It’s no secret that the 3-wood is my go-to club. When I won the Players Championship in 2009, I think I hit driver five times all week. At the 2015 Tour Championship, I went 3-wood, 3-wood to hit the green in two on a 600-yard par 5 at East Lake Golf Club. I use 3-woods so often, I’ve caved in the face on more than one over the years.
The reason I love this club is that it’s so damn dependable. It puts the ball in play when I need it most, it produces high shots from long range that hold par-5 greens, and it gives me a chance to get some distance back when I get out of position. It’s for those reasons that I’ve often wondered why most of the amateurs I play with shy away from the 3-wood – and fairway woods in general. These clubs can really help you score better.
If you lack confidence in your woods, let me help you with that.
I’m going to start by sharing a drill that I still use to build trust in my 3-woods. (There’s a reason why I named my old Callaway Diablo model “Old Faithful”.) Next time you’re on the range, try hitting some drivers off the deck. I’m serious – if you can stripe a few with the driver this way, you’ll have no problem getting a fairway wood airborne, even from the tightest lies.
That’s my first tip, but on the following pages, I’ll share some more practical advice for learning how to smoke it with these clubs. – with Dave Allen
Sacrifice distance off the tee, just not that much
▶ I realise you probably don’t hit your 3-wood 300 yards dead straight, so using it off the tee instead of a driver might leave you farther back on a hole than you’d like. But you don’t have to sacrifice that much driving distance with a fairway wood if you make a confident swing. More important, you’ll likely play your next shot from short grass, because they are easier to control – that’s how you avoid big numbers.
My rules for a 3-wood tee shot
• Tee the ball so its equator lines up with the middle of the clubface – no higher.
• Play the ball off your front instep, which marks the low point of the swing.
•Tilt your spine away from the target to help sweep it off the tee.
•Make a full body turn back and through.
A drill to get more body turn
▶ You must get your body in a strong, coiled position at the top of the backswing to maximise distance. Practise getting fully wound from an address position by starting with the clubhead a few feet in front of where you’d normally play the ball [above left]. From there, make a backswing from the ground up, letting the momentum from this starting position rotate your chest and swing your arms to the top. Copy this feeling when you return to hitting shots, and you’ll be in the proper spot at the top to deliver the clubhead into the back of the ball powerfully.
Take the fear out of getting it airborne
Longer shots save strokes
▶ It’s OK to admit it – you usually stand over a fairway-wood shot from short grass afraid you might top it or fat it. This fear makes you do some bad things, like trying to steer the clubhead into impact or trying to scoop the ball off the ground. Neither is going to work. To hit these shots flush, you need to make sure you’re in the right posture, one that lets you swing through the ball on a shallow path fuelled by good body rotation. Don’t get armsy, or you’re dead.
My rules for woods off the turf
• Play the ball an inch or two farther back than from the teed position.
• At address, hinge your upper body towards the ball, bending from the hip joints.
•Keep turning your body to shallow the club’s path as it meets the ball, and let the club’s loft, not your hands, get it airborne.
•Nip the ball off the turf. No divots.
A drill to send the ball higher
▶ To get your fairway woods soaring, practise with this drill: address a ball, but place your fairway wood flat across your thighs, just below the belt line. Apply pressure with the shaft into your thighs as you bend forward with your upper body. (Stop bending before your weight shifts too much into your toes. You should feel in balance from the front to the back of your feet.) Once you’re in this forward posture [above], set your club down and hit a shot, trying to maintain the same inclination to the ground throughout the swing. This drill will help remind you to stay down with your upper body until the ball is gone, which is crucial to hitting it high and far.
Try my knuckler when you want to keep it down
▶ Although I recommend you use a real tee to help make sure you put your fairway woods in play, I have to admit that I don’t. Instead, I use a “turf tee”, meaning I kick up a little tuft of grass with my club and place the ball on top of it [left]. What this does is create a knuckleball effect on the shot – the ball flies lower with less backspin, which is great when playing into the wind or when you can run it down the fairway. Hall of Famer Laura Davies does this with her driver, too, although you should probably stick to a 3-wood if you’re going to try it. The only thing to remember is to play it like a fairway wood off the turf instead of the technique you would use for a teed ball.