Both Jim Young Ko and Hideki Matsuyama closed out their victories this weekend with great fairway wood shots. Ko in a playoff to win and Matsuyama to make an eagle on the final hole for his first PGA Tour victory in his home country. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of launching a towering fairway wood from the turf. Professional players do it on television all the time, but what can we learn from them to fire our own successful fairway wood shots?
There are two specific challenges that make fairway wood shots so difficult for all players. First, it’s the lowest lofted club we use off the ground. Second, it’s also the longest shafted club from off the ground. Believe it or not, both are related. Matsuyama has always been known for a distinct pause at the top of his backswing. PGA Coaches believe this is one reason why he is such a good fairway wood player.
We don’t need his pause, but we do need to mirror his sequence. Fairway woods require great lower body action to be successful. Without that legwork, we all tend to stall during the downswing and heave the clubhead toward the ball. Our golf brain wants to add loft to help get the ball off the ground, but all we really add is length and thus hit the turf before the ball.
Next time you are on the range try this fun demonstration. Take your normal stance and setup to hit a shot. Before your swing, flip the club over so that you grip the lowest part of the shaft just above the clubhead. The actual grip should be pointing toward the ground near the ball. Now take a swing.
There will be an audible whoosh. Where did you hear the whoosh? Listen again. If you struggle with your fairway woods you will hear the whoosh near the ball, maybe even behind it. The whoosh is where the maximum amount of speed is taking place. We want the whoosh past the ball.
Try the demonstration again. This time use your lower body very aggressively. Get to the top of your backswing and then push off that trail leg in transition. Where did you hear the noise that time? Was it closer to the ball or maybe even a little past it?
Keep trying to get the whoosh farther and farther in front of the impact zone. Once you can repeat the whoosh in front of the ball several times, flip the club back over and take hold of the grip. Repeat the same swing and try to get the same feeling, hearing that whoosh past impact.
LPGA and PGA Tour players are great at using their body and athleticism to create speed and power. That demonstration you just tried is how they swing. Start to hit some shots with your 3 or 5 wood. You can even use a hybrid. Let the clubhead lag as you turn and move. Make your swing feel like it did when the grip was away from you. Trying to make your whoosh happen past the ball means the body turns aggressively while the hands remain passive.
This creates great leverage which allows you to build speed. Trying to hit the ball with your hands when you have a long club and no loft is a recipe for disaster. Learn to let the clubhead lag back and by the time it gets to the ball your contact will immensely improve.
Keith Stewart is a 5-time award-winning PGA Professional with 25 years of experience in the golf industry. His network of players, coaches and insiders provide him with a unique perspective on the game. He's a writer on PGA.com and host of the ProShow on ESPN 920 AM Friday afternoons at 3:00pm EDT. Check out his PGA Coaching articles archived here or his conversations on air with this link to his website The ProShow.
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