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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.

30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Pingback: GolfWRX Spotted: Callaway Epic Speed and Epic Max fairway woods on conforming list – GolfWRX

  2. Pingback: The 10 most read articles on GolfWRX in 2020 – GolfWRX

  3. Sandman

    Aug 12, 2020 at 9:36 am

    If you can’t hit a 3w, you need to work on your swing.

  4. Miguel A Donate

    Jul 23, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Great article!! Thanks.
    And that Flightscope Trajectory Optimizer tool is awesome.

  5. nomad golfer

    Jul 17, 2020 at 12:06 am

    One reason my Launcher 3 wood will be staying in the bag is because I “don’t” use it from the fairway – that’s what the 5 & 9 woods are for. The 3 wood, which is closer in loft to a 4 wood goes off the tee when needed. Knowing what role each club is for helps a lot in this game.

  6. Delbert

    Jul 16, 2020 at 11:40 pm

    My old Exotics 3 wood still rocks! Why change and spend the money?

  7. richknine

    Jul 10, 2020 at 12:26 am

    I have a 16° 3W & a 19° 5strong Tight Lies, good old reliable. As long as I can hit them straight out of a fairway bunker, they stay in the bag.

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

    • Mike

      Jul 4, 2020 at 9:41 am

      Great post. I just “rediscovered” this recently when I purchased (at a great, almost silly price) a Callaway Epic Flash. Had been struggling w/ 3W “off the deck” for years but thought this time, w/ some recent swing improvements, it might work. It didn’t; trajectory was way too low (even upping the loft to 17). was decent off the tee but still not as good as expected. Ended up: a) getting a slightly lighter shaft for the 3W & then bought the same model in a 5W. My home course doesn’t give me too many opportunities to use a 3W off the tee but I’m loving that club now when I do use it! But I don’t use it off the fairway anymore unless it’s a super windy day & I need to keep the ball really low. I’m loving that 5W off the deck though!

      Years ago I had done some fairway wood testing & found, at my slow-to-moderate swing speed, that hitting a 3W off the deck offered my no more (& sometimes less total yardage) that a 4W or even a 5W. Sometimes in golf (as in life) we “have to get out of our own way”.

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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)

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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

  16. 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!

  17. 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.

      • Jifmoli

        Jul 26, 2020 at 5:17 pm

        Shorter and heavier.. so like a hybrid? I agree with Curt, hybrids are much better than woods except maybe off a tee.

    • Adrian Rodriguez

      Jul 9, 2020 at 2:09 am

      Not in my case. I had a Ping G410 5W and it was the best! Averaging 220-235 yds, decided to switch it for a 3W just to see the difference and OMG I’m going back to Roger Dunn tomorrow for that 5W lol. Hybrid will not kill the 5W, 100%.

      • nomad golfer

        Jul 17, 2020 at 12:15 am

        I did a similar thing Adrian with my TaylorMade RBZ 5W which was a honey of a club but sold it with the TM set. I now have an elderly Brosnan Regent 5w which is good but not as good as the one I sold.

    • Funkaholic

      Aug 12, 2020 at 9:35 am

      I agree, just look at the selection at the PGA store or other big box retailer, you don’t see many 5w in the racks but plenty of hybrids, that should tell you what the best sellers are.

  18. 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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Equipment

Best irons in golf of 2021: Best blades

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A new set of irons is the single biggest investment you can make into your set of golf clubs. At GolfWRX, to determine the 2021 best irons and their categories, we have compiled an expert panel of fitters to help you find out which of 2021 irons is best for your game.

In 2021, OEMs have continued to push the engineering envelope of iron design by utilizing new technology and manufacturing methods to create clubs that offer forgiveness, along with faster, more consistent club faces and launch windows. Not only that, but we are also seeing more segmentation of models from equipment manufacturers to help you determine your best set and/or set combination thanks to fitting.

These fitting options are important because irons are the key to better scoring and by building the perfect set, you create a cohesive group of clubs in your bag to help you reduce dispersion and hit it closer to your target.

That being said, ultimately the best way to find your personal iron set is to work with a professional fitter using a launch monitor. The difficult part is a lot of people don’t have easy access to fitters, launch monitors, and club builders—so at GolfWRX, we have done a lot of the work for you.

We are in the era of not just maximizing distance but also minimizing the penalty of common misses for each player—this applies to irons just as much as it does with any other club in the bag. This is why, now more than ever, custom fitting is essential to help you see results on every swing you make.

