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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 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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Coolest thing for sale in the GolfWRX Classifieds (05/27/21): Ping PLD Prime Tyne putter

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At GolfWRX, we love golf, plain and simple.

We are a community of like-minded individuals that all experience and express our enjoyment of the game in many ways. It’s that sense of community that drives day-to-day interactions in the forums on topics that range from best driver to what marker you use to mark your ball. It even allows us to share another thing we all love – buy and selling equipment.

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To check out the full listing in our BST forum, head through the link: Ping Putter Lab Design (PLD) Prime Tyne putter.

This is the most impressive current listing from the GolfWRX BST, and if you are curious about the rules to participate in the BST Forum you can check them out here: GolfWRX BST Rules

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What GolfWRXers are saying about using a pitching wedge as a chipper

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Entire Thread: “What GolfWRXers are saying about using a pitching wedge as a chipper”

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Entire Thread: “GolfWRXers showcase their first ever driver”

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