Fairway woods can be utilized both off the tee and off the fairway when faced with a long approach shot into a green.
Many players find striking a 3 wood off the tee easier than the driver but much more technically demanding than an iron when hit from the fairway. Both fairway wood shots require similar techniques with only a few alterations and they are well worth learning as accuracy off the tee and distance from the fairway are crucial for long lasting success on the course.
The key to playing a great fairway wood shot is to understand where the club arc bottoms out during the swing. A lofted iron swing bottoms out just after the ball which is why good players strike the ball first then the turf, creating a lovely divot. Alternatively, the driver arc bottoms out just before the ball, most good players and long drivers' strike the ball with a slightly ascending arc. A fairway wood swing bottoms out almost exactly at the point of impact, with players catching the ball cleanly and just bruising the ground afterward.
Players don't want to be taking big gouging divots with a fairway wood. Because of their lack of loft, fairway woods are not easy to hit skyward.
- Address the ball with the feet shoulder width apart and the ball positioned a few inches inside the left heel to help the fairway wood bottom out correctly.
- Keep balanced whilst swinging the club back. Players don't want big weight shifts back and through. Keep the weight 50/50 on each foot throughout the swing.
- A smooth rhythm is essential for a successful shot. It's important the strike is clean so the small amount of loft on the fairway wood can have the most effect and will help the ball rise into the air.
- The ball needs to be struck at the bottom of the club's arc. This should be achieved by placing the ball a couple of inches inside the left heel. Golfers can feel they are sweeping the ball away just off the top of the grass or tee. If the swing is executed correctly, the club will brush the ground slightly after impact off the fairway but almost not at all when off a tee.
- Don't be tempted to lift the ball into the air with the hands. Sweep the ball away, let it be gathered up by the swing and finish in a fully balanced position.
- For added control, try and grip down the fairway wood an inch. This will add control but could decrease distance.
Get the technique right and you are sure to improve your fairway shots.
How to Hit Fairway Woods Correctly
Fairway woods are easy to overlook during the course of a practice session. You certainly know that you need to work on your iron game, and no golfer would dare head to the range without launching a few drivers, so those elements always get a workout. However, the fairway woods tend to be skipped over by a large number of amateur golfers. After all, isn't hitting a fairway wood the same as swinging your driver? Well, no, not exactly. You do need to spend time learning how to hit each of your fairway woods if you want them to perform properly out on the course.
The number of fairway woods that you carry is up to you, but nearly every golfer is going to at least have a three wood in the bag. In today's game, many golfers have chosen to replace the five wood with a hybrid club, meaning that the three wood may be the only traditional fairway wood that you actually carry. Nevertheless, during each one of your practice sessions, make sure you direct at least a little bit of your time toward the fairway wood section of your bag. These clubs are versatile in that you can use them both off the fairway and from the tee, so it will great benefit your game as a whole if you can build confidence in your fairway woods.
While your fairway woods require slightly different technique from your driver, you want the clubs themselves to be as similar as possible. Try to match the shafts in your fairway woods to that in your driver so that you can have a consistent feel and ball flight from club to club. If you can generate a similar flight pattern with your fairway woods as you can with your driver, it will be easier to go back and forth between them. For example, if you are standing on a tee trying to decide whether you should hit driver or three wood, you don't want to have to picture two different ball flights while making your choice. When both clubs tend to follow the same path, you can simply pick based on what distance will be most appropriate for the hole in front of you.
Once you learn how to hit your fairway woods correctly, you just might be surprised to learn how many different situations they can handle for you on the course. These aren't clubs that are just limited to tee shots on short par fours and approach shots on long par fives – rather, they can come in handy all over the course – even around the greens. Since the rules of golf allow just 14 clubs to be carried in your bag during a round, you should make sure that you are getting the maximum possible benefit from every club that you include in your set. By spending some quality practice time getting to know your fairway woods, you can increase the return that you get from this portion of your bag.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Ideal Fairway Wood Impact
It is important in golf, just like in life, to have a goal for everything that you do. If you don't know what you are trying to accomplish, how are you ever going to achieve it in the first place? Before setting off to the driving range to work on your game, you need a clear picture in your head of exactly what it is that you need to do with the club. Only when you know what you are trying to do will you have any hope of actually doing it.
When it comes to hitting fairway woods, there are some specific impact characteristics that you are looking to achieve. Hitting these clubs is slightly different than hitting your driver, and quite a bit different than hitting your irons, so it is important that you take the time to understand what an ideal fairway wood impact position would look like. The following three points should all be present when you slam your three or five wood into the back of the golf ball.
