Next time you're at the driving range or practice tee of your choosing, take a quick look at what most of your fellow players are doing. A couple might be hitting wedges. A handful will be on the putting green. But without doubt, the majority of the players will be banging driver. Chicks dig the long ball, right?
But what should most golfers do if they want to add yards to their drive? Put the driver away. That's right. Clubbing down to the 3-wood is the way most golfers can take it deep off the tee.
The biggest trend on the PGA Tour over the past couple seasons is the explosion of what one prominent teaching professional calls "Smash and Scrape" golf. That's the Tiger/Vijay/Phil theory that calls for hitting driver off nearly every tee, favoring distance over accuracy. Why hit a 7-iron from the fairway when you could hit sand wedge from the rough?
Well, here's another case of what's good for the pros being bad for the rest of us. Don't get me wrong. I love hitting driver. It's fun. It's as close to sexy as you can get on the golf course without going to one of those "adult men's club" outings you read about in the police briefs. But just like drinking scotch before breakfast, what feels good can be bad for you.
If your handicap is single digits, you can probably disregard the rest of this story and its friendly advice. Congratulations on being good enough to either hit driver with repeatable accuracy, or with having the scrambling ability to make up for the wayward drives you launch (smash and scrape, remember?).
But for the rest of you, and you know who you are, let's talk about a simple way to hit the ball longer and straighter. Not through buying a weird training aid from an informercial. Not by using some "perfect" club endorsed by Peter Kessler. Not even by practicing, heaven forbid. Nope, this is a chance to hit longer, straighter drives using a club you already have and the swing you know. It's hitting your 3-wood off the tee instead of your driver, and it is a way to smartly use your equipment to your best advantage.
How can it be that you can hit your 15° 3-wood farther than your lower-lofted, longer-shafted driver? It's all about getting the best launch conditions.
In a nutshell, you want to hit drives with a fairly high launch angle (12-15 degrees) for more distance and with low sidespin to keep the ball in the fairway. If you're a low-handicap golfer, chances are you're capable of doing this. But if you struggle with the driver, you probably don't hit it high enough or tend to fight the hooks or slices.
Your 3-wood helps on both counts. By having 15 or 16 degrees of loft, you're naturally going to hit the ball higher, even if you have the tendency to hit down on the ball a little bit. By launching the ball higher, you'll end up with more carry distance. You might lose a little roll, but today's more-aerodynamic golf balls help make up for it.
Launching the ball higher also helps keep you from putting too much sidespin on the ball. Sure, you can still hit a quacker or a banana ball with your 3-wood, but your chances of hitting the ball straight are much lower with the driver. Also helping in this regard is the fact that your 3-wood has a shaft that is anywhere from an inch to three inches shorter than your driver. This narrows the margin of error if your swing, like mine, is less than repeatable.
Sure, you might get lucky on occasion and catch your driver flush. It rolls out to the 300-yard mark and you think, "I'm a beast! I hit the ball 300 yards off the tee!" But the fact is that you hit the ball 300 yards off the tee about as often as George W. Bush looks like he knows what he's doing. When you add up all your worm-burners, push-slices and smother hooks, chances are your driving average isn't so hot. Your 3-wood, on the other hand, gives you a chance to put the ball in play more often, with more carry and less sidespin.
Some club-builders even like to exploit the high-lofted driving club dynamic by building something they call a "thriver." It's a 3-wood head with a driver shaft. The thought is that increased loft of the driver will offset the accuracy loss of a longer shaft, and many drivers swear by their thrivers. So much, in fact, that the OEMs are starting to pay attention. Callaway's Fusion FT-3 driver is available in a 16-degree HL (for "high launch") configuration, for example, and other manufacturers are following suit.
In the meantime, the way to get rid of the driver woes is to put the big stick away and go with your 3-wood. And if you're embarrassed about appearances, you could always put a driver head cover on it.