Fairway woods are an important category of clubs, and that is especially true for the average senior golfer.

Senior Fairway Woods Lesson by PGA Teaching Pro Dean Butler

If you’ve lost a few yards over the years, you may find that you are using fairway woods more frequently than ever before. From approach shots on par fours to tee shots on long par threes, your fairway woods may play a prominent role in most of your rounds. So, with that in mind, it’s important to have a clear understanding of how to use these clubs properly.

The good news here is that you don’t need to reinvent your swing to hit fairway woods effectively. You might need to make a couple of subtle changes, and you will certainly need to practice, but the same basic swing you use for your other clubs should translate nicely into this part of your bag. In fact, your goal should be to make as few changes as possible as you move from club to club. The more consistency you can maintain your game, the better chance you have at performing well round after round.

If you are willing to put in some practice time improving your fairway wood play, we think you will love the feeling of increased confidence you have during future rounds. Where you once might have been intimidated by the task of playing a fairway wood shot into a green on a long par four, you may instead relish the opportunity to show off your skills. Hitting a great fairway wood shot is one of the best feelings in golf, but it doesn’t come free. You’ll need to work on your skills to make those shots happen, and we hope this article will be a nice step in the right direction.

All of the content 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.

Making Fairway Woods Work

Making Fairway Woods Work

As a golfer, you need to understand how each of the categories of your clubs work. While the swing will remain relatively similar from top to bottom, the way you use those clubs is going to vary. For instance, you’ll want to hit down into the turf with some of your clubs, while the better plan will be to pick the ball off the top of the turf with others. In this section, we are going to explain the basics of how your fairway woods work, so you can practice with the right objective in mind.

  • Pick ‘em clean. When playing a fairway wood shot from the short fairway grass, you will want to pick the ball nicely off the ground while taking very little – if any – divot. While some players do manage to hit down with their fairway woods and hit successful shots, that isn’t a plan that will succeed for most golfers. Picking the ball cleanly off the turf is the best way to achieve a clean strike and maximize the distance you can cover with the shot. This concept is important because it is going to influence how you set up for your fairway wood shots, and also how you execute the swing. If you use a fairway wood off the tee, the idea is very much the same. You’ll want to tee the ball low to the turf and focus on the same goal of picking the ball cleanly to send it on its way.
  • Under control. Anytime you have a long club in your hands, including the driver and any of your fairway woods, it is tempting to swing hard. After all, these clubs are capable of producing significant distance if you make a big swing and strike them just right. However, while it might work out to make an aggressive swing with your driver from time to time, your fairway woods probably won’t be so forgiving. Fairway woods offer a smaller clubface than your driver, which has a large head and usually provide a little margin for error. With your fairway wood shots, do your best to focus on control rather than raw power. In the end, you might be surprised to find how far you can hit the ball with a controlled swing that leads to contact directly on the sweet spot.
  • No need to help. There is a tendency among some golfers to try and ‘help’ the ball up off the ground when using a fairway wood. That simply isn’t necessary, and it is going to be detrimental in the end. You need to do a good job of trusting your swing to simply pick the ball cleanly off the turf. From there, the loft that is built into the club will help your shot climb into the sky as it travels. The height of your shot will ultimately be determined by a number of factors including loft, swing speed, shaft characteristics, the lie, and much more. Try not to worry too much about how high you will be able to hit these shots – focus instead on making a controlled swing and solid contact. Even a relatively low fairway wood shot should be playable most of the time if you hit it cleanly. Of course, you will want to get to know your fairway wood ball flight, so you can decide when it will work and when you’ll need to pick another option. If you find that most of your fairway wood shots come out low, avoid choosing one of these clubs when you need to carry the ball over something like a water hazard out in the distance.

Fairway wood play doesn’t need to be complicated. As you can see, the list above is pretty simple. Do your best to make a sweeping swing that picks the ball off the turf, keep the effort of your swing under control, and don’t try to help the ball up into the air. If you can check off those three points you should be well on your way to solid fairway wood results.

