Driver vs. 3-Wood Off the Tee

Hey everyone, I just released this new article about whether or not you should hit a driver or 3-wood off the. I evaluate the following:

  • Aggregate data from Shot Scope
  • Thoughts from an equipment expert
  • My testing

I think you’ll (hopefully) find the article interesting, and it will give you some new thoughts on strategy off the tee and get you to test yourself. Let’s discuss on this thread!


Great article that really backs up a lot of what I’ve believed for a long time. It’s nice to see the actual data and hear your experience.
I’ve long deployed the practice of only hitting 3 wood off the tee if there’s a distance reason (say fairway ends at 285 and there’s a gap with a creek) to do so.
I play a 16* 3 wood for this reason. I can hit it 270-280 off the tee if need be, but I view my 3 wood as a club I use to attack par 5s or short par 4s where I want to carry a good distance, but come in at a steeper angle and land soft.

Great stuff, as always, @jon


Thanks! I have a similar setup in my bag. I used to have a stronger 3-wood that I used off the tee more. But the issue (like what I found in the article) was I wasn’t all that accurate with it off the tee, and the loft was too low for approach shots. So I added a little more loft and changed the head, which has allowed me to use it in on par 5s more often when I’m farther out. It’s very rare for me to use it off the tee unless the hole layout dictates that driver will bring trouble into play with distance.

1 Like

Great article! Three wood has never been my secondary club off the tee, but I used to occasionally drop down into the hybrid. This year, I’ve really focused on just hitting the driver and it has been working great.
I really liked the discussion about the club differences between the driver and the three wood. It kind of reinforced a belief I have (and maybe there could be an article about this) is that if a person can only afford to upgrade one club (like they’ve been playing with a 20 year old hand-me-down set), then they should make it the driver, since it’s the one of the most used clubs with the greatest advancements in technology. Ideally getting fit for it, but even grabbing a last year’s model at a low price would give them better performance.

1 Like

Great stuff. I’ve been hitting driver more recently, but there are a few holes I just can’t decide on. If I get a chance I’ll try to lay it out and get input.

The mishit concept on the 3 wood is definitely an interesting one and something most wouldn’t think about.

1 Like

Cory makes a good point. With newer driver technology it’s not all about distance (although you will likely see a bump). There are significant advancements in MOI, which I discussed in the article. This will allow you to preserve ball speed and accuracy on off-center strikes. Golf is not all about your driver, but as mark Broadie said in Every Shot Counts, if you can’t get off the tee well, you can’t score! (I’m paraphrasing)


Great article Jon. It’s the clearest explanation I’ve ever read of why to hit a driver. My question is whether fairway woods can/should be built a little bigger in order to get a higher MOI?

As always another great, informative, and what I believe mostly unbiased review. Thank you.

Quick question @jon
I’m not sure this is possible, and you’ve probably already thought about it but, I’m going to ask anyway:

Is it possible to make a thread that has all of your article or at least the last year’s worth? A place where we can go to find them easily but turn commenting off so the articles don’t get lost in the shuffle.

I think it would be great for the MOI, but I think it would increase the difficulty playing them from the fairway.

Alright let’s see if this works with the crude picture below. This is the landing zone for par 5. From the 260 mark it’s 220 to the front edge.

Some notes - the tree next to the 260 is no longer there, so it’s a clear line to the tall grass at 275 which is NOT a penalty area but you will lose the ball 80% of the time. Anything left of the cart path slopes straight down to penalty area. You can get lucky and it get caught in the rough but it’s less than 50/50. Anything more than 5 yds in the rough on the right will slope down to the other cart path. It’s a recovery back to the fairway - not getting home in 2.

Driver carry is 275, 3 wood carry is around 250. Unless playing straight into the wind, I think it’s a 3 wood. Sometimes it’ll be a mishit and catch the left bunker and sometimes it’ll be flush and get into the right bunker. Driver has little room for misses left or right and both are punch outs at best. A good 3 wood still gives a shot into the green. Without the long grass on the right it’s a driver all day but it gets so narrow I’m not sure it’s worth the risk. 3 wood “should” stay on the planet.

edit: @jon would appreciate your thoughts on this one

The more I learn about club design, the more I realize the many tradeoffs that have to be made by engineers (btw they are incredibly talented, like NASA level people). I think Woody Lashen alluded to this in the article - fairway woods have to have smaller heads or else it would make them difficult to use for their primary purpose, which is hitting off the fairway. So there’s a tug of war between head size and usability. So what works off the fairway seems to work against the fairway wood when used off the tee.

1 Like

I actually use a Callaway mini driver, is that not a 2 wood! It’s a little shorter than my driver but I find it easier to control and am therefore far more confident with it.

I do find the article very interesting. The charts based upon millions of shots has my length on par with my handicap, which is interesting when reading most of the strategy threads where the average golfer appears to be able to hit shots far further than me!!!

1 Like

Great article. But I wonder about the analysis. Sure, if the only cost of a 3-wood is 1% accuracy, and the penalty is just rough, bomb away. Totally agree.

But the illustration Jon chose shows a common situation. A 222-yard drive brings trees and a bunker into play. But the only penalty for a missed 194-yard 3-wood is rough.

So wouldn’t the calculation be something like this?

Driver = 46% fairway chance + 20% rough chance (-0.3) + 10% chance of trees (-1.1) + 24% chance of sand (-1.4)

3-wood = 48% fairway chance + 52% rough chance (-0.3) + 100% chance of lost distance (-0.3) whether fairway or rough

With my admittedly made up calculations, it tilts the decision a bit back to 3-wood.

D = -.06±.11±.34 = -.51 of a stroke

3 = -.16±.30= -.46 of a stroke

Bottom line: For any tee shots where trees or sand are in play for driver, but not for 3-wood, doesn’t that drive the calculation?

1 Like

This seems like a real-life golf hole example of the super-tight fairway Jon created in the article to test the dispersion. Are you sure that your dispersion is really tighter with a 3 wood off the tee? If not, then might as well hit the driver. Driver also seems to help you clear the bunkers where as the 3 wood has them in play.
If your data does show that your dispersion keeps the 3 wood in play while the driver will be out of play at a high enough rate to make it worse for strokes gained, then definitely hit the 3 wood.

1 Like

Yes I think you’re thinking about this correctly

The landing area for 3 wood is 60 yards wide vs. 40 with driver. Not saying more I’m more accurate, but there’s more room.

1 Like

Hmm I guess my point is already covered elsewhere in this excellent Forum.



This is where analyzing your own results can help make a more informed decision. For example, if I knew that driver was going to bring trees, bunkers, or a penalty area into play based on distance, then I would most likely lay back. However, if we’re talking lateral dispersion, I think that’s where things sometimes point in the direction of driver still because we’re seeing that a lot of players don’t hit their fairway woods all that straight.

1 Like

I stopped carrying a 3 wood and went with a 4 wood which is about 240 yds. I’ve always had the mindset to hit driver if the hole permits and I utilize the club more for certain laid out par 4’s. I found the 3 wood sat in the bag too much. Regarding par 5’s, if I can’t get there in two with a 4 wood, then I should be laying up anyhow. Another well written article.