Looking for the Long Ball? Think 3-Wood

For most golfers, the driver is like Michael Vick: Thrilling, but often unpredictable. The majority of us would be better off with a less flashy, more Tom Brady-like club: The 3-wood.

Bag DropNext 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.

34 thoughts on “Looking for the Long Ball? Think 3-Wood”

  1. Hi

    While I agree with your theory on using the 3- wood vs driver, one theory opposite to that is you will never improve or learn to use the driver if you refuse to use it. I spent many rounds using a 3 or 4 iron off the tees since I had some trouble with the woods. Eventually I handled the 3 – wood and finally the driver.

  2. I’ve never been able to put this nice theory to good use. My 15* 3W is 20-40 yards shorter than my 9.5*driver. I probably average, realistically, 225 (240-250 on areally good hit) with my driver and 200 with my 3W. I hit them both pretty much straight (can turn the 3W over on occasion, but a nice draw can easily become a nasty hook). I am just as accurate with the driver, particulary if just go for 220 down the middle. I just don’t get anything extra out of the 3W.

  3. I’ve actually been a big 3-wood player for as long as I can remember playing good golf. Hitting big drives off the tee can be fun, but hitting every other drive left or right into trees isn’t. To this day I can’t seem to hit a driver straight for whatever reason. Every other club in my bag is straight as an arrow…especially my 3-Wood. In fact my 3W might be the most consistent club in my bag. And with club technology today distance will follow. I’m a pretty long hitter anyway (about 210-215yds with a 3-iron), but even upgrading from my old Cobra 3W to a new Ping G2 i picked up about 30 yards. I consistenly hit my 3W 285-300 yards. And with that kind of distance I say…who needs a driver? And considering I’m usually in the fairway it’s “distance well spent”.

  4. Great article. Had read this type of advice in my golf magazine 2 years ago, where they tested it on players with varying handicaps. the outcome was basically the same, unless you are lucky enough to drive well consistently the 3 wood will always give you a better results time after time.

    I use my 3 wood off every tee and hit it between 230 and 260 yards. As it is out of the sweet spot more often than not the loss off distance is so little i don’t know if i’d ever use a driver.

    then again it would be nice to be good enough to hit it straight and use the “Big Dog” but i know i’d lose my balls! πŸ˜€

  5. πŸ˜€
    Have just come back to the game after about 13 years having had serious knee problems.
    Due to balance issues caused by the knee I had to learn to play within myself from day one and even did a swing rebuild in the mid-80’s by having 12 lessons with a local pro.
    I was always fairly acurate if not a long hitter and was reasonably good with my old criver.
    However have recently bought a new Cobra 3 wood as I felt that this and the matching hybrid could help me out.
    My initial thoughts on the 3 wood over a driver off the tee are in line with this article and the advice given.
    My new 3 wood goes as far if not farther than my old driver.
    I can understand the reasons against this…both on length of course and the “macho”
    mentality but it is important to face facts. Keep it in play and you always have a chance.
    The Chairman of the USGA recently said that in the last 20 years there have been huge improvements in technology which the pros have taken full advantage of.
    Sadly amateurs have not and handicaps remain about the same.
    Keep it in play.

  6. 😎 That was one of the best golf articles I’ve read in a long while.

    After hitting the Cobra F and X series I can’t help but to side with Jack and say that 460cc drivers with all this technology ought to be banned.

    3 woods are the king. They are more consistent and its all about shot shaping. Who cares about an extra 20 yards if you have to chip out on your second shot.

    John Daly is a slob. VJ Singh is a god and if you ask Tiger, he’d rather hit his 3 wood over his driver! He just hits it because Nike tells him he better or else…

  7. I love hitting my PING Tisi driver, but I had tried out several newer drivers and 3-woods at the local driving range. My distance with driver is usually around the 225-250 yard range. I hadn’t got any more distance with the newer drivers than my driver, but the 3-woods hit around 30 yards farther.

  8. πŸ˜€

    Great article. I have recently taken my driver out of my bag, and use 3w with great, accuracte results. The 20yard sacrifice in distance results in me having longer approach shots on the longer par 4’s, and i’m considering getting a 2i, to overcome this issue.

  9. The 2 Iron Hybrid baffler pro from Cobra is a rocking choice for a driver replacement as well. 10 yards less distance but in the fairway seems better than 10 yards further in the rough.
    VJ 😯

  10. I took a slightly different approach ..I had a fitter get me a 460cc /16 degree head and put it on a 3 wood shaft and whammo the ultimate driving 3 wood. (use a 5 food in the fairway) I am 72 and 200 yard drives are also in short grass again.TOM

  11. I took a slightly different approach ..I had a fitter get me a 460cc /16 degree head and put it on a 3 wood shaft and whammo the ultimate driving 3 wood. (use a 5 food in the fairway) I am 72 and 200 yard drives are also in short grass again.TOM

    I have also taken my driver out of the bag. I am getting great consistancy from my 3 wood. I would love to know what 15 degree drivers are out there. ANy reputable brands and is it worth putting a 15 degree driver head on a 43 inch or 3 wood shaft.