Join the discussion about best irons 2021 in the forums!

The methodology is simple: We want to give you the tools and information to go out and find what works best for you by offering recommendations for your individual iron set wants and needs with insight and feedback from the people who work every single day to help golfers get peak performance out of their equipment.

Best irons of 2021: How we did it

Before starting the process of building our best iron survey, we reached out to our trusted fitters to discuss how they sort through the endless number of iron options available to golfers. The consensus was clear—the best fitters in the world see all the options available in the marketplace, analyze their performance traits, and pull from that internal database of knowledge and experience like a supercomputer when they are working with a golfer.

It’s essentially a huge decision tree derived from experience and boiled down to a starting point of options—and it has nothing to do with a handicap!

Modern iron sets are designed into player categories that overlap the outdated “what’s your handicap?” model, and at GolfWRX we believe it was important to go beyond handicap and ask specific questions about the most crucial performance elements fitters are looking at to help golfers find the best set of irons for them. From overall performance to shotmaking, to helping players achieve better trajectories and speed, we strived to ask the right questions.

These are the best iron categories we have developed to help you the reader determine what rankings are most important for your swing and game.

Best irons of 2021: The categories

Best irons of 2021: Meet the fitters

Nick Sherburne: Founder, Club Champion
Clare Cornelius: Fitter,
 Cool Clubs
Eric Johnson: Fitter, True Spec Golf
Shaun Fagan: Fitter, True Spec Golf
Kirk Oguri: PGA Professional/ Club Specialist, Pete’s Golf
Sue O’Connor: Fitter, Cool Clubs 
Scott Felix: Owner, Felix Club Works
Mark Knapp: Club Fitter, Carls Golfland
Ryan Johnson: Club Fitter, Carls Golfland
Eric Hensler: Manager & Fitter, 
Miles of Golf
Brad Coffield: Fitter Carls Golfland
Nick Waterworth: Fitter, Haggin Oaks Golf Super Shop
Adam White: Co-Founder & Director of Club Fitting, Measured Golf
Scott Anderson: VP of Sales, Fitter, True Spec Golf
Matthew Sim: Director of Operations, Modern Golf
Ian Fraser: CEO & Founder, Tour Experience Golf
Mike Martysiewicz: Director of Club Fitting & Building, Tour Experience Golf
Shawn Zawodni: Fitter, Miles of Golf
Ben Giunta: Owner, The Tour Van

2021 Best irons: Blades

This is by far the most straightforward category because it is defined by a single style of club—the blade AKA the muscleback or MB for short. Although modern variations offer a lot more playability than they did decades ago, blades are still defined by their workability, compact shaping, and lower ball flight. If you are looking for the ultimate test or just prefer something in the more traditional vein, these are for you.

Srixon Z Forged

best irons 2021 best blades

Their story: The Z-Forged irons from Srixon are forged from a single billet of soft 1020 carbon steel, and are designed to offer players an exceptional amount of feel throughout all shots. The irons also contain the patented Tour V.T Sole which is designed to provide more consistent ball striking while keeping the versatility to execute every type of shot.

From the fitters

  • I know this is will sound like an oxymoron based on the category, but thanks to the profile and sole design, the Z-Forged is quite a forgiving blade option.
  • This is my favorite blade iron because of the VT sole—it’s a game-changer for steeper players who take a divot but still performs great for those that don’t.
  • With blades all being very familiar, it often comes down to look and turf interaction, and the Z-forged arguably offers the best turf interaction of the group with the beveled leading edge.

For more photos/info, read our launch piece and check out this forum thread.

Join the discussion about best irons 2021 in the forums!

Callaway Apex MB

best irons 2021 best blades

Their story: The Callaway Apex MB is forged from 1025 carbon steel with a classic shape that is similar to other blade irons from Callaway’s past, but this time with a slightly narrower sole and less offset. Another improvement is the 20V grooves ensure optimal spin control in and out of the rough.

The centrally located weight screw in the back of the head allows Callaway builders to maintain the precise center of gravity locations when adding or removing weight from the irons—it’s not a new idea, but it’s one that is key to allowing the irons to be dialed into spec for each golfer.