Building Your Stance

Building Your Stance

Every good golf shot starts with a good address position. Your address position includes the position of your feet on the ground, as well as other elements like your spine tilt, knee flex, hand position, and more. With a good address position on your side, making a solid swing can actually be easier than you might imagine. Unfortunately, many amateur golfers play from a flawed address position, meaning they have an uphill battle in order to hit a good shot when all is said and done.

So, what should your stance look like when playing fairway wood shots? The following points are a great place to start.

  • Plenty of width. You’ll be making a relatively long swing with your fairway woods, so you need to make sure that your stance is wide enough to support that swing. Most likely, you’ll want to stand with your feet just slightly closer together than they are when you hit a driver. This makes sense, of course, because your fairway woods are just a bit shorter than your driver. When you practice, take a stance as if you were hitting a driver and then bring your feet in just a bit from that width. It shouldn’t take long to settle on a stance width that feels comfortable and leads to good results.
  • Remember to flex your knees. Knee flex is important in golf, and that doesn’t change when you are swinging a fairway wood. By flexing your knees at address, you will accomplish a couple things. First, you will be building a stable platform on which you can swing, making it easier to complete a full backswing turn. Also, you’ll lower the level of your entire body just a bit, which is going to help in terms of sweeping through impact without taking much of a divot. Don’t worry if you aren’t able to flex your knees dramatically at address – even a modest flex will do the job. Experiment during practice to find the right amount of knee flex for your game.
  • Keep your chin up. You might not have expected your chin to be mentioned in this discussion, but it plays a surprisingly important role in your stance. With your chin up, your left shoulder will have room to turn away from the target in the backswing. That’s important, and you aren’t going to be able to make a full turn away from the target if your chin is acting as an obstruction. Many golfers keep their chin down close to their chest at address, thinking they are doing the right thing by ‘keeping their head down’. Unfortunately, keeping your head down in this way is going to do more harm than good. Try keeping your chin up while still looking down at the ball at address. With some practice, this position should become comfortable and your backswing should be freed up to flow smoothly all the way to the top.

Hopefully, you are already checking off some of these points in your standard stance. If you feel like your address position needs some work, try taking your stance in front of a mirror at home without a club in your hands. Work on getting comfortable with standing at address with your body in the right positions. The more you can do this away from the course or the range, the more comfortable it will be when actually hitting shots.

Making Your Swing

Making Your Swing

Finally, we get down to the business of making a golf swing. You now should have a basic understanding of how you are trying to use your fairway woods, and you should also have a good idea of how to build a nice stance. So, what should you do when the club goes in motion and it’s actually time to hit the ball? This section should help.

