Fairway woods can be a great weapon. They give you maximum distance when hitting second shots on par 5s, and an opportunity to reach long par 3s and par 4s in regulation. They're also pretty easy to hit.
Still, many golfers struggle to consistently make solid contact with fairway woods, particularly the 3-wood. This makes sense as it's the longest and least-lofted of the bunch, which just makes proper form more critical.
When hitting the 3-wood off the fairway, many golfers dip down in an attempt to “dig” the ball off the turf. Others do the opposite, lifting as they swing through while trying to pick the ball cleanly. What you really want is to maintain the level of your upper body by keeping the spine angle or posture uniform throughout.
There's no need to hit down sharply or lift the ball on a 3-wood shot. A slight downward blow or a level, sweeping clubhead path work just fine. Both require a stable spine.
The idea is to simply rotate the body around your backbone on the backswing, downswing and follow-through. The head should stay relatively level – not dipping down or rising up – when done correctly.
How to Fix Bad Three Woods Shots Off Fairway
One of the best features of a three wood is the versatility that it brings to your game. Of course, you already know that you can play a three wood from the tee, but you can also use one from the fairway, from the light rough, and even from around the green to produce a basic chip and run shot. Once you are comfortable with the many different shots that you can hit with your three wood, you will find that it becomes one your go-to options as you make your way around the course. You always want to have options for the various shots you face during a round of golf, and knowing how to use your three wood properly is a big advantage over some of your amateur competition.
Unfortunately, many amateurs have trouble producing good three wood shots from the fairway. When the ball is sitting down directly on the turf, you have to make a clean strike at impact to get the ball up into the air successfully – and that clean strike is often easier said than done. There isn't much margin for error on this kind of shot, as you need to be more precise than is required when playing from the tee. You shouldn't be 'afraid' of this shot, but you should respect it and understand that it is going to take preparation and solid execution if you are to see quality results time after time.
It is important to teach yourself how to hit good three wood shots from the fairway because this is a shot that comes up on a somewhat regular basis for the amateur player. You may need to hit your three wood from the turf for a second shot on a par five, or even a long par four. When a situation does arise that calls for this shot, there should be no hesitation in the back of your mind – you should know that you are capable of hitting the shot successfully, and you should be confident when the club comes out of your bag. Confidence is always important in golf, and that is certainly the case with this shot.
In the article below, we are going to look at some tips and tricks for quickly improving the quality of your ball striking when playing a three wood from the fairway. These tips are not going to amount to a total swing overhaul, as that should not be necessary at this time. Instead, if you can simply make a few basic adjustments to both your setup and swing when this shot is at hand, you should be able to find success. Obviously, simply reading these tips is not going to be enough to improve your performance – you are going to need to get out on the driving range to test them out for yourself. It is the combination of useful instruction and plenty of practice that should allow you to be successful in the long run.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Before looking at the potential solutions to your issues with this shot, lets first look at what it is that may be going wrong in the first place. Most golfers are able to produce at least reasonable results with this club from the tee, so it can be highly frustrating when things go wrong out of the fairway. It doesn't seem like there could be that much difference between a shot from a short tee and a shot from the fairway, but the shot played directly off the grass is actually much more difficult. It is a mistake to take this shot for granted, because it can go wrong in a number of ways even if you don't make a terrible swing.
The following list includes a number of the potential problems you may run into when playing your three wood directly off the fairway grass.
- Lack of height in your ball flight. By far, this is the most common problem that the average golfer is going to have with this shot. If you don't hit the ball just right at impact, you will struggle to get air under the ball and your shots will rocket toward the target just a few feet off the ground. You can get some good distance out of this kind of shot under the right conditions, but you will have almost no control over where the ball is going to come to rest. To make the three wood fairway shot as useful as it can be, you need to be able to get the ball up into the air consistently. Only when you are able to make solid contact near or on the sweet spot will you regularly get the height you desire.
