3 Wood Versus The Driver
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Most of us know that our 3-wood hits the ball straighter than our driver does, but in many cases it also hits it further. If you’ve ever wondered why this is, read on.

Written by Steve Anderson

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Steve Anderson
Steve Anderson

In 1982 Tom Watson won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach with a dramatic chip-in on the 71st hole to beat Jack Nicklaus. Watson averaged 300 yards off the tee that week which was certainly a contributing factor towards his win. A week later, Watson participated in a test with some specially made golf balls that had no dimples. They were smooth like Ping-Pong balls. The farthest drive Watson hit went only 100 yards! What this demonstrated was that 2/3rds of the distance a ball flies is caused by its backspin. The more the ball spins, the greater the lift and distance will be.

Watson’s clubhead speed was 120 mph, more than 1/3rd faster than the weekend golfer. He hits the ball hard enough to impart sufficient backspin to attain tremendous distances. The weekender, with his 80-mph clubhead speed cannot attain this length, in part because of lower clubhead speed, but also because of less backspin. The average golfer will get more ‘hangtime’, (distance) with the increased backspin of the 3-wood.

A driver with only 9 or 10 degrees of loft will not put much backspin on a ball. To get any measurable spin, the club head would need to be moving very fast. A driver must generate a tremendous amount of speed to attain enough backspin to achieve any distance. In other words, if your club head speed is half of what a tour pro’s is, then you need double the loft to achieve the same spin rate. Does that make sense? If you don’t swing as fast as a tour pro you shouldn’t use a driver with the same loft as they do. In the book, The search for the Perfect Swing, tests were done which concluded, “more backspin will hold the ball up in the air from two to six times longer than lower lofted clubs.”

Titleist has a chart showing what loft matches up with a players clubhead speed. A slower swing speed needs a higher loft to produce optimum results.
Now this is not to say that you’ll hit your pitching wedge farther than your 3-wood. The length of your shaft is a huge factor in the distance you hit the ball and the longer shafts in your woods contribute greatly to achieving distance. The shaft in your pitching wedge is far too short to let you hit the ball any great distance. The length of the shaft also influences your ability to square up the clubface and hit the ball straight. The driver has the longest shaft of the set. Because of its length, you stand further away from the ball than you do with any other club. This may cause the club to swing too far around you on the backswing (inside) and may make it difficult to square up the club at impact. The 3-wood with its shorter shaft tends to swing up and down the line straighter, which aids you in squaring the clubface hitting the ball with greater consistency.

The greater loft in your 3-wood also helps your accuracy when compared with a driver, and understanding this is also helpful. Let’s say, (for argument sake), that our 3-wood has twice the loft of your driver. When hit squarely, your 3-wood will have twice as much backspin. This is the dominant spin. Now let’s say you slice across your 3-wood 10%. The ball will have some sidespin, but it will have a lot of backspin, so it goes fairly straight. If you slice your driver the same 10%, it will slice more because if has less backspin to keep it straight.

All in all, your 3 or even your 5 wood may produce longer, straighter shots on a more consistent basis. This is not to say that you can’t ever hit a driver. Common sense tells us though that a longer, lower lofted driver is harder to hit than the other clubs, so first master the other woods before tackling your driver. It may just become the favorite club in your bag.

Steve Anderson is the head teaching professional at River Hall C.C. in Fort Myers (open to the public) and a PGA Certified Instructor and Master Professional.
His website is: www.steveandersongolf.com.
Copyright to us was given by Steve on April 13, 2011.


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