- Shallow angle of attack. Unlike when you are hitting an iron shot, you want your fairway woods to be coming into the ball from a shallow angle. Hitting down steeply on the ball is going to create more backspin than you want in order to achieve optimal flight. By coming in to the ball while the club is moving mostly flat along the top of the turf, you will be able to use the true loft of the club to launch the ball into the air with a relatively low spin rate. In this way, a fairway wood swing is very similar to a driver swing, as you also want to use a shallow angle when hitting your driver. Of course, the ball won't be teed up as high (or at all) when hitting a fairway wood, so be sure to stay down through the shot until impact has been made.
- Avoid an inside path. If you are swinging down too far from the inside, you will run the risk of hitting the shot fat and coming up well short of your target. This happens when you combine the shallow angle of attack from the point above with a swing path that is coming from too close in to your body. When those two elements combine in your swing, there simply won't be enough room to get to the ball without hitting the ground first. When playing a fairway wood shot, be sure to get great extension on the backswing so you will have plenty of space to make your downswing properly.
- Eyes on the ball. This is a point that applies to the impact position of every club in your bag, but it is important to emphasize it here while talking about fairway woods. If you allow your eyes to move up and away from the ball prior to impact – likely to look for the flight of the ball before it has ever left – you will risk making poor contact with the shot. Solid contact is crucial if you are going to get the maximum distance from your swing, so watch the ball carefully and don't allow your eyes to move up until you have sent the ball on its way.
The downswing happens very fast in golf, so you won't really have time to make any adjustments that are needed to check off each of these three points above. Instead of trying to save your swing at the last moment, your goal should be to position your body correctly before the swing ever gets started. If you can find a perfect address position when setting up to hit a fairway wood shot, you should have a far easier time striking the ball cleanly on a regular basis.
Judging Your Lie
Playing quality fairway wood shots is about more than just making a good swing. Obviously, a good swing is an important component in the process, but you also need to have the right lie for the shot you are trying to hit. Reading your lie is an important skill throughout the game of golf, but it is especially important when you are hitting your fairway woods. If you have the wrong lie for the shot at hand, you could be left with a very disappointing result.
Following is a list of lies that you may run into out on the course, and how those lies will affect your attempts to play a fairway wood shot.
- On the tee. Quite obviously, you don't have to worry about your lie at all when you are playing a fairway wood shot from the tee. You get to put the ball in your hand and adjust the tee height to match your preference exactly. It is important to note, however, that you don't want to tee the ball up too high when hitting a fairway wood. Most three and five woods have a shallow face profile, meaning you could go right under the ball if it is teed too high in the air. Keep the ball just slightly above the level of the turf to give yourself the best chance for solid contact.
- In the fairway. This is another situation where you shouldn't need to concern yourself too much with the lie. If the ball is sitting nicely on top of the short grass, feel free to simply swing away. Unfortunately, even when you hit the fairway, you aren't guaranteed to draw a good lie. If your ball happens to be sitting down in an old divot, for example, you will need to exercise caution with your shot even though you technically hit the fairway.
- In the rough. Playing fairway woods from the rough all depends on the specific lie that you happen to draw in the grass. If the ball is sitting up nicely in some short rough, there should be no problem using your fairway woods to hit the shot. However, if the rough is deep and the ball is sitting down at the bottom, you will likely be better off choosing an iron to get back onto the short grass as quickly as possible. There are no hard and fast rules for playing your fairway woods from a rough lie – you are going to have to use your judgment and experience to decide what the lie will allow you to do.
- Fairway bunker. Should you find a fairway bunker on a par five or even a long par four, you might be tempted to pull out a fairway wood and go for the green. That isn't necessarily a bad option, but you have to check on a couple of variables first. To start, take a close look at your lie and make sure the ball isn't sitting down in the sand. If the ball is down in any kind of depression, you will be better off using an iron to get out. Also, check the lip of the bunker between you and the target. How high is it? Hitting a fairway wood from a bunker is going to usually result in a low launch angle, meaning you won't be able to clear much of a lip. The last thing you want to do is leave your ball in the bunker for the next shot, so make sure you can clear easily before attempting this play.
Picking the right shot at the right time is a big part of playing good golf. Unless you are able to pick and choose your shots correctly throughout the round, you will never be able to shoot good scores regularly. Any time you consider pulling a fairway wood from your bag, stop and quickly think about the lie of the ball. Only when you are sure the lie will permit a good shot with a fairway wood should you go ahead and give it a try.
