Phil Mickelson won The Open Championship hitting a 3-wood off the tee.
By Travis Fulton, Director of Instruction, TOUR Academies
For the second straight major championship, Phil Mickelson opted to leave his driver at home. And after his results at Merion (T2nd) and then Muirfield (1st) last week, it’s a wonder if we’ll ever see Lefty hitting driver again.
More and more players on the PGA TOUR are making the switch to a 3-wood off the tee, especially on tighter, more demanding layouts such as Muirfield and Merion, site of June’s U.S. Open Championship. Besides being more versatile and accurate than a driver, the 3-wood is also designed to accommodate a steeper angle of attack, which is the primary reason why Mickelson relies on it so heavily. He’s still able to tee the ball low and make his normal, descending swing without having to change his approach strictly for one club, which can make the transition to the rest of his clubs more difficult.
According to statistics from Trackman, the average PGA TOUR player hits slightly down on the ball about 1 degree with the driver. The TOUR average for a 3-wood is nearly 3 degrees down, which is the biggest jump between any two clubs in the bag, and is probably more in line with Mickelson’s attack angle. With his new 3-wood (bent to 12 degrees), he doesn’t have to level out his angle of approach or hit slightly up on it, which he’d have to do with the driver to maximize his distance. He can still tee the ball low, hit down on it with a forward leaning club shaft and get good distance because the design of the 3-wood is to produce a lower-spinning ball and stronger, more piercing trajectory. The ball tends to roll out a lot more, which was the perfect recipe for Muirfield’s firm, baked-out fairways.
At Muirfield, Mickelson hit 60.7 percent of his fairways (more than 4-1/2 percentage points higher than his yearly average and 2-1/2 percentage points better than the rest of the field at Muirfield) and, for the most part, kept himself out of trouble off the tee. Moreover, he hit what he described as “two of the best 3-woods” of his career on the par-5, 575-yard 17th hole on Sunday, essentially closing the deal when his second shot from the fairway ran up onto the green to within 25 feet of the hole, leaving him with an easy two-putt birdie that stretched his lead to two shots.
3-Wood or Driver?
Do you know your attack angle? If you don’t, I’d recommend getting on a launch monitor like Trackman the next time you’re in the market for a new driving club. Or you could check the depth of your divots. If you’re someone who takes deep, pork chop-sized divots with your mid-irons, then you probably have a steep angle of attack. If you’re a course superintendent’s dream and you barely disturb the grass on your iron shots, or you tend to hit a lot of thin irons, then you’re attack angle is likely very shallow. In the latter instance, you can continue to tee the ball up high and hit driver, but if you’re too steep, you have two options: Either you can try to shallow out your angle of attack with your driver, which requires flattening out your swing; or you can continue to tee the ball low and hit your 3-wood, just bumping the turf underneath the ball. If you really want to sting it like Mickelson, then lean the shaft forward, which will create a lower, more penetrating ball flight.
Travis Fulton is the Director of Instruction for the TOUR Academies at TPC Sawgrass and the World Golf Village. For more information on the TOUR Academy, go to www.touracademy.com. For more game-improvement tips from the TOURAcademy instructors, download the new free TOURCaddie App for iPhone and iPad users at the App Store or www.AppStore.com/PGATOURCaddie. As an in-app upgrade for $9.99, you gain immediate access to more than 175 on-course tips.