DON'T BE SHY By Tom Stickney, PGA
Hit down on it! Hybrids are remarkable clubs. They have made shots that were once reserved for hard-to-hit long irons much easier, and in my opinion, a lot more fun. Same goes for some of today's fairway woods. They're crazy-long! That said, why do so many amateurs struggle with hybrids and woods? Too often, amateurs feel as though they need to sweep or hit up on the ball. In reality, that's not the case. Hybrids are actually designed to be played more like middle irons! If anything, you want to hit down on the ball and make a divot after you collide with the golf ball.
In the sequence here, notice how I have a hairy lie from the rough. This is actually great practice for me, since it forces me to hit down and through the grass to get the ball up and going. Now, here's the secret. From the fairway, I have the same angle of attack. The wider sole of the hybrid means it's less likely I'll hit it fat anyway, so I hit down on all my hybrids shots–from everywhere.
INSIDE THE ROPES: DUSTIN JOHNSON
Does it look like Dustin Johnson is trying to lift the ball up into the air with a fairway wood? Nope. Johnson not only retains his spine angle and side bend, but he has the uncanny ability to keep the clubhead low through impact as good as anyone I've seen. And, by the way, it's a fairway wood he's hitting (about 280 yards), and he even has made a small divot, further proof he has hit down on the golf ball, not up on it.Today's fairway woods are insane. No, really, they are. We're hitting some models as far as we used to hit our drivers as little as three to four years ago. It was only a matter of time until driver designers started parlaying driver tech into its smaller siblings. The result is a bunch of fairway woods that not only are long, they're remarkably forgiving, as well. Hitting high shots off the fairway has never been easier, thanks to low CGs and cupface designs, and if you want driver-like adjustability, you can find that, too, on many of today's most popular models. Hybrid technology is right up there with fairway woods, as well. That category is still on the rise with all player types, especially better players. Must-Have | FAIRWAY WOODS Adams iXTD Ti
Key Features: Cut-Thru Slot tech, an adjustable hosel and a titanium-brazed, variable-thickness face–okay, let's just stop right there. All you need to know is, this fairway wood has driver-like technology built into it, and it's awesome. Wow Factor: Did we say this is a driver in fairway wood camouflage? It is, and it's not only long, it's very forgiving. Our favorite model is the 13.5_¡ loft. It's one of the best driver-alternative clubs we've ever tried. Really, we could just ditch the driver. It's so long.... Specs: Three lofts (13.5_¡, 15_¡, 18_¡), with a Matrix Ozik Red Tie graphite shaft. adamsgolf.com | $299 Adams Tight Lies
Key Features: Cut-Thru Slot tech, meaning there's a channel behind the face on the crown and sole. This beefs up the springiness of the face for more power. Also, it has a low profile that naturally lowers the CG for a higher launch, making it a cinch to get the ball airborne. Wow Factor: It's back! We can see some of the original Tight Lies in this new design, especially in the Tri-Sole's raised heel and sole regions. It's made to be versatile and easy to hit, which is exactly what it is. Nice work to the team who brought back the club that put Adams on the map. The club flew with a strong, high trajectory. Don't be afraid of the lower-lofted models. They're super-easy to hit. Okay? Specs: Four lofts (14_¡, 16_¡, 19_¡, 22_¡), with an MRC Bassara Eagle graphite shaft. adamsgolf.com | $199 Bobby Jones Black
Key Features: A CH-1 maraging-steel cupface design for more distance while reducing the spin rate creates a more piercing ballflight. Wow Factor: Cool, right? The innovative brazing process saves 3 to 4 grams over welding, allowing for the relocation of that weight from the face of the club to a more desirable location in the sole. Translation? These woods are easy to hit and they perform as good as they look. Trust us. Jesse Ortiz has done it again. Specs: Two lofts (15_¡, 17_¡), with a Graphite Design G-Series graphite shaft. bobbyjones.com | $220 Callaway Golf X2 Hot
Key Features: A Hyper Speed Face Cup, which is a fancy way to say the steel face is heat-treated for tremendous strength and durability. Other "hot" stuff includes internal weighting for an optimized, low-spin, high-launching center of gravity and a revised Warbird sole for added versatility. There's also an X2 Hot Pro model for better players. Wow Factor: The X Hot was a big club last year for Callaway, and despite its success, the gearheads at Callaway claim the X2 Hot is even better. How so? It's longer and straighter. Specs: Various lofts in Regular or Pro, with an Aldila shaft (Tour Blue and Tour Green). callawaygolf.com | $239 Callaway Golf Big Bertha
Key Features: The Big Bertha is back (again!), this time with a Hyper Speed Face Cup, adjustable hosel tech for loft and face angle, a precision-tuned CG and arguably some of our favorite colors we've seen on a clubhead in the last few years. Red, white (sort of) and blue! Wow Factor: The Big Bertha driver is a hot club this year, for sure. But one shouldn't overlook these woods. They're designed to be as long as possible without sacrificing any control. We liked adding loft to get the ball a little higher up in the air for more control. These woods are crazy-long. Specs: Three lofts (15_¡, 18_¡, 21_¡), with an MRC Fubuki Zeta graphite shaft. callawaygolf.com | $269Cleveland 588
Key Features: We're refreshed to see a fairway wood that looks as though it has shed the excess bells and whistles and just plain performs. The 588 does just that, with a huge sweet spot and classic sports car good looks. It's not that there isn't some serious tech inside–there is, only it hides it in a classic all-around design. Wow Factor: We suspect Tour players will gobble this wood up, thanks to the clean look it has behind the ball. In our trial, we hit the ball a little higher (and actually a little longer) than we expected, which makes us think the boys at Cleveland should be promoting these woods a little harder! Specs: Four lofts (14_¡, 15.5_¡, 18_¡, 20.5_¡), with a Matrix Ozik graphite shaft. clevelandgolf.com | $199
Pick or Choose? "You have to look at angle of attack," says Doug Hammer, director of instruction of the Callaway Performance Center at Troon North Golf Club in Scottsdale, of determining if a hybrid or perhaps a fairway is optimal. "Our general rule of thumb is, better players with shallow swings who are sweepers tend to like fairway woods more. Higher-handicap players, those likely to be steep, prefer hybrids."
