson should be to experiment with a combination set that is single length until his 9-iron and progresses down to more standard lengths in his wedges to rein in speed and gain greater control of his wedge dynamics at impact. With his current ranking of 152nd on tour from 50 to 70 yards, he really only has one direction to go: up.

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What GolfWRXers are saying about the best irons for a sweeper

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In our forums, our members have been discussing irons and which models are the best for sweepers. WRXer ‘bigD77’ reaches out to fellow members and has a preference for players irons. Our members discuss.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • Frisco Kid: “I’m a sweeper/picker, really enjoying the PXG 0211 irons. I believe they fit in the hollow players distance category. The feel is outstanding and consistent distances. Since distance is not a requirement, I found Maltby DBM (or TE) forged irons superb for feel and accuracy. A sweeper’s dream with slim sole and thin top line. My only gripe with them was I was much shorter with them. My miss is usually thin, and the DBM irons are very good at covering up that miss.”
  • Hougz79: “Ping i210 here. Came from mostly AP2 (712, 716, 718). I don’t have an issue with the slightly thicker sole. I play in MN so pretty “average” conditions, I guess.”
  • scooterhd2: “Srixon Z785. Sweep away my friend, sweep away.”
  • NTCgolfnut: “There are a few that I have used / currently play in rotation that works well if you are a sweeper like me: MP-20 HMB (and most hollow-headed players irons like PXG 0311 range), J15 CB and Miura CB1008 top the list. If you like Blades, then MP5 works well.”
  • cjblake09: “Hogan PTX Pro and ICON combo set. Came from the AP2 718 and the turf interaction with my Hogans is much better.”

Entire Thread: “Best irons for a sweeper?”

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What GolfWRXers are saying about Odyssey/Toulon putters at the Rocket Mortgage Classic

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In our forums, our members have been commenting on the array of Odusser/Toulon putters on show at this week’s Rocket Mortgage Classic.

For more photos, check out the entire thread here.

Here are a few posts from the thread, but make sure to check out the entire discussion and have your say at the link below.

  • MaineMariner: “Backstryke is BACK! Is the lighting playing tricks on me, or does that Madison have a Versa paint scheme? If that’s offered by the Toulon Garage… welp, my wallet is going to take a beating.”
  • pga43: “It does” (In response to MaineMariner)
  • Bigjim1022; “Is that a bronze finish on the first one? Can’t tell if it’s the lighting or not. If it is that looks sweet!”
  • double or triple?: “Looks like the chocolate finish to me.” (In response to BigJim1022)

Entire Thread: “Odyssey/Toulon putters at the Rocket Mortgage Classic”

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