- Hitting the shot fat. There isn't much room between a perfect shot and a fat shot when playing the three wood off the turf. If you allow the club head to bottom out too early in the downswing, you will catch the turf prior to the ball and the shot will be hit fat. A fat three wood shot is not only going to fail to get very high off the ground, it is also going to come up well short of the target as well. Catching this shot fat can have particularly negative consequences if there is a hazard between your ball and the target, as you likely won't have the power on the shot to carry the ball into a safe area. This is one of the worst misses for a three wood from the fairway, so you need to work on improving your technique to a point where this is an unlikely outcome.
- Poor planning. This point doesn't have anything at all to do with your technique. Rather, it is related to the course management skills that you need to have in order to play and score your best. When you pull your three wood from the bag for a shot out of the fairway, you need to make sure you are making a smart decision. Is there another club that could be used in this situation which would have a better chance of success? Should you be laying up rather than going for a big chunk of distance with a fairway wood? There are certainly plenty of situations where a three wood shot from the fairway is a smart play, but you need to be sure that is the case before you let it fly. If another club will give you a better chance of finishing the hole successfully, don't be afraid to make a change and hit that shot with confidence.
- Trying to crush the ball. Unless you use your driver from the fairway – which is not recommended – the three wood is going to be the longest club that you play from a fairway lie. With that in mind, you might feel like you need to swing hard to smash the ball as far up toward the target as possible. This is especially tempting on par fives, where you might be either going for the green in two, or trying to get close to the green to set up a short pitch. Unfortunately, when you reach back to swing as hard as you can on this kind of a shot, the results are not likely to be positive. Swinging extra hard at your three wood from the fairway is going to make it difficult to achieve clean contact, so the extra effort is going to be wasted as the shot still won't reach the target. Avoid the temptation to swing hard and instead focus on the fundamentals you need to use to strike the ball cleanly each time. A well-struck shot is always going to be useful, even if you don't swing as hard as you possibly can.
There are naturally plenty of other problems that can come up when playing a three wood from the fairway, but the list above covers the most common issues. Think about the last few times you have hit your three wood out of the short grass – did you have trouble with any of these points? If so, continue on to the content below to look for solutions to your issues.
Setting Up Properly
As is the case with pretty much every other shot in the game, the set up that you use prior to hitting a three wood from the fairway is going to be critical. If you set up correctly, it will be relatively easy to catch the ball cleanly at the bottom of the swing, which is the entire goal of the shot. A poor setup, however, is going to make an already difficult shot even harder to pull off successfully. Countless amateur golfers use incorrect address positions prior to starting their swings, and you need to take yourself out of that group if you are going to reach your goals on the course.
The three most important points for your setup prior to a three wood shot from the fairway are listed below.
- Forward ball position. This piece of the puzzle is essential. To strike this shot properly time after time, you need to have the ball in the correct position relatively to your stance. For most golfers, that position is going to be just inside of your left heel. In fact, the same ball position that you use for your driver should be relatively close to the position that will wind up working out best for this three wood shot (although you may need to move the ball back an inch or two to make it easier to reach). Many amateur golfers play the ball too far back in the stance, which leads to a steep downswing and a number of problems at impact. Keep the ball forward to flatten out your plane and you will be happy with the results.
- Flexed knees. As was mentioned above, this is a shot that is all about finding good contact at the bottom of the swing. To make that job easier, one of the first things you need to do is flex your knees at address. The lower body is an important part of the ball striking equation, and it is only going to be involved if you start with your knees flexed, and then keep them that way throughout the rest of the swing. You don't have to be in a deep knee bend at address, but there at least needs to be enough flex to make your lower body feel engaged and involved. When you combine flexed knees with good posture in your upper body, you will be well prepared to strike a great shot.
- Low right shoulder. For most shots that you play from the fairway, you are trying to hit down on the ball in order to use the loft of the club to generate spin and send the ball high into the sky. However, that is not the plan with this shot, so you need to set up accordingly. Specifically, you need to keep your right shoulder down at address to avoid setting yourself up for a downward hit. The right shoulder should be tucked down much like it is when you hit a driver from the tee. This position will promote a flat swing through the hitting area, which is ideal. If necessary, you can even turn your right hand grip a little farther under the club at address to facilitate the correct shoulder position – although this will not be necessary for most players.
