Should You Join The 3-Wood Revival?

They're long...really long

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You're getting seduced. Distance sells these days, because it's sexy. And multiple savvy club manufacturers are bombarding you with ads for their new and strong 3-woods. They're forgiving. They're faster. They're longer. Hell, they might even be able to replace your driver, right? Well, hold on. You may not want to believe everything you hear.

This new lot of woods is impressive, no question. Will they get you more yardage? Undoubtedly. Can they zero in on a target more often than your current 3-wood? Probably. But do they have a place in your bag? Maybe not. And here's why.

Cleveland CG Black
Most golfers use their driver off the tee, and get whatever amount of distance with it they can. It's the longest club in the bag, and the most forgiving. Its clubhead is the largest, and if it was built since Obama took office, it has an internal weighting scheme that helps tee shots get airborne quickly, find the fairway more often, and land with some lively bounce and roll. One thing that driver can't do well is hit the ball directly off the deck. Some better golfers use their drivers off the fairway when they need a huge shot, and can master that rare feat with ease. But for the other 99 percent of us, we don't even put that option in the realm of possibilities. Instead, we resort to the fairway wood or hybrid.

And in many cases, that means we pull out a 3-wood for the most possible distance. But results can be dicey, as "it's simply the longest-length club with the lowest loft that you can hit off the ground—a challenging combination for anyone," says Gary Glaser, PGA, general manager at The Crossings at Carlsbad (Calif.).

And in fact, while the 3-wood can help you reach or close in on a distant target, many golfers can achieve only low screamers with it—those shots that rocket off the clubface about 15 feet up in the air all the way. And they think that because the ball seems to run for a mile that they crushed their shot the most possible yards. Experts say they missed out on an opportunity there: Had the golfer instead used a slightly higher-lofted club with a slightly shorter shaft, say a 5-wood, the launch conditions would have generated a shot that actually surpassed the distance of the 3-wood.

Three-woods are tough to hit because they're now built more like older drivers, with their large heads, low CG and low spin... —Eric Lohman, PGA, Director of Golf, Oak Creek Golf Club
Why is that? It comes down to several factors, according to some of the country's top golf instructors. "Most people I teach can't hit a 3-wood off the deck, because the lies are so tight and the grass is so nice and short," says Susan Roll, award-winning PGA instructor at Carlsbad Golf Center in Carlsbad, Calif. "There's just not enough loft on the club. And most golfers don't have the swing speed, so the physics of it just don't work. You don't have the speed, you can't get the lift, and the ball just doesn't stay in the air as long as it would with a 5-wood. Loft is your friend. Most people hit the 5-wood longer than the 3-wood. The 3-wood still feeds the dream of distance. We all have hope on that good day or good shot that we can hit it farther than ever. And that dream still lives, and we sell a lot of 3-woods for that reason. Most of the time, I say that your go-to club is your 5-wood in any situation where you're not in a perfect, fluffy lie. You can probably get some more distance out of it."

Grant Rogers, PGA, director of instruction at Bandon (Ore.) Dunes Golf Resort, agrees, adding that several other factors hinder your ability to master the 3-wood from the fairway. "The lie of the ball in the fairway is one of the most important things to consider before trying a 3-wood shot," says Rogers. "Most golfers should try something else if their ball is above or below their feet or if the ball is in a bad lie in the fairway. The ball position is also really important. Golfers will crash into the top of the ball with their 3-wood, if the ball is too far back or too far forward in their stance. Golfers can also get into trouble with their 3-wood if they're trying to hit their shots long. Taking a smooth swing with a 3-wood and hitting the ball solid is a better idea."


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