Steep swings are delofting swings, he explains. So the weighting and the more iron-like performance characteristics of a hybrid help these types of players "get the ball into the air better, faster."
That's not to say sticks don't need hybrids; Tour usage shows they do. It's simply that the average player will just start the hybrid brigade farther into the bag. And, as for fairways, Hammer adds, "One fairway wood is a good idea for most, and I'm not sure the 3-wood is that fairway wood anymore. Most hit their 5-wood farther and better anyway because they get it in the air faster."
Key Features: The new BiO Cell is chock-full of new tech, including a high-strength steel face insert and SmartPad tech, which uses a simple window in the hosel that allows for an 8-way, custom, on-the-fly fit without the unnecessary confusion. Wow Factor: Great colors to choose from (blue, red, orange, black, silver), and the SmartPad took the headache out of adjusting the loft. Do you really need to know that more loft equals a more closed face, and less loft means a more square-to-open face? Nah" There's a D model for added slice reduction, as well. Specs: Five colors, ten lofts (13_¡, 13.5_¡, 14.5_¡, 15.5_¡, 16_¡, 17_¡, 17.5_¡, 18.5_¡, 19.5_¡, 20_¡), with a Grafalloy Project X graphite shaft. cobragolf.com | $219 Cobra Golf Baffler XL
Key Features: The oversized rails guide the club through just about any type of surface, and the low and deep CG fires the ball up into the air in a hurry. Wow Factor: The rails on the sole really, really work. It's as though they straighten and square the face through impact with the golf ball. With hybrids, we prefer accuracy over distance anyway, and the Baffler XL ranks high in the easy-to-hit category. We don't like to say it's almost like cheating, but too late! We just said it. Oh, well. Specs: Four lofts (13_¡, 16_¡, 18_¡, 20_¡), with a Baffler XL graphite shaft. cobragolf.com | $179Exotics CB Pro
Key Features: It's gotta be the Slip Stream sole design that looks like a series of wavy lines/rails, which makes it more stable as the club glides through the turf. Add on the beta-titanium face and hyper-steel body, and you have a Tour-caliber fairway wood sure to please golfers who want titanium power in a shotmaker's fairway wood. It's expensive, but such great technology doesn't come cheap. Wow Factor: The Slip Stream sole is stunning. You won't want to get it dirty. As for performance, this is our favorite Tour Edge Exotics wood, to date. It's easy to hit and crazy-long. All that, and you can shape shots with relative ease. The low-lofted models? Yeah, they're longer than some drivers we tried. (Don't tell.) Specs: Five lofts (13.5_¡, 14.5_¡, 15.5_¡, 16.5_¡, 17.5_¡), with a Fujikura Speeder graphite shaft. touredge.com | $499Exotics XCG7
Key Features: The XCG7 is designed to get the ball airborne in a hurry and fly the ball as far as possible. Easy, right? It actually is, thanks to the maraging-steel face and the low-profile crown design. Wow Factor: If you want a no-nonsense, long-hitting, super-forgiving fairway wood, the XCG7 is sure to please. If you want a little more workability, there's also the XCG7 Beta, with a deeper face and a CG positioned for a lower launch. Either way, you really can't go wrong here. Specs: Five lofts (13_¡, 15_¡, 16.5_¡, 18_¡, 21_¡), with a Fujikura Exotics Fuel shaft. touredge.com | $249 Fourteen Golf SF-612
Key Features: Fourteen makes beautiful products, no doubt. But usually they cater to better players. The SF-612 is designed for them, too, but the shallow-face design is certainly going to attract a wider range of players. The versatile "Boat Shape" sole actually is shaped like the bottom of a boat, and the CG is deep and high for a penetrating launch. Wow Factor: Each lofted model is designed independently, meaning each wood is finely tuned for loft, face progression, length, weight and so on. The D0 swingweight is light, making it a good choice for moderate to slower swing speeds. It's really long. Specs: Four lofts (16_¡, 19_¡, 22_¡, 25_¡), with a MD-335f graphite shaft. fourteengolf.com | $349 Mizuno JPX-EZ