  12. Great stuff. Being 59, inflexible and new to the game I kept putting the driver every which way. But now with a 3 wood i can actually get the ball on the short grass most of the time. But I have a steel shafted club and am wondering about finding a graphite one. Is that a good idea? what’s the extra distance i could expect? do i have to buy a callaway or cobra to get best result?

  13. Well, I finally took the plunge and left my ‘hoover’ headed driver at home on Friday and committed myself to 3-wood only tee shots. It looks tiny by comparison and so I did get little twitchy at address with my society buddies watching. First shot, sliced into the rough. But nowhere near as bad as it would have been with a driver. Still hit it longer than my partners TM supersteel driver. Shaft length and head size betwen that and my Ben Sayers M1 offset 3W is surprisingly similar – suggesting that today’s 3W is getting very close to the drivers of 10 years ago. The rest of the round went really quite well, so until I’m sending the driver down the middle I’m afraid it is out of the bag. Furthermore, unless you can smash over 300 yards on your par 4s, you’re going to be left with a long to medium Iron no matter what you tee off with. If a 3W hinders you getting to the green in 2 then look elsewhere, but if not the 3W really should be the logical choice. I get 250 – 270 out of my driver and about 220 out of my 3W. I’m just as likely to hit a sweet 2 or 3 hybrid as I am a 5 or 6 iron, so the 3W just makes so much more sense in terms of probability of a positive tee-shot outcome. I don’t think a 3W would prevent anyone at any level playing to their handicap or to scratch. Plenty of birdie opportunities on the par 3s to balance your bogies if you’re that good.

  14. Just switched from my $250 taylor made driver to a $35 dollar walmart 3 wood. Wow did I waste some money. I usually hit my driver 300+ into the woods. I hit that little three wood about 290-310 strait as a board..USE A 3 WOOD!


  15. I agree entirely with the comments made in this article. It’s not a new concept at all. I find virtually very little different in distance between the ‘big stick’ and a 3-wood. Today my driver was all over the place for 12 holes using the ‘smash and scape’ philosophy, also recommended by my local pro. I got fed up and switched to the ‘little fellow’ and yes the balls started going like arrows down the middle and setting up easy shots to the pin rather than from under a tree or behind a bush.
    I feel that as the 3-wood has a much smaller ‘face’ the player takes more care to get the set-up and balance correct. Whereas with the ‘big ‘un’ people tend to feel like ‘I can’t miss the ball’ with this ‘beast’ and attack it with too much gusto and too little balance in an attept to smash the little ball to ‘kingdom come’. This is usually the adjacent fairway, with embarrassed apologies to players on that fairway, or as you say just chipping back to the ‘short stuff’.

  16. The 3 wood works better because of where it contacts the ball on the swing. The driver hits high on the ball with a fairly flat surface. This allows for side spin causing hooks or slices. The 3 wood hits lower on the ball which is more likely to cause top spin which negates side spin, causing the ball to fly straight. This is why your wedges hit so straight and your driver hooks or slices like crazy.

    I use the driver if I need to fade or draw the ball alot on a tee shot. If I need to shoot straight, it is the 3 wood.

  17. I found a very good 3 wood in the Wilson Staff Fybrid range – it has a great shaft (R-flex) and a sleek black aerodynamic look. So it has been a great help in finding the fairway but now I’m finding the driver is easier to hit also if you just transfer the same technique ie low and slow. You have to resist that urge to give the driver a bit extra on contact as you then lift your head and the ball heads for the bushes. I dont hit either club very far and in fact used the 3 wood on a long par 3 recently and landed the ball 2m from the pin. Not bad for an old bloke!

  18. I think a lot depends on how you hit and loft the ball. For me personally, 3-wood rules over driver any day! I tend to have a shorter backswing than most, then lots of driving hip rotation on impact, resulting in a swing that’s probably slightly “baseball-like.” Unorthodox, but it works for me. I typically crush my 3-wood shots straight as a bullet and consistently 250+. For that matter, I get solid distance from my 5-wood as well, and I tend to hit both clubs with a lower trajectory than other players. Give me a driver and the ball tends to fly too low, though, resulting in less distance. I do still practice hitting my driver, just not on the course. If you tend to swing through more “upward” than I do at impact, then the driver is probably more your club. As far as the driver being more “macho,” I see no point. Distance is distance, and who cares which club you’re holding if your shot flies 300 yards?

