Appeared in Spring 2012 LINKS
PERHAPS THE HARDEST SHOT IN THE GAME—next to a long bunker shot—is a 3-wood off the deck. With the club’s low loft and long shaft, the swing has to be pretty close to perfect for a good result. And given that most golfers use the club off the fairway only a couple times a round, it’s no wonder the shot instills more fear than a letter from the IRS.
The solution? Swap your 15-degree 3-wood for a 17-degree 4-wood. You might not think that just two degrees more loft and a half-inch shorter shaft would make that much of a difference, but it does. “We’ve done a number of player tests and we’ve definitely seen an increase in launch angle and more distance for players who struggle to hit fairway woods off the ground when they make the switch,” says Tom Olsavsky, senior director of metalwood creation at TayorMade. “We found that even Tour players struggle with hitting a 3-wood, but you have to be a fairly sophisticated player to understand that a 4-wood is better for you and not fall into that gotta-have-a-3-wood mentality.”
If TaylorMade staff players like Dustin Johnson don’t see a stigma in using a 4-wood, neither should you. “Even with better players, the launch angle of a 3-wood is only about seven or eight degrees,” says Olsavsky. “That’s definitely too low and not optimal for distance. It needs to be near 10 degrees, which is about what a 4-wood gives you.”
Johnson isn’t the only tour player with a 4-wood in his bag these days. At the Northern Trust Open at Riviera in February, eight pros had 4-woods in play, according to the Darrell Survey, including Bubba Watson, who uses a 16.5-degree Ping G20.
“It just gives him the best launch conditions and versatility,” says Ping senior design engineer Marty Jertson, noting that a 4-wood produces 300 to 400 more RPMs than a 3-wood for an average player. “Because the modern-day golf ball doesn’t spin as much as it used to, getting golfers into the right loft in fairway woods is crucial. For a good chunk of the golfing community, a 4-wood will give them the potential to hit it the farthest because they’re getting the best launch angle and spin rate.”
In fitting players, Titleist does a long- game set configuration to provide the right clubs between the longest iron and the driver and often will recommend a 4-wood instead of a classic 3. “For many moderate ball speed players in particular a 4-wood is the way to go,” says Chris McGinley, Titleist’s vice-president of marketing for clubs. “A 4-wood is easier to release or square and allows the player to stay in posture when hitting off the turf.”
The other benefit of putting a 4-wood in your bag is that you can drop the 5-wood, if you carry one, allowing you more flexibility in the rest of the set. One option is to rotate a couple of different clubs in its place depending on the course and conditions. Playing a shorter layout with hard greens? Stick in a 60-degree wedge that will have more bite. Windy day? Carry a second driver with less loft.
“I had a good experience at Bandon,” says Olsavsky. “My normal driver is nine degrees, but I put in a second driver that was seven-and-a-half. I used it on holes played into the wind and I picked up 40 yards versus the guy I was playing with. It was a game changer.”
With the Masters upon us, it also helps to remember that perhaps the most famous shot in the history of the tournament was Gene Sarazen’s 4-wood for double eagle from 230 yards at the par-five 15th during the final round in 1935. It became known as the Shot Heard Round the World and closed a three-stroke deficit, getting Sarazen into a 36-hole playoff with Craig Wood that he won the next day.
You may not make any albatrosses with a 4-wood, but replacing your 3-wood with one can help your game take flight.
Tour Edge exotics CB4 Tour This Chicago-based company might fly a bit under the radar, but it makes some of the nicest fairway woods out there—one reason why a lot of pros have them in their bags even though they’re not paid to use them. The all-black CB4 Tour has a higher center of gravity (CG) for less spin, while the titanium-cupped face produces the maximum trampoline
Callaway RAZR X Black with a larger footprint than most 4-woods, the Razr X Black features a deep face with precision shaping of the thickness to increase the size of the sweet spot for higher ball speeds. Also appealing are the traditional look of the club, full-length hosel, and resonating sound at impact. $200
Titleist 910F There’s just something about a smaller, more compact head like the one on the 910F that makes it seem easier to hit off the turf. Also helping to get the ball up is a thin crown that moves the CG lower. The adjustable hosel allows for 16 different loft-and-lie combinations, from 16.25 to 18.5 degrees of loft and from 56.75 and 59 degrees of lie. $250
TaylorMade RocketBallz Tour Unlike drivers, it’s hard to a get a trampoline effect from the small face of a fairway wood, but TaylorMade, which built its reputation on metal woods, gets around that on the RBZ Tour with a deep slot on the sole that helps the face flex, increasing ball speed and making the club more forgiving on off-center hits. $230
Ping G20 An external weight pad gives the G20 a low and deep CG that produces optimal launch and spin, while the 164cc stainless steel head increases moment of inertia for consistent ball speeds across the face. Choose between the higher-launching TFC 169F shaft and the TFC 169F Tour version for a lower trajectory. $200