From the fitters

  • With its compact profile and subtly square toe, the Apex MB is the best-looking blade on the market in my opinion. It’s also very easy to work the ball in any direction you want.
  • The central weight screw for adjusting swing weight has been great this year for quality control and to fine-tune during fittings. Although not everyone is sensitive to swing weight, this feature allows us, and secondly the builders, to get things just right.

For more photos/info, read our launch piece and check out this forum thread.

Mizuno MP-20

best irons 2021 best blades

Their story: Mizuno calls the MP-20 “the ultimate tour blade” thanks to its melding of modern manufacturing techniques with classic styling. The MP20s provide flow throughout the set from top to bottom leading to greater control over ball flight. This flow also increases forgiveness (please remember it’s still a blade) and launch in the longer irons, with an increased ability to flight the ball in the scoring clubs.

To help create the classic Mizuno feel, the irons are also complemented with a copper underlay beneath the final chrome plating.

From the fitters:

  • The MP-20 is the quintessential Mizuno blade while also being quite a bit easier to hit—a relative term I know.
  • Not only is the iron great on its own, but Mizuno has a fantastic fitting cart full of shaft options.

For more photos/info, read our launch piece and check out this forum thread.

Titleist 620 MB

best irons 2021 best blades

Their story: The 620 MB offers ideal turf interaction throughout the set thanks to more camber and a tweaked leading edge.  In addition to the sole tweaks, the blade length is progressive from the longest iron to the shortest and the transition is so smooth that unless you set clubs next to each other, it’s quite difficult to notice. The final design element is the face height progression which transitions from more shallow to tall in the pitching wedge to offer the greatest control over ball flight.

From the fitters:

  • As long as the player has the skill set to play a blade, the 620 MB is consistent and the misses are not too bad.
  • This is a “traditional blade” in every sense, and sticks with slightly more traditional lofts. The other great thing Titleist did with the lofts of the MB is match them exactly to the 620 CB so you can easily build combo sets—because even at this point Adam Scott isn’t using a blade 3-iron.

For more photos/info, read our launch piece and check out this forum thread.

Join the discussion about best irons 2021 in the forums!

TaylorMade P7MB

Their story: Making something seem simple is often the most challenging. What makes the TaylorMade P7MB great is in the nuance and very fine details that the designers made upgrades to compared to the previous models. The P7MB keeps the same workability as the previous generation P730 but with some extra forgiveness built into the longer clubs by the way of a slightly longer blade length. The irons are also manufactured using a multi-step forging process which includes a 2,000-ton forging press to push the quality tolerance of every 1025 carbon steel forging to its peak.

From the fitters:

  • A lot of the players I have worked with have given great feedback on the look and feel of these irons. I also love that the whole P-Series irons can be easily custom-built as combo sets—P7MB’s mixed with a couple of P7MC longer irons is a real “gamer” set.   
  • This is without a doubt the nicest looking and best-performing blade TaylorMade has ever produced.

For more photos/info, read our launch piece and check out this forum thread.

Join the discussion about best irons 2021 in the forums!

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Whats in the Bag

Matthew Wolff WITB 2021 (April)

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Driver: TaylorMade M1 460 (10.5 degrees @ 9 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD HD 7 X

3-wood: TaylorMade SIM2 Titanium (15 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design Tour AD XC 8 X

Irons: TaylorMade P7MC (3-PW)
Shafts: Project X 6.5

Wedges: TaylorMade MG2 (50-09SB, 56-12SB, 60-09LB)
Shafts: True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100

Putter: TaylorMade Spider X Proto (33 inches, lie at 70, 3.5 loft, D4)
Grip: TaylorMade Red/Black

Ball: TaylorMade TP5 ’21 Pix

Grips: Golf Pride ZGrip Cord (+3 double-sided tape)

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Whats in the Bag

Tony Finau WITB 2021 (April)

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Driver: Ping G425 LST (9 degrees @7, Big -)
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ Limited 70 TX (45.25 inches, tipped 1.5 inch)

3-wood: Ping G400 Stretch (13 degrees @14), D5+ swing weight
Shaft: Mitsubishi Diamana D+ Limited 80 TX (42 inches)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3), Ping Blueprint (4-PW)
Shafts: Graphite Design Tour AD DI Hybrid 105 X (3), Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour 120 X

  

Wedges: Ping Glide Forged (50-10, 56-10), Titleist Vokey Design SM8 (60-10S)
Shafts: Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 Tour 125 X (50, 56), Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 125 Wedge

Putter:  Piretti Elite Custom

Ball: Titleist Pro V1

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