Should You Join The 3-Wood Revival?

They're long...really long

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TaylorMade RBZ Tour
Enter all of the new 2012 models that promise to help ease the burden. For one, the clubhead sizes are generally a little bit larger than game-improvement counterparts from the past—TaylorMade's RocketBallz is 200cc, Bridgestone's J40 is 190cc, and Tour Edge's XCG5 is 185cc. "We know that the average consumer struggles with fairway woods," says Corey Consuegra, Bridgestone Golf's marketing manager of ball fitting and golf clubs. "A larger head shape inspires confidence and also allows us to move weight around inside of it, which translates to a higher ballflight. The technology of the club helps get the ball up in the air."

The latest lot of strong 3-woods are also more aerodynamically shaped, to help generate more clubhead speed and thus more distance. For example, Nike markets its speed-oriented VR Pro Limited model as "a 3-wood that delivers the ball speed of a driver," says Gidge Moody, Nike Golf's product line manager for golf clubs. The 3-wood has a shallow face, nice contours, and the company's "Compression Channel" slot in the sole that helps add pop to your shots. Competitors have made their own efforts to increase clubhead speed through shaping, to boost distance.

Then there's the matter of weighting and center of gravity. Some companies are placing the weight low and forward, so that a ball sitting low can get airborne quickly. Others say they're situating the CG low and deep, to achieve the same goal. Regardless, properly located weighting and CG in any given clubhead can get you trajectory and ball speed—two things that have generally lacked in 3-woods over the years, unless struck perfectly. And you'll also see the use of lightweight shafts with tip stiffnesses that help increase ball trajectory. The shafts aren't really any longer than in the past, but they're more smartly made to accomplish the task.

Still, not everyone is sold on the fact that the latest lot will make things much easier. Dom DiJulia, a renowned Top 100 PGA instructor in Philadelphia where he owns the Dom DiJulia School of Golf, says, "Off of the turf, the larger head and reduced loft make the club nearly unplayable for all but the most highly skilled players." Eric Lohman, PGA director of golf at Oak Creek Golf Club in Irvine, Calif., is another nonbeliever. "Three-woods are tough to hit because they're now built more like older drivers, with their large heads, low CG and low spin," says Lohman. "They require a precise hit most likely off of a perfect lie. The easier the utility clubs have become to hit, the harder 3-woods have become to hit. They're more like a 2-wood or driving wood. And the more yards they claim to produce are almost negligible to the average golfer. Only highly skilled golfers will hit them farther, while most golfers will hit them worse unless off a tee or from a perfect lie."

Ping G20
However, other PGA pros see the opportunity here and want to embrace the new technology. Virgil Herring, PGA, director of instruction at The Golf Academy at Westhaven in Nashville and a teacher to several Tour pros, believes that the latest explosive 3-woods will likely be good for golfers "who don't generate clubhead speed over 85 mph. Getting them that extra launch angle will help them carry the ball longer in the air. Also, specific types of players who swing over the top, say three to eight degrees out-to-in, could also benefit…we will put all options in front of the player and let the (launch monitor) tell us which club provides them with optimum carry and launch. There are thousands of options to choose from, and we track each variable."

Then there's the matter of refreshing distance gapping, particularly for golfers who've stayed with a comfortable 3-wood for more than a few years while upgrading their other woods. For them, it may be time to upgrade. "New drivers are probably 15 yards longer than they used to be, and new hybrids are about 10 yards longer," says Tim Reed, vice president of research and development at Adams Golf. "But 3-woods have stayed the same. So we've wanted to pump up that distance, to fit the new bag. One of the things that's held the 3-wood back in the past has been if you get too much spin, it slows the ball down. And if you hit it too low, it doesn't go as far. So another way to increase speed is through the face—getting higher launch with a lower spin, to make it fly better. Our new 3-wood hits the ball higher."

Typically 3-wood shots hit off the ground spin more and fly lower. So when you perfectly strike one off the tee versus off the ground, you get better launch and ball spin—to the tune of "one to two miles per hour more, which translates to three to six more yards per shot," says Reed. "The (crown and sole) slots on our new Speedline Fast 12 3-wood are going to increase ball speed and give you high launch. It's easier to hit. It's not just speed we're giving golfers, it's a change in the efficiency of launch conditions."


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