Key Features: A hot-maraging steel face married with a steel frame that, when combined, creates a very powerful wood. We're happy to see the JPX-EZ has a deepface design, which in our mind makes it easier to swap in and get used to when driver isn't the right play off the tee. Wow Factor: Awesome aesthetics, and we really appreciate how, despite the deepface design, the ball still rockets up into the air. And, by the way, Mizuno knows how to make a club that just feels good. This one felt good before we even swung it. And when we hit it, it only got better. We only wish it had a few more loft options, though. Give it a try, and you'll be surprised at how easy it is. Specs: Two lofts (15_¡, 18_¡), with a Fujikura Orochi graphite shaft. mizunogolf.com | $199 Nike VR_S Covert Tour
Key Features: The huge High Speed Cavity in the back region of the sole helps increase heel/toe weighting for more control, and the CG is placed closer to the face for greater transfer of energy. The result? Big hits without the ballooning ballflight once associated with fairway woods. Also, the adjustable hosel allows for a fine-tuned fit. Wow Factor: We dig the red! Shots hit with the Covert Tour fly like you'd expect a Tour wood should: long and with a flat arc. The non-Tour, non-adjustable VR_S Covert is also available for golfers who want the bennies that come from the cavity back, but aren't obsessed with adjusting loft and face angles. Specs: Two lofts (15,_¡ 19_¡), with an MRC Kuro Kage Silver graphite shaft. nikegolf.com | $249 Ping i25
Key Features: The racing stripe alignment aid on the crown helps make this Tour-inspired fairway wood easy to align, the hosel allows for simple trajectory modifications, and the tall face inspires would-be shotmakers to play a variety of shots off the tee and from the fairway. It's a better player's wood, but all players will love it. Wow Factor: Shotmaking has never been easier with any PING fairway wood. Ever. And just because you can maneuver the ball, that doesn't mean this wood isn't long and forgiving. It's the perfect combination of power, control and shotmaking ability. Period. Specs: Three lofts (14_¡, 15_¡, 18_¡), with a PING PWR graphite shaft. ping.com | $249 Ping G25
Key Features: Designed to promote a long and high launch, the G25 is as close to a driver as any PING fairway wood ever made. From the springy face to the wide sole, it's a serious driver alternative for those who want a forgiving, slightly draw-biased fairway wood. We hit the ball a mile in our trial. Wow Factor: Maybe it would be better with an adjustable hosel? Nah, it doesn't need it. It's a great, forgiving club that hits it high and far. Not a shotmaker's wood–that's the i25's territory. The G25 is all about forgiveness. Specs: Four lofts (15_¡, 16.5_¡, 18_¡, 21_¡), with a PING TFC 189F graphite shaft. ping.com | $229 Taylormade JetSpeed
Key Features: Could TMAG improve on the RocketBallz? Apparently so! The new JetSpeed woods have a redesigned Speed Pocket (that's actually filled with polymer this time) and a CG that's low and near the face for the ultimate in energy transfer into the golf ball with less spin. Long? Forgiving? Yes, times a million. Wow Factor: As hard as it is to believe, we actually hit the JetSpeeds farther than last year's RBZ Stage 2 woods. Crazy, we know. The JetSpeeds are practically drivers. Maybe that's why we prefer higher-lofted ones. The 5-wood model goes as far as most 3-woods we've tried this year. A little draw-biased, but still crazy-long. Specs: Five lofts (15_¡, 17_¡, 19_¡, 21_¡, 23_¡), with a Matrix Velox graphite shaft. taylormadegolf.com | $229 Taylormade SLDR
Key Features: A smaller Speed Pocket (than other TaylorMade fairway woods), adjustable hosel tech, and a look and profile that enable all sorts of shotmaking from the tee and fairway. It has 12 adjustable lofts! Wow Factor: The SLDR fairway wood is long as can be, but has a much more penetrating ballflight than does the JetSpeed woods, meaning some players may want to go with a higher-lofted setting to account for that boring ballflight. And, by boring, we mean that in the absolute best possible way. These are awesome to hit. A TP version is also available (same head, but with a souped-up Fujikura Motore Speeder shaft.) Specs: Four lofts (14_¡, 15_¡, 17_¡, 19_¡), with a Fujikura Speeder graphite shaft.