How to Choose the Right Fairway Wood
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How to Choose the Right Fairway Wood

Selecting the right fairway wood is an important decision for all golfers, but it can be difficult to know what will suit your game the best. The right fairway wood should be able to maximize your distance from the fairway and provide a more accurate back-up option to your driver. However, not all golfers are going to want the same attributes from their fairway wood. Depending on your ability, swing speed and individual preferences, you need to be able to choose the most suitable fairway wood for you.

As technology has developed many of the leading manufacturers are even releasing multiple different models for the same fairway wood. For example the new PING G425 fairway wood has the option of three different models; MAX, LST or SFT. Each model, despite being essentially the same fairway wood and looking very similar to the average golfer, offers unique traits designed for very different types of golfer. The MAX offers game-improvement style forgiveness, the LST produces lower spin rates and the SFT is designed to promote a drawing ball flight. This highlights how complicated the decision is facing golfers and the importance of knowing what to look for when making a purchase.

Off the tee

Golfers that often struggle with consistency with their driver may find that the primary use of your fairway wood will be using it off the tee. For this purpose a lower lofted option, such as a 2 or 3 wood, will be most appropriate. Lower lofted fairway woods will provide the most distance and help to reduce the distance gap between your fairway wood and driver.

Compared to a driver, a fairway wood has additional loft and a slightly shorter shaft. Therefore, they will impart more backspin, which helps to provide additional forgiveness and accuracy. This is what makes a fairway wood a very common back-up for golfers struggling with control over their driver.

From the fairway

Golfers confident with their driver may play their fairway wood from the fairway most of the time. When hitting from the fairway, having additional loft gives golfers the most flexibility so a 4 or 5 wood is likely to be the best option. The distance drop off with shots from the fairway using a stronger lofted fairway wood is only going to be noticeable for the fastest swing speeds.

Extra loft allows golfers to launch the ball quicker off the ground, making it easier to hit and allowing the ball to land softer when hitting to a green. When selecting a wood to hit from the fairway it is best to look for one that has a shallow face and a centre of gravity lower in the back of the clubhead. These traits make the fairway wood better to hit from the tighter fairway lies.

Fairway Wood v Hybrid

When it comes to choosing the right fairway wood for your game, it is important to know whether you have a preference between a fairway wood or hybrid. Hybrids fall halfway between a wood and an iron.

Usually the debate as to which is easier to use will come down to personal preference, but both have their advantages. Hybrids can be a good option for replacing long irons and are easier to make a cleaner contact with out of the rough and tricky lies. Fairway woods have a bigger clubhead so offer more forgiveness on offer centre strikes and typically a higher ball flight.

It is important to remember that hybrids will lack distance against the equivalent loft on a fairway wood. So, an 18-degree hybrid will not go as far as an 18-degree fairway wood.

What material should the clubhead be?

When it comes to choosing the material used for fairway woods there are generally three different options for golfers to choose between.

Steel

Steel is easily the most commonly used in fairway woods. It is a strong and forgiving metal that is relatively inexpensive.

Titanium

Most common in drivers, titanium is also used to a lesser extent in fairway woods. However, some big manufacturers are now starting to see the benefits of titanium. The most recent examples are the TaylorMade SIM2 or Mizuno ST200X fairway woods. Titanium is lightweight and durable making it the perfect material for a club face. However, those qualities are now being used with modern technology to create new more modern fairway wood designs. Titanium is a more expensive material though, so don’t be surprised to see these fairway woods costing a bit more.

Composite

Composite fairway woods are made up of a combination of materials. Other than titanium or steel, this is most likely to be carbon or tungsten. Carbon is a lightweight and less expensive alternative to titanium. It is commonly used as a weight saving tool when manufacturers want to add perimeter weight to other areas of the clubhead. Tungsten is sometimes used to add weight, either to shift the CG placement or add forgiveness.

What Loft(s) should I get?

The other club selections in your golf bag are the key to choosing what loft(s) of fairway wood(s) would be best. You want to ensure a yardage gap that is as consistent as possible between each of your clubs. For example, if you have a strong hybrid (e.g. 18-degree) or carry a 2 iron/utility then these clubs are likely to travel a similar yardage to a 5 wood. Therefore, getting a 2 or 3 wood is a better alternative if you want another long distance wood. 

