Club-fitting series: 3-wood or no 3-wood?

Tom Wishon (www.wishongolf.com) is focusing on a theory that also can be called progressive swingweighting. In general, the swingweight increases as the irons grow shorter (i.e., more head feel in the short irons and wedges).

Tom Wishon (www.wishongolf.com) is focusing on a theory that also can be called progressive swingweighting. In general, the swingweight increases as the irons grow shorter (i.e., more head feel in the short irons and wedges).

Finding the perfect 3-wood may be the most difficult equipment assignment in golf.

The biggest reason is that 3-woods are expected to perform double duty. They often are used on tee shots, and they frequently are used off the turf.

Designing a club to perform both these functions can be devilishly difficult. Having the ability to hit both kinds of shots is, of course, another heavyweight challenge.

Which explains why Tom Wishon, an acclaimed and outspoken golf club designer, says that sometimes the best option for a 3-wood is to go without one.

“Golfers should not automatically think No. 3. Often they need to think 4-wood, or 5-wood, or even 7-wood,” said Wishon, of Tom Wishon Golf Technology in Durango, Colo.

Why?

It’s a matter of distance. If a player can’t hit a 3-wood up in the air with a proper trajectory, then a higher-lofted fairway wood might provide more distance.

Keep in mind that 3-woods are widely available in lofts ranging from 13 to 15 degrees. A 13-degree 3-wood can be much more difficult to use than a 15-degree 3-wood.

Wishon says all golfers need to be truthful with themselves. They need to determine the identity of their longest fairway wood – its number and its loft.

“A 3-wood can be the greatest club in the world,” Wishon said, “but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t have the ability to get the ball up in the air.”

To summarize the Wishon perspective, the correct fitting of a fairway wood involves two preliminary steps:

• 1. Figure how much the club will be used off the tee and how much off the turf;

• 2. Know what fairway wood loft is required to produce a shot that gets up in the air and isn’t a line drive.

If a golfer hits his longest fairway wood almost exclusively off the ground and not off the tee, the choice becomes easier. He probably should be looking at smaller-headed, shallow-faced fairway woods.

If a golfer regularly plays a tight course and can’t keep his driver in the fairway, then a strong 3-wood could be the best choice.

Wishon’s general rules of thumb:

• If a golfer’s driver swing speed is 85 mph or slower, the best configuration for woods is driver, 4-wood and 7-wood.

• If the swing speed is 90 mph or above and the player has decent swing skills, the best combination is driver, 3-wood and 5-wood.

“It’s not rocket science to conclude that a 3-wood, especially a strong 3-wood, isn’t for everybody,” said Wishon, whose clubs are available through a network of certified clubmakers (www.wishongolf.com).

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