How to Hit a Fairway Wood

Published on 03/14/2023 · 6 min readFairway woods are notoriously difficult to learn how to hit. Golf expert Adam Ditcher breaks down everything you need to know.
Adam Ditcher, Golf Expert
By Golf Expert Adam Ditcher

Photo by Adam Ditcher

One of the most difficult clubs for new golfers to learn how to hit is a fairway wood. Given that most golfers are hesitant to use a driver anywhere other than off of a tee on the tee box, the lowest-lofted club that most players hit out of the fairway or rough is generally their 3 wood or other fairway wood. Because of the low loft, there is less surface area on the clubface when it comes through the impact zone to make a connection with the golf ball. This leaves little room for error on a fairway wood, especially in comparison to some of the shorter clubs in the bag.

However, proper golf ball striking techniques on a fairway wood can give golfers greater scoring opportunities with approaches into long par 4s and par 5s, as well as a secondary option off of the tee if they’re hesitant about using their driver for either accuracy or positioning concerns.

Photo by Adam Ditcher

Give It Space

The first key in hitting a fairway wood is knowing that the setup is more similar to a driver than any other club in the bag. Fairway woods average 43” from grip to club head, making it one of the longest clubs. Therefore, it requires the player to stand further away from the golf ball than what hybrids, irons, or wedges call for. Proper spacing gives the club the room needed to maintain a swing path that allows for more consistent contact. Crowding a fairway wood, or standing too close to the golf ball, can lead to steep swings that cause slicing, a common miss.

Alternatively, standing too far away and reaching your arms out can generate a flat swing where it is easy to miss in either direction depending on how fast the hands and wrists can square the clubface through the impact zone. Proper spacing is key on any club, but especially with the fairway wood, where the margin of error is greater and the range of misses can go further astray than lower-distance clubs in the bag.

Check the Loft

The next major factor to inspect is the loft of the club, especially important with your fairway woods. What type of club are you hitting, and what is the lie angle? The average 3 wood is about 15 degrees. However, the range can vary and many players lately, including tour pros, are carrying a wider variety of woods in their bag. For example, some players carry lower-lofted strong 3 woods that have a lie angle of 13 degrees. Other players are going back to 5 and 7 wood models, and even 9 and 11 woods on the LPGA tour, to get a better feel and approach angles for hitting longer shots into greens. Trying to hit a 3 wood versus a 5 wood isn’t going to be nearly as different in setup as hitting a pitching wedge would be, but it’s important to understand what type of club you’re using and how the lie angle of your wood affects its performance.

The lower your lie angle, the further the golf ball should go, but there’s less margin for error when bringing the club through impact. Players who struggle with lower-lofted woods, like a 3 wood, may consider using a 4 wood or 5 wood as a replacement. They might lose a few yards of distance, but if their accuracy is better and the feel of the club gives them more confidence, losing 5 yards isn’t nearly as important as keeping the golf ball in play and creating scoring opportunities.

Photo by Adam Ditcher

Look at the Flex

Another key factor is the flex of the shaft in a fairway wood. With improper flex, the club won’t correctly release at the bottom of the swing through impact, causing additional misses. Shaft flexes are measured based on swing speeds (a reference guide can be found here). If you have never had the opportunity to get your swing speed measured, you can ask a golf expert to approximate it with some additional information. This is something I always try to discuss with my customers, but especially when they are looking at a new driver or fairway wood. Properly fit equipment for your swing will make a world of difference in your execution on the course.

Position the Ball

Finally, golf ball position is absolutely crucial in hitting a fairway wood. This is one of the most common errors with learning how to hit low-lofted clubs. Learning about golf ball positioning can make a world of difference, especially if you are struggling to get any type of carry with your fairway woods. Low-lofted clubs, like drivers or fairway woods, should be played with a more forward stance.

Generally, fairway woods are most optimally played if the golf ball sits below the logo on your golf shirt across the left-side of the chest. If you swing lefty, you likely won’t have a logo on the right side of the shirt, so follow the same location based on your lead shoulder. This is slightly more back in the stance in comparison to a driver, which is generally played with the ball lining up in front of your big toe on your target-facing foot (left if you’re right-handed and right if you’re left-handed). This golf ball position will naturally tilt the shoulders slightly up and that’s exactly what we want when hitting a fairway wood for a shallow angle of attack. The forward golf ball location and the small shoulder tilt will bring the club into the golf ball on the upswing, which will allow this low-lofted club to carry by following the upward momentum of the clubface.

This position also provides an easier impact on the golf ball than trying to hit a fairway wood on the downswing, which is why so many people struggle to get height on their fairway wood shots. Doing this will allow for more solid contact than playing these clubs from the middle of your stance, where your irons should be located instead of your fairway woods.

Photo by Adam Ditcher

So, if you’re trying to improve your impact and shot quality with your fairway woods, remember these few steps. First, before you hit the course, make sure your club is a good fit for your swing (chat with me or one of my fellow Golf experts here on Curated for free advice, we can help with that). Then, set up the golf ball at the proper location – right on the logo (or opposite the logo for our lefty friends) and just far enough away that your hands are relaxed and hanging down but a little ways away from your body. Finally, as always, take a smooth swing and focus on that timing. Make those extra eagles and birdies, and lower those scores in 2021! See you on the golf course!

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