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Understanding Golf Clubs: Woods

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Photon Golf Titanium Pro Driver

The Photon Titanium Pro driver shows typical size and shape of drivers.

Photon Golf
The woods in a typical golfer's bag will include a driver and one or two fairway woods, most commonly a 3-wood and/or 5-wood. Women and seniors might benefit from adding a 7-wood or 9-wood. The 4-wood is another common wood, and some golfers even carry an 11-wood.

Woods feature deep (from front to back) clubheads that are made of metal, usually steel or a titanium alloy. They are called "woods" because the clubheads used to be made of wood. Metals came into broad use in the 1980s, and "fairway woods" are now sometimes called "fairway metals."

For beginners, the driver (also called a 1-wood) will be one of the toughest clubs to master. It is the longest club in the bag - a typical length these days is 45 inches - which makes it the toughest to control in the swing.

Driver clubheads are usually made of titanium alloys or steel. Steel costs less, but titanium adds some "oomph" because it is a lighter material.

The same materials are used in the clubheads of fairway woods. Fairway woods, like irons, are progressive in nature; that is, a 3-wood has less loft than a 4-wood, which has less loft than a 5-wood, and so on. Because of that, a 3-wood will go farther than a 4-wood, which will go farther than a 5-wood, and so on.

A 3-wood is usually the second-longest club in a golfer's bag (there are 2-woods available, but they aren't very common). Fairway woods have smaller heads than drivers and get progressively shorter than drivers. That makes them easier to control in the swing than a driver, and for that reason beginners are often encouraged to use a fairway wood off the tee rather than trying to whack a driver right out of the gate.

Drivers can be hit from the fairway, but that's a shot most amateurs - much less beginners - will never pull off successfully. Fairway woods are good clubs off the tee or from the fairway; their smaller heads and greater lofts help get the ball up into the air.

Beginners might want to consider carrying some extra fairway woods (5-wood, 7-wood and 9-wood, for example) in place of the long irons (2-, 3-, 4- and even 5-irons). As a general rule, fairway woods are easier to hit than long irons for most beginners and recreational golfers.

Drivers and fairway woods are intended to strike the ball either on the upswing (in the case of the driver) or at the bottom of the swing (in the case of fairway woods). For that reason, the ball is placed forward in the stance when using a wood (see "Setup for Success" for photos demonstrating the proper ball position).

Distances with each club will vary from player to player; there is no "right" distance, there is only your distance, and you'll learn those distances as you start playing. Typically, a driver will go 20 yards or so farther than a 3-wood, which will go about 20 yards farther than a 5-wood. A 5-wood is roughly equivalent to a 2-iron in distance; a 7-wood to a 4-iron.

Beginners often overestimate how far they are "supposed" to hit each club because they watch the professionals blasting 300-yard drives. No matter what the commercial says, you are not Tiger Woods! Pro players are in a different universe; do not compare yourself to them. A "Golf Digest" study found that the average driver distance for recreational male golfers is "only" 195-200 yards.

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