At the US Open in 2016, Rory McIlroy stepped up to the tee at the 8th hole at the Oakmont Country Club, weighing up what club he should hit.
If you’ve not seen the 8th hole at Oakmont, it is a monster.
A 300-yard par three, which most PGA pros have to slam a 3-wood or a hybrid through to get to the green in regulation.
With long par 3s and long par 4s becoming increasingly common, modern golfers are adapting to become more clinical with their woods and hybrids to post lower scores.
The problem is knowing what club to hit and when to hit it.
The difference between a fairway wood and a hybrid isn’t drastic, but it is enough that it will cost you some shots on the course if you don’t use the correct club in the right situation.
That’s why in this post, I’ll be walking you through when and how to hit each club and which one might be more beneficial to help you shoot lower scores. I’ll also shed some light on an alternative golfing iron designed to help golfers get more power and speed off the ground.
Firstly we’ll start with the woods…
Tradition and style
Aptly named because of their traditional hardwood club heads, fairway woods typically have a longer shaft and an oversized clubhead compared to other clubs in your bag.
They are your go-to if you need distance.
Similar to your driver, the large head and low center of gravity on your woods allow you to strike power through up into the golf ball to help your shot travel further.
Typically fairway woods come in a range of sizes and lofts ranging from a 1-wood to a 5-wood, with the 1-wood giving you almost the same distance as your driver and a 5-wood being similar to a hybrid.
As a beginner, I recommend starting with the 3-wood; an easy to use club that can bridge the distance between your irons and your driver.
An amateur golfer should hit their 3-wood between 200 and 225 yards, while their driver should travel over 230 yards.
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When to use your fairway woods
As the name suggests, fairway woods are best used on the fairway or off the tee.
Although striking the ball with a wood off the deck can be a pretty tricky skill to master, it’s a big bonus for when you’re looking to split a hole in two but smashing a long second shot right onto the green.
But as they are a very lofty club, you may also want to consider the conditions you’re playing in. If it’s a windy day, you might be better off dialing back and playing a stinger shot with a five iron to cut through the gales ahead of you.
In warm, dry conditions, nothing is sweeter than hitting a flush 3-wood off the deck and watching it ping 200 yards down the fairway.
Although to a 5-iron, a 3-wood will carry and roll longer on a firm fairway, and that means you’ll need to think about laying your shot up ahead of the green to allow the ball to roll nicely onto the green.
Hitting fairway woods
American golfer Lee Trevino once said, “even God can’t hit a 1-iron,” and why would he need to when he can play a 3-wood?
As a general rule in golf, the longer the club, the harder it is to hit it, mainly if you’re playing with an iron.
The larger heads on your fairway woods make them a lot more forgiving and allow you to get a better connection on the ball compared to a 1-iron.
Because of their longer shafts, a 3-wood will require you to address the ball a little differently from a standard iron or hybrid shot. Typically you need to take a wider stance over the ball and have the ball forward in your address.
This will allow you to strike up into the shot to put as much loft on the ball as possible.
At first, this will feel a little goofy hitting your 3-wood in this way, you’ll hit the ball fat and take a few chunks out of the ground as you would with an iron, but once you’ve mastered the smooth sweeping action to lift the ball off the air, you’ll see infinite gains on your golf game.
Features and benefits
Hybrids are a smaller yet bulkier version of a typical fairway wood.
Also known as a ‘utility’ or ‘rescue’ club, they are most aptly used when players are stuck in long grass or need to get out of a tricky lie.
A rescue club will typically have a longer shaft than an iron yet is smaller and slightly less flexible than a fairway wood, making it easier to use to punch golfballs on lower trajectories up the fairway.
And they have been growing in popularity among amateur golfers as they are one of the most forgiving clubs you can have in your bag.
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When to use your hybrid
As its name suggests, the rescue club should be used when you’re in a sticky situation.
If you’ve ever tried, you’ll know how tough it is to cut through thick rough grass with a standard iron or fairway wood.
That’s where the rescue club’s meaty head comes into play and is what makes it a crucial part of every golfer’s arsenal.
The chunky yet compact head on a hybrid club is designed to help you make a sweeter contact with the ball in the most difficult of lies. Even from boggy wet ground, you can shovel some beautiful long shots up the fairway that will help save you from playing it safe and chipping out.
But it’s not just a club to use to get you out of bother. You can strike your hybrid from anywhere, the tee, the fairway, you can even get creative and use it to perform little chips around the green that would otherwise be hard to roll on with a wedge.
How to hit your hybrid
Although you might find a rescue club to be a little longer than perhaps a standard iron, you should hit them in the same way you’d strike an iron.
That means having the ball a little further back in your stance, striking the golf ball first, and taking a divot after you’ve made connection with the ball.