  • Think wide. As your swing gets started, think about staying wide in the early stages. Don’t use your hands and wrists to start the swing, as that will cause the swing to get narrow and potentially steep. Keep your hands quiet and simply use your shoulders to turn away from the target. It is actually the simplicity of this takeaway that will prove to be a big challenge. You are likely to feel like you should be doing more, so you might end up forcing yourself to involve your hands early in the action. This is one of the biggest things you’ll need to work through during practice. Focus on keeping your takeaway simple and make sure the club is staying wide. Master this part of your technique and you should quickly notice progress in your fairway wood performance.
  • It takes time. A large percentage of amateur golfers struggle with the timing of their swing. Specifically, many players wind up rushing as they think that swinging quickly will help them to generate speed. That’s not the way it works. If you want to hit powerful shots, the best thing you can do is take your time to let the swing develop naturally. Remember, the only point during the swing where the speed of the club matters is the moment of impact. That means you can feel free to take your time to develop your swing, gradually picking up the pace on the way down until you strike the ball and send it on its way. If you feel like you are currently rushing your swing, pay attention specifically to how you transition from backswing to downswing. This is where many people wind up getting in a hurry, and you can run into trouble if you fall into that same trap. Even if you have a relatively quick tempo overall, be sure to take your time during the transition so all of the pieces of your swing can work together nicely.
  • Keep the left shoulder up. We talked earlier about how you need to keep your chin up at address in order to provide your left shoulder with somewhere to go in the backswing. That is true, but you are going to waste that preparation if you allow your left shoulder to dive down as soon as the swing starts. It’s key to keep your left shoulder up when hitting fairway wood shots because this is going to help you establish the flat swing plane necessary to pick the ball cleanly off the turf. If you are going to go wrong with the left shoulder, it will usually happen immediately upon the start of the swing. Add this point to the checklist of things that you are going to pay attention to during practice. Should you happen to notice your left shoulder diving down toward the ball early in the backswing, work on flattening it out and staying more level with your shoulder plane. This is an improvement that can help you not only with your fairway woods, but with your long irons and hybrids, as well.
  • Turn through with the lower body. Our last point in this section is a crucial one to remember as you practice. It’s easy to let your guard down after you have made it through the backswing successfully, but there is still work to do. Specifically, it’s important that you rotate your lower body through the shot and into a full finish. Your lower body should be the engine of the downswing, and you certainly don’t want to shut that engine down before you even through the hitting area. Turn your lower body toward the target as your swing down, with the goal of pointing your belt buckle at the target when the swing is finished. This kind of turn is not only going to help you maintain as much speed as possible through the ball, but it is also going to help you keep the path of your swing moving in the right direction. Should you give up on your lower body rotation prematurely, or never get it going at all, a couple of issues could pop up. For one thing, the club may get forced to the outside of the intended line, causing you to swing back across the ball at impact in order to make contact. This will usually result in the kind of spin that produces a fade or a slice. Also, without proper lower body turn, your downswing may get steep and you might wind up taking a bigger divot than was intended. Learn how to keep your legs moving through the downswing and it’s likely that your ball striking with the fairway woods will improve dramatically.

It’s a great feeling when you start to develop confidence in your fairway wood play. Of course, golf is always a difficult game, so you shouldn’t expect this improvement to flip on like a light switch. Rather, the improvement is likely to come gradually, with small signs of better performance along the way.

Finding the Right Opportunities

Finding the Right Opportunities

To wrap up, let’s spend a little time talking about the various opportunities you may find on the course to use your fairway woods. One of the great things about this section of your bag is just how versatile it is in terms of the shots you can create and the challenges you can overcome. Successful use of your fairway woods can go a long way toward helping you play at your best level.

For starters, as the name would indicate, fairway woods are great from the fairway. They are often used as second shot clubs on par fives, and many senior players find that they are useful for approach shots on longer par fours, as well. The key here is to place your tee shots in the fairway, as your fairway woods are much easier to hit from the short grass than they are from the rough.

It would be a mistake to only look toward your fairway woods when you are playing a second shot. These clubs can be used effectively from the tee as well and are a common choice on both short par fours and long par threes. While many golfers just automatically pull their driver out of the bag when stepping up to a par four, that might not always be the right choice. Some par fours demand accuracy over power, so placing the ball in the short grass with your fairway wood could be the smart choice. And, obviously, on long par threes, the goal is simply to reach the green with your tee shot. If the distance at hand calls for a fairway wood to get the job done, that is likely going to be the right choice (assuming the design of the hole makes it a viable option).

Finally, one often-overlooked area of the game that can be improved with fairway wood play is the short game. When facing a chip shot from a clean lie close to the green, you might want to consider bumping the ball toward the target with your three- or five-wood. When used like a putter, these clubs can do an excellent job of moving the ball toward the target with ease. As a word of warning, this is a shot that takes some practice to learn how to use effectively, so don’t just try it ‘on the fly’ during your next round. Work on it so you can learn to control your distance properly before adding it to your repertoire.

We hope this article on fairway wood play has given you some things to think about as you move forward with your game. The driver and the putter tend to get a lot of attention in golf, and rightfully so, but there are plenty of important clubs between those two extremes. Use your fairway woods properly and they will reward you with the ability to handle many different situations. Improving at this game is all about taking one small positive step at a time, so considering targeting fairway wood play as just such a step. Good luck!