It is worth knowing all your average yardages for your current clubs, so that you can find a fairway wood that will best fit within this set. Remember that all clubs are different so the best way to find out the yardage of a new fairway wood is through testing.

How many fairway woods should I have?

Again, this will depend on the other club selections you have made towards the top-end of your golf bag. Usually, golfers will carry at least two of either fairway woods or hybrids. Depending on personal preference this could be an 18-degree hybrid and a 3 wood, or a 5 wood and 3 wood.

If you are not confident with your long irons you may have a 24-degree hybrid instead of a 4 or 5 iron as well. This is a common option for beginners, seniors or ladies who will often have slower swing speeds. Because woods and hybrids are more forgiving and are easier to get up in the air they allow for easier ball striking and distance than long irons. Golfers that prefer woods over hybrids should also consider a 7 wood as an alternative option for replacing long irons.

What shaft should I choose?

The shaft is a vital, often overlooked part of golf clubs and this is especially true of fairway woods. The majority of fairway woods now come with graphite shafts because they are lighter and easier to hit than steel alternatives. However, you still want to ensure that you have the correct length, weight and flexibility to maximize the right fairway wood. Additional characteristics such as kick-point can also affect a club's launch angle and spin rate, so it is important to know what you are looking for in your shaft.

Length

Fairway woods typically have longer shafts than hybrids for additional clubhead speed and increased distance. However, you can choose shorter shafts if you want to prioritise accuracy and control.

Weight

Despite most shafts being graphite they can still fluctuate as much as 20g between brands and styles. Depending on your swing speed and style you may prefer a lighter or heavier shaft. Lightweight shafts are ideal for slower swing speeds for improved clubhead speed. Heavier shafts give more control and power to faster swing speeds. As a typical rule fairway woods are normally a few grams heavier than your driver shaft.

Flexibility

It is important to know what flexibility you should be choosing based on your swing speed. If the shaft is too stiff for your swing speed you will struggle to get the ball off the ground. Too flexible and you will lose distance with increased spin rates.

Adjustability

Adjustability has previously been mostly reserved for drivers, however many manufacturers are now offering golfers the similar features with their fairway woods as well. This adjustability gives you the ability to tweak the golf club to find a set-up that works best for you. 

Some fairway woods are now able to change their loft up to 5 or 6 degrees in some instances. This gives additional flexibility when deciding what type of fairway wood will best suit the conditions and golf course you are about to play. For example, on tighter courses where you may prefer to hit a fairway wood off the tee and are less likely to hit it from the fairway, you could strengthen the loft slightly for additional distance. 

The face angle is another adjustable option becoming more common in fairway woods. Perhaps not as commonly tinkered with between rounds, but this option does allow golfers struggling with a hook or slice to change the openness or closedness of the face. This will give extra support at impact and help to keep the ball closer to the fairway.

Different fairway woods suit different golfers

Modern technology has allowed manufacturers to build fairway woods with different characteristics to suit different golfers.

Lightweight models with more offset and higher loft are the best options for seniors and ladies. This helps to increase clubhead speed, with a higher launch angle and additional forgiveness.

Higher handicappers should prioritise forgiveness in all areas and modern fairway woods have the technology to help with this. Higher loft, draw-bias, lower CG and a larger clubhead are all traits that can help aid off centre strikes and optimize support with keeping the ball in play.

Low handicappers are usually more willing to sacrifice some of the forgiving elements in order to prioritise accuracy, distance and workability. Whilst still benefiting from much of the same technology as more forgiving fairway woods, low handicap golfers can be more selective with their choices, such as lower lofted spinning clubs for the most distance.

Should I get custom-fitted?

In a word, yes. As with all golf clubs getting custom fitted can dramatically impact the clubs you choose and how well you play with them. Fairway woods can be challenging to hit, especially from the fairway, so ensuring you feel comfortable and confident standing over the clubhead makes a huge difference. Also, having a good fitter will ensure you get the perfect club and shaft set-up to maximize the performance of the club you choose.

Conclusion

Choosing the right fairway wood can be difficult, but as long as you understand the basic considerations you should be okay. Hopefully this article has helped to explain these different factors you need to consider before making a final purchase. However, there is still no substitute for a proper fitting and trying out a few different options. Whatever your final decision hopefully you feel confident and get the most out of the fairway wood you choose.

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