It's All About Tempo
It is important to remember that your fairway woods are still long clubs. While they might not be as long as your driver, it still requires a long and flowing swing to hit these clubs solidly. If you were to use the same tempo that you use with a pitching wedge or sand wedge, for example, you would have trouble striking the ball cleanly time after time. By working on a smooth, flowing tempo with your fairway woods you can dramatically improve the quality of shots that you create.
The first key in building good tempo is making sure that your finish your backswing completely. It is easy to get in a rush when you are on the golf course, and rushing will naturally lead you to cut your backswing off short. Allow your shoulders time to turn all the way to the right before you start uncoiling your body down toward impact. It will take longer to turn your shoulders when swinging a fairway wood than it will when swinging an iron, so be patient and give yourself plenty of time. Keep your mind relaxed and remember that the ball isn't going anywhere – you can take as long as you need to get from the start of the swing back down to impact.
Another key point while focusing on your tempo is to avoid trying to hit the ball as hard as you possibly can. When you stand over the ball thinking about launching it with maximum effort, you will wind up rushing through your swing and your tempo will be ruined. Staying within yourself is great advice all around the course, and it certainly applies to fairway wood shots. For example, if you are facing a shot that would require a carry of 250 yards over water, and you normally hit your three wood 240 yards, you will likely be better off laying up rather than forcing a hard swing. Could you potentially carry that hazard and reach the green? Yes – maybe. But you could also make a terrible swing while trying to hit the ball too hard. The downside of hitting a poor shot is almost always going to outweigh the upside of pulling off a miracle. Be patient and only attempt fairway wood shots that you know you are capable of executing.
When you work on hitting your fairway woods on the practice range, try hitting them significantly shorter than normal while still using a full swing. So, for instance, you might pull your three wood out of the bag and aim for the 200-yard marker – even if you typically hit it 240. The smooth, slow swing that will be required to shorten your distance will help you feel the right tempo for the shot. Once you get in a groove, hitting solid shots with a slow full swing, add some pace back into your swing until you build back up to full distance shots. Use this quick drill on the range any time you feel like your tempo is getting away from you – it is a great way to get back on track and in rhythm.
Playing Short Shots with Fairway Woods
One of the reasons fairway woods can be such a valuable addition to your golf bag is the fact that they can be used effectively around the greens as well as from long distance. If you have trouble chipping the golf ball consistently with a wedge, don't hesitate to try hitting some basic chip shots with your three or five wood. While this technique isn't going to be appropriate all of the time, you should find plenty of chances to put it to use throughout a given round.
If you would like to hit some chip shots with your fairway woods, consider the following list of tips –
- You need a good lie. Fairway woods aren't going to be an effective choice when you have to play a chip from the deep rough. Only when you have drawn a fairway lie, or a good lie in the short rough, should you look at using a three or five wood to chip the ball. If the grass is longer, or you have some kind of other bad lie such as the ball resting in a divot, you will be forced to use an iron to play the shot.
- You need to be close to the green. It should go without saying that chipping the ball with a fairway wood is going to lead to a low, flat trajectory. With that in mind, you need to be close to the green if you are going to employ this technique, because the ball isn't going to fly very far in the air before bouncing and rolling out toward the target. The only exception to this rule would be if you have a long stretch of fairway between you and the green, and the fairway is dry enough to allow the ball to bounce up to the putting surface. If there is any significant amount of rough between you and the green, or a bunker, you will need to pull out a wedge from the bag.
- You need plenty of green to work with. This shot is also not well-suited for occasions when you are short-sided. If the hole is cut only a few steps onto the green on the same side as your ball, there probably won't be enough room to let the ball roll out. Chip shots hit with a fairway wood will have basically no backspin, so they are going to roll a good distance before coming to a stop.
As you can see, the fairway wood chip shot is only going to work in very specific situations. However, if the shot that you are facing does meet the criteria above, feel free to try out the fairway wood chip for yourself. The best way to play this shot is to use your putting grip and simply rock your shoulders back and through. It takes very little effort to move the golf ball because of the size of the club head, so a small little swing should be all you need to get the ball rolling toward the hole. Spend some practice time learning how to control the distance of this shot if you want it to be consistently effective.
Fairway woods may be often overlooked, but they can be a powerfully effective weapon in your bag when used correctly. Give them the time and attention they deserve on the practice tee so you can have plenty of confidence when they are called upon on the course. A trusty three wood can be a great ally when you need to be accurate off the tee of a short par four, or when you wish to go for the green in two on a par five. As you gain more and more experience with your fairway woods, you will likely come to realize just how much they can do for your game.