Henrik Stenson proved the value of a perfectly fit 3-wood at Royal Troon, regularly smashing his Callaway Diablo Octane Tour (13 degrees, with Oban Kiyoshi Tour Limited 60x shaft) more than 280 yards off the tee with what appeared to be the accuracy of a 7-iron. With the possible exception of his putter, no club in Stenson’s bag was more important in the Swede’s British Open victory two weeks ago.
And viewers can expect to see the importance of fairway woods again at the PGA Championship this week in Springfield, N.J.
Baltusrol Golf Club’s Lower Course is a most unrelenting venue. The 17th hole is especially nasty, playing 649 yards up a hill with a series of cross-bunkers bisecting the fairway. John Daly hit driver and 1-iron onto the 17th green in the 1993 U.S. Open. Before the 2005 PGA Championship, the Associated Press wrote that only Daly and Tiger Woods appeared able to reach in two. Neither did.
This year, most players still will opt to lay up on 17, but thanks to advancements in fairway woods, there are a few who might give it a rip.
Modern fairway woods deliver exactly what is required to reach such a target: ball speed and height. And these clubs, which utilize relatively new technologies such as slots and thin faces, are long enough that some pros are adding loft to hit the ball higher and prevent it from going too far.
“The Speed Pocket (slot) in the M2 fairway wood protects ball speed on low-face shots and drops the spin considerably,” said Brian Bazzel, TaylorMade’s senior director of product creation. “By dropping the spin and increasing the speed, you get this incredible launch condition.”
Other fairway woods have similar technologies, including Titleist’s 915F and Nike’s Vapor Speed fairway woods. Each has a slot in the sole.
Tour Edge’s Exotics EX9 Long 3 has a titanium cup-face design that is brazed to a steel body, and it has a channel in the sole and a wavy pattern of ribs on the bottom to help it skim along the turf.
Ping’s G Stretch 3-wood has 13 degrees of loft and fang-like protrusions on the crown. Ping says these “turbulators” make the club more aerodynamic. The G Stretch 3-wood also has an ultra-thin crown that helped designers lower the center of gravity and increase initial launch angle.
The bottom line is that unlike fairway woods designed 15 or 20 years ago, today’s fairway woods are not afterthoughts built to match a new driver. They utilize state-of-the-art technologies and make it possible to hit the bxall higher and farther – off the tee and from the turf – than ever before.
Players such as Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Jason Day can hit driver 330 yards, so perhaps – even the 17th hole at Baltusrol could be within range if some players decide to get aggressive.