Every two or three years I change to a new driver, but I’ve been using the same 3- and 5- woods (Callaway Great Big Bertha titanium) for the last 12 years or so. This may be a question with an obvious answer, but should I be looking for new fairway woods? Should I think of purchasing new fairway woods every time I buy a new driver?– Greg
Thank you for your question, which I’m sure is on the minds of many golfers.
Forty years ago fairway woods were part of the “wood set,” which included a driver. In the mid-1970s the driver was 11 degrees in loft and 43 inches long. The 2-wood had three degrees more loft and was one-half inch shorter than the driver. The 3-, 4-, and 5-woods also increased incrementally in length and loft.
About 15 years later the most common loft for a driver was 11 or 12 degrees, with some manufacturers offering 10 degrees. The length remained a manageable 43 inches. The 2-wood was becoming obsolete, having been replaced by the more lofted driver. The other woods were separated by about four degrees of loft.
After the introduction of metal woods – and specifically titanium woods – in the mid-1990s, everything seemed to have changed. Clubs were getting a little longer with the driver increasing to 44 inches and the 3-wood to 43 inches.
If drivers had remained at 44 inches then we would still have a “wood set,” and it would be advisable to make sure that the driver and the fairway woods matched. Unfortunately, manufacturers today have to do whatever they can to get golfers more distance – the magic word in marketing – irrespective of the accuracy consequences. This has led to an increase in length for the driver, as much as 46 inches in some cases.
Drivers cannot give golfers any more distance – irrespective of the claims – unless the ball is launched more efficiently or the clubhead speed increases. In some cases, this has been done for those who were not properly fitted in the first place. Proper fitting is the best thing that a manufacturer can do for golfers, NOT increasing club length.
Greg, because of the need to promote distance and the discontinuity created in consecutive clubs, the driver is no longer part of the “wood set.” The driver is now almost three inches longer than the 3-wood – instead of the one inch it used to be – and can be considered a utility club. There is no need to match it to your other woods.
You're going to swing today's extra-long drivers differently than the other woods in your bag, so look to match the 3-, 5- and 7-woods. If you have a set that works well for you, then you don’t have to get a new set simply because you are getting a new driver.
This does not imply that you should not consider new woods after 12 years. I suggest that you think about a long fairway wood and a couple of hybrids, rather than the traditional 3-, 5-, and 7-woods.
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Frank Thomas, inventor of the graphite shaft, is founder of Frankly Golf. Thomas is chief technical advisor to GolfChannel.com. He served as technical director of the USGA for 26 years and directed the development of the GHIN system and introduced the Stimpmeter. To email a question for possible use in an upcoming Let's Be Frank column, please email firstname.lastname@example.org