If you can manage just these three points in your setup – a low right shoulder, flexed knees, and a forward ball position – you will be on track for a quality strike once you make your swing. You can practice these important points during your next trip to the driving range, or you can even practice them at home without making swings just to get the feeling of being in a good spot over the ball. It is always important to be in a good address position prior to getting a swing started, so pay close attention to the points on this list to make sure you are giving yourself the best possible chance at success.
Making the Swing
To learn how to hit this shot properly, you are eventually going to have to make some swings on the range, and then on the course. The good news is this – now that your address position is nicely under control, you should be able to make quality swings more often than not when playing a three wood from the short grass. The prep work that you have done with your stance is a great start, and you now only need to understand a few more basic points before you are ready to turn the club loose.
There are three more points listed below for you to consider. Unlike the tips from the previous section, which dealt with the stance, these tips are going to cover things you need to be doing during the swing itself in order to hit great shots.
- Low and slow in the takeaway. The movement of the club in the takeaway tends to mirror the movement of the club when it comes back through the hitting area later in the swing. Knowing that, you want to keep the club low to the ground going away, so it can mirror that same pattern when you approach impact later on. If you use too much hand and/or wrist action in the takeaway, the club will get up off the turf and you will inevitably hit down too steeply when impact rolls around. Keep your hands quiet and use a smooth shoulder turn to move the club into position.
- Hold steady with the right knee. One of the biggest keys to your ability to hit great three wood shots from the fairway is clean ball striking, and balance is of the utmost importance when you need to hit the ball cleanly. With that in mind, focus on the position of your right knee during the backswing to keep yourself on balance and positioned for a great strike. If you allow the right knee to drift to the right – as is the case for many amateur golfers when swinging the long clubs – your balance will be lost and it will be nearly impossible to hit the ball solidly off of the turf. You might get away with this mistake when playing from the tee, but you don't have any margin for error playing right off of the grass. Take note of the position of your right leg at address and then do your best to hold it steady throughout the backswing before it jumps into action going forward.
- Complete the backswing. It is easy to get a bit nervous or anxious when hitting this shot, as you know that it can go wrong if you make poor contact at the bottom. So, as you are making your backswing, you might be tempted to cut the turn off early in order to hit the ball as fast as possible. In other words, you might make a quick swing just so you can 'get it over with'. Of course, this is not a method that is going to lead to good results. You need to take as much time as necessary in your backswing to finish the turn and position your body for a quality strike moving forward. Since your three wood is nearly as long as your driver, the swing that you make with this club needs to be nearly as long as well. It will take some time for this swing to develop, so be patient and be confident that it is going to work out when you finally strike the shot.
Just as with the section on the address position, there are again a collection of three points that you need to keep in mind when it comes to the actual swinging of the club. In this case, those points are completing your turn, holding your right knee in place, and making a low and slow takeaway. Add those points onto the address position that you have already built and the results should be nothing short of outstanding.
When talking about three wood shots from the fairway, you think first about full swings that will send the ball a couple hundred yards or more in the air. However, you can also use your three wood from the fairway cut of grass when you are around the green. Chipping the ball with your three wood is surprisingly simple, and it can be highly effective with just a bit of practice. If you sometimes struggle to make clean contact while chipping with a wedge, consider turning to this option to improve your consistency and give yourself more chances to get up and down.
To chip with your three wood, you are going to replicate your putting stroke as much as possible. In fact, you even want to use your putting grip to encourage a stroke that is driven by the shoulders and arms rather than the hands and wrists. Of course, since your three wood is longer than your driver, you will want to stand up a bit taller at address, and you will want to play the ball slightly farther forward in your stance. Once set up, simply brush the club back and through in order to send the ball on its way.
Playing your three wood from the fairway – whether you are facing a long shot or just a short chip – is a great option to have in the bag. Just like any other shot, however, you need to practice this play on the range before turning to it in an important situation on the course. Build up your confidence during practice sessions and use the tips provided above to dial in your technique. Good luck!