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Made principally of titanium or steel, fairway “woods” are a gentle reminder of the days when clubheads were built by master clubmakers from a single block of persimmon. Today, they provide the critical bridge between the driver and long irons or hyrids. Used for shots to the green on par-5 and long par-4 holes, or off the tee when accuracy is a greater consideration than distance, fairway woods generally provide more forgiveness than an iron. This is due in part to the sweeping motion required to hit them effectively. Irons, by contrast, require a more precise descending strike. The reason for the difference is purely scientific: the center of gravity (a single intersection of all the points of balance within a clubhead) is generally lower and further back in fairway woods than in irons. The result? A higher trajectory and longer carry with less effort.
With countless options available from all of the major brands, selecting the right fairway wood for you is a matter of understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your game. Newer or senior players will benefit from higher-lofted fairway woods, mainly 5 and 7-woods, as direct replacements for the longer irons in the bag, principally the 3, 4, and 5-irons.
More experienced golfers looking for versatility tend to gravitate towards woods with adjustable loft and face angle technology, features that Cobra (AMP), Callaway (RAZR Fit) and TaylorMade (R11S and Rocketballz) continue to perfect season after season. Those players seeking maximum distance will find that companies such as Adams (Speedline) and TaylorMade (Burner SuperFast) have developed a series of fairway woods with built-in speed slots, designed to reduce drag while increasing clubhead speed. Products from manufacturers like Cleveland (Mashie), whose railed sole designs and smaller clubheads resemble the rescue woods of decades past, will appeal to the traditionalist at heart.
How to Hit a Fairway Wood
The first step to consistent play from the fairway is to understand that the swing required for a metal wood, unlike an iron, is dependent on a shallow angle of attack. While iron play requires a steep angle of descent (better players strike the ball first and follow with a divot through the turf), fairway woods require a sweeping motion and little or no divot.
To give yourself the best opportunity for consistent contact every time, and to be sure the club makes contact just prior to the start of the upswing, position the ball a few inches inside your left heel. It’s particularly important to trust club’s loft to get the ball airborne; many amateurs make the mistake of swinging too hard in hopes of gaining a few extra yards. By using the same tempo as your more-lofted clubs and trusting your equipment, you’re free to swing away.