  19. I am pretty ne wto golf as my wife and I just started playing in early August. I have a bugger of a time geeting my driver not to hook. I hit with my 3W and it goes as long as straighter 90% more. I look at it this way, Par 4 or 5 am hitting again anyhow and get 180+ with my 2&3 hybrids so getting off a really long shot means little. Getting off the accurate on the green shot means everything. I am looking forward to getting a good 3W in the spring along with some new Prince hybrid wedges.

  20. Yeah for me the 3 wood works way better. I am a 12 handicap and I can not hit the drive well. I tend to come over the top and slice. but with the 3 wood I swing inside out every time and get a nice draw. Id say on average I hit my driver about 225 or so but my 3 wood 250. I know weird but it has been working for me very well. Now I leave my driver at home so i am not even tempted to use it lol.

  21. Went for a Golf lesson tonite. The very expensive Golf Pro told me to ditch the Driver and use a 3 Wood. Wish I had seen this site before I spent my money on lessons.

  22. Great artical. I’m 74 years old and started playing golf after I retired at age 63
    I’ll bet I’ve had 5 drivers and never been able to hit any of them, so i’ve had to use the 3w. I’m in a 4some with golfers my age and they all use drivers. I could stay with them as far as distance goes, but felt less macho and thought that if I could learn to hit the driver i would be able to out distance them. Never happened.
    Seeing that i’m getting up in age and my memory is not what it once was, but somrwhere along the way I picked up a slightly used no-name 12* driver with a shaft length as long as my 3w (Idon’t know how to measure a club shaft accurately) I can’t believe how well I’ve been able to hit this club. My golf partners kinda foo-food me when I told them about it.
    They are still looking for the ultimate club like a XR477HYXtriple oxidized Xtra long 690cc driver with an off set or some such club as that. I’ll stay with my slightly used 21* no-name.

  23. My mind does sometimes wonder. At the end of my comment, I said 21 * driver, but I meant to say 12*.

  24. I have, this year, given up on my driver and have opted instead for my tiny little 3W. I am a 22 handicap and I regularly golf with a 5 handicap friend. I usually hit my 3W 240-260 and I am often as long off the tee as my 5 handicap friend. He admits that if we both hit our best shot off the tee, I out drive him with my 3W and him with his driver. I don’t know why, but I just can’t hit my driver as far as my 3W. My driver goes about 220-240 and as the article says, it is as consistent or accurate. After reading this article, I think I will put the driver away and maybe invest in a rescue hybrid whatchmacallit club. (BTW, best driver this with the 3W was a 285 yarder. It was fun apologizing to the guys who were on the tee of the short 305 yard par 4 and saying that I don’t normally hit the 3W that far.)

  25. I was playing golf in scotland recently and the caddie said “Och Mon, ye hit tha 3 wood furtha than tha driver!!”


  27. Got to “George W. Bush looks like he knows what he’s doing” and stopped reading. Stupid thoughts do not lend credibility to a writer.

  28. I actually purchased a different 3 wood after reading this article and it’s made a huge difference in my accuracy off the tee vs using a driver!

    I really appreciate the advice of this author and I would just like to add a caveat that some 3 woods hit off the tee a lot better than others do, so you may need to experiment before finding that dream club.

    I picked up a used Ping G5 3W on Ebay, and I just couldn’t be happier. It absolutely goes as far as my best driver shots but with way more accuracy and consistency!

  29. Well being old and broken I tossed my driver in the closet and started hitting my 3 wood off the grass on the tees. Haven’t looked back. Then I started wondering why. I know this will not fit with many that hang around here but I started looking at my clubs. All of my short and mid irons I can usually get by with little trouble, putting is a-okay. My hybrids have been a God-send (3 and 4h). I started comparing my overall club length of my hybrids and woods and they are all within 2 inches of each other. My driver was 4 plus inches longer than them. I had it cut down to 41.5 inches overall length and now I can hit my driver just fine. However, I still hit the 3 wood further and straighter. Don’t miss as many fairways nowadays. Not any better than a bogie golfer at my age and physical condition these days but it’s nice to walk the course and not be out of the fairway most of the time. It’ll get better. I’ve only been doing this for 2 weeks or so. I’m hoping in a month I’ll be in the fairway 100% of the time and yes I’ll only get 220 to 240 (total) out of it but for my age and disability it’ll be just fine. If I ever decide to get another driver it’ll be a 12.5 degree with a 41 inch overall length and a graphite shaft. But I have no reason to mess with what’s working at the time being.
    My best.

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