Long-Distance Help

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The heroic feats pros used to pull off with fairway woods ' getting to par 5s in two ' are now accomplished largely with long irons. But there was a time, not so long ago, when 3-woods were the thundersticks that preceded the lightning-fast drama of an eagle and a three-shot swing. Leaderboard signs tumbled like dominoes.
 
Within the recreational game, fairway and utility woods still hold that promise of heroism, along with a collection of more ordinary benefits that can help your game. Lets consider the high points:
 
MATTER OF TRUST
 
As with any club, if you can trust it, you can bust it. This seems especially true with fairway woods, though, and the concept has been borne out in my conversations with golfers. Many people have told me their 3-wood or 5-wood or 4-wood is their favorite, mostly because they get consistent good results with it. (Try gathering 10 people to say that about a 3-iron.and have someone pick up your mail and newspaper while youre traveling around the world to find them.)
 
It may be because of the mass behind the ball or the low center of gravity, or both, but dont underestimate the effects of look and fit. Barney Adams and others insist that you have to like the look of the club at address if its to inspire the confidence you need to make a good swing. And getting a club ' mostly a shaft in that club ' to fit that swing makes all the difference in the world when youre trying to smooth a 3-wood off the deck for a 210-yard direct flight to the flagstick.
 
That said
 
YOU TOO CAN DO TWO
 
On shorter par 5s of the kind many of us recreational players find on the courses we play, eagle setups are possible if you have the second shot equipment you need. Assuming, as we must, a good drive, the question becomes, Does your 3-wood (or whatever) get the job done?
 
Be realistic: 510 yards may be a dream, but 485 could work. If you bang a 250-yard drive, yes, you can probably chase a 3-wood up there. But not if you dont have the shaft that gets the most out of your swing.
 
Heres where the pro comes in. Consult with your pro and/or clubfitter to see if theres a way to get more distance, more accurate distance, from your fairway woods. This way, you can use them not just as distance-getters on second shots, but as what Adams calls point-to-point weapons as well.
 
RIDE THE RAILS
 
The Rules of Golf allow clubs such as the Baffler, the Ginty, the Knife ' innovative head designs with rails along the bottom to push grass out of the way. These clubs can be lifesavers from cabbagey rough, saving many a round. Even a conventional 5-wood with a relatively flat sole, because of its low center of gravity and head size, gets through the salad more effectively than irons. (Less likely to twist, too.)
 
TOO MANY IRONS IN THE FIRE
 
There seems to be a macho thing involved in wanting to carry 2-, 3-, and even 4-irons. And yes, Donald Ross said the long iron shot is the supreme test of expert golf. But if the fundamental objective of golf is to get the ball in the hole in the least number of strokes (trust me, it is), long irons dont give you as much to work with as fairway woods. Experiment with replacement. Any misgivings about how your bag stacks up tend to evaporate when you look up and see a stunning 4-wood heading straight for puttable real estate. (Compare that with the clunky feeling in your hands and the reflex-action recitation, Fore right!)
 
Trial and error, our old friend, remains the best way to see how many irons you should lose, and on what courses. There are times when you might want to put the 4-iron back in (suppose there are three long par-3s with bailout room on the course youll be playing, for example) and take the 5- or 6-wood out; pros adjust their bags this way all the time.
 
Thanks for checking in. Join us for our next show, Wednesday, July 2, when we take on the subject of golf fitnessand I work out with the ladies of the Arizona State University golf team. (There were no paramedics involved.)
 
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