Most golfers have several fairway woods in their bag, usually a 3 wood, 5 wood, and possibly a 7 or 9 wood. I play with a woman who has an 11! They are not common, but they do exist. Originally made of real wood (thus the name), these clubs have heads of steel or titanium. You could call them, “fairway metals,” I suppose, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.
The loft of each of the woods progresses from the lowest loft on the 3 wood to the highest loft on the 11. The lower the loft, the further the distance. And as the loft increases, the shaft on each of the woods get shorter, making these clubs easier to hit, especially for beginners. In fact, many instructors prefer to see their beginning students leave the driver (the #1 wood and the hardest club to hit) out of their bag and choose the 3-wood to play off the tee. It may not deliver the same distance as the driver, but the difference in accuracy and better scores makes up for it.
If you are having trouble hitting your long irons (2, 3, 4) you might want to switch to using fairway woods as they can sometimes prove to be easier to hit for beginning golfers or if you are a golfer just coming back to the game.
When playing fairway woods, place the ball more forward in your stance. Not quite off the back heel of the forward foot, but close to that point. Move the ball back a bit more as the number of the club increases. The club is designed to strike the ball at the bottom of your swing so you want to be sure to place the ball in the correct position.
Which fairway wood should you use? That depends on the distance your ball has to travel down the fairway. Every play is different. Take yourself to the range and test how far the ball travels using each of your woods. Typically you will lose about 20 yards of distance between woods. For example if you drive the ball 180 yards with your driver, your 3 wood will hit the ball 20 yards less than that, the 5 wood, 20 yards less than the 3 wood, and the 7 wood 20 yards less than the 5. If you are substituting your woods for your irons, the 5 wood will give you the same distance as you would get with your 2 iron.
An alternative to fairway woods are hybrid clubs. Hybrids are just what the name implies: a mix of both irons and woods. Also known as “utility clubs,” hybrids became popular in the early 1980’s. Many golfers substitute them for the long irons as they are easier to hit and more forgiving. If you are considering the purchase of new clubs, hybrids should be on your wish list. There are many hybrid sets on the market today. Be sure to test them on the range before making your purchase. They feel a little different from the usual fairway woods and irons in your bag, and though easier to hit take some getting used to.
How to hit fairway woods and hybrids?
Your swing is the same and your stance is the same. Your distance from the ball is determined by the shaft length of each club.
If you use a fairway wood or hybrid off the tee, be sure to tee the ball very low. Make a nice and easy swing. Remember “less is more.”
On the fairway: swing more down and through. The ideal is to hit the ball first and then take a small divot. The divot should be in front of the ball, not behind it.
If you are in a fairway bunker you can still use a fairway wood or hybrid to get out. You want to “pick” the ball off the sand not dig into it. This is different from your usual sand shot and takes a bit of practice, but done right, not only will using a fairway wood get you out of the “beach” but it will give you the distance you still need to get to the green.
In the rough: Not every fairway wood will work in the rough. You must try your luck and practice to see which wood works best depending on the ball’s lie and the thickness of the grass. I sometimes use a 7-wood to get up and out, though my 4 hybrid has become a good choice when the grass is thick.
Near the green: I’m not sure I would choose a fairway wood at this point, but if you do, choke down on the shaft and play it as you would a 7 or 8 iron.
Here is a video that shows you step by step how to play the fairway woods.