The only thing that should change is how far you’ll stand away from the ball. Naturally, you’ll be stood a little further away from the ball with a longer club, but don’t let that put you off your swing.
You also don’t need to change your swing for this club too much. You’ll immediately want to hit the ball harder but don’t. Let the club do the work. Your hybrid’s bulky head will be able to lift the ball off the ground for you without you trying to whack the skin off the golf ball.
So you’re probably wondering, which is better?
Well, neither. Both fairway woods and hybrids serve different uses and are essential tools every golfer should have in their bag.
But when using these clubs, there are some significant differences you should be aware of to ensure you’re using the right club in the right circumstances.
When comparing the two types of clubs, a rescue club’s trajectory is a lot lower than that of a fairway wood. Technically speaking, hybrids are designed so that their center of gravity is centered higher and closer to the golf club’s face, meaning that your swing angle is a lot steeper than that of a wood, which has its center of gravity situated a lot lower.
That means when you strike a hybrid, you’re naturally hitting down on the ball, making your ball flight noticeably lower. Golfers should drive up into the shot with a fairway wood, using the club’s center of gravity to push the ball into the air. That will add some height to your ball’s trajectory and will mean you’ll gain more distance on the shot.
For that reason, you’re more likely to get significant distances on your fairway woods compared to your rescue clubs.
Ease of use
Both clubs take a lot of practice to master, particularly if you’re looking to hit your fairway woods off the ground.
But as popularity suggests, many amateur golfers opt to use hybrid clubs instead of breaking out their fairway woods. This is simply because rescue clubs are so forgiving and deliver a better connection on the golf ball off the ground, even if you swing poorly through your shot.
The clubhead on a hybrid packs way more of a punch than a fairway wood. They are designed to be much denser and heavier than their wood counterparts to punch the ball out of tough lies.
Fairway woods can feel a little metallic in comparison, but that’s because they serve a different purpose. They are lighter than the hybrid to help you get better ball spin on the shot.
Plus, a wood’s shaft is a lot slacker, meaning you can rotate through the shot a lot faster, whip the clubhead through the ball, and swazz it down the fairway. You can’t generate that same ball speed with a hybrid because their shafts are too stiff. Ultimately that means you can get a lot more speed, distance, and shape on the shot with your woods.
It’s hard to gauge which club can provide you with the best accuracy. With a fairway wood, pro golfers have much more scope to work spin into the ball to cut long fades or high draws and plant the ball onto the greens.
With the hybrid, from the lies and in the conditions you’ll be hitting your shots, it is a lot harder to control where the ball is going. As I said, it’s a rescue club. Its purpose is to get you out of trouble while helping you sacrifice as little yardage on the course as possible. That’s not to say it’s not an accurate club. Purely because of its weightier clubhead and stiffer shaft, it is perhaps harder to work the ball with a hybrid than a fairway wood.
But being fairly magnanimous, it’s a lot harder to slice or hook a shot with a rescue club compared to a wood, meaning the ball is more likely to go where you want it.
The driving iron: A suitable alternative?
Speaking of bridging the gap between your long irons and fairway woods, you may have also come across what’s known as a driving iron.
Dissimilar to a hybrid, they take the same shape of a forged cast iron golf club but have a much thicker and muscly club head. They are all about power, and most pro golfers use them to hit low trajectory shots from the fairway that can evade wind and roll onto the green.
They lack the forgiveness that a hybrid club would give you, so they aren’t the best for beginners but are great for golfers looking to add distance to their game.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Should I buy a hybrid over a 5-wood?
That depends on your golf game and the current clubs in your bag. Personally, I’ve never needed to use a 5-wood as I usually just dial back the speed of my 3-wood instead. With that in mind, many golfers sacrifice the 5-wood for a 4-hybrid as the rescue club will provide them more options around the course to get out of sticky situations. Plus, you can use a 4-hybrid in the same way as a 5-wood off the tee, so it might make more sense to carry a rescue rather than a 5-wood.
What rescue clubs are best to use?
Long irons are very tough to hit. The clubface’s loft and angle are so steep that it’s so hard to make a good connection on the ball. That’s why I recommend golfers pick up maybe one or two hybrids that will bridge the gap between their 3-wood and a 5-iron. In my bag, I have a 3-hybrid and a 4-hybrid, and they are so easy to swing through compared to their long iron counterparts.
The rub of the green
To become an accomplished golfer, I’d advise you have both a fairway wood and a hybrid club in your arsenal.
Both serve different purposes, one being about distance and the other being more focused on your scrambling, but both can save you masses of shots around the course.
But as with all things in golf, you won’t know if a specific type of club fits your style until you get out there and practice with it. So my advice is to try both kinds of clubs, keep them in your bag, and as you play, I guarantee you’ll see opportunities to use them to hit big golf shots around the course.
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