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It’s an age-old question. Should you be playing a 3-wood off the tee for safety on the golf course, or reaching for the driver and getting as far down the hole as possible?

It’s likely been a topic of conversation in your weekly group, and you’ve probably heard similar arguments to most of us.

On one hand, many will say that their 3-wood gives them greater control and they find more fairways with it. You might even hear that the 3-wood goes just as far as the driver, and that the big stick is really only there for show.

On the other side of the coin are those who think reaching for the longest club in the bag is almost always the best option. It’s got the largest head out of any of your clubs (unless you play a LAB Golf putter) and it’s designed with maximum distance in mind.

But, what does the data reveal about this common point of contention? Let’s take a closer look at the stats Shot Scope provide on the question.

Driver v 3-wood: The debate

Firstly, let’s set some ground rules, we’re going to take data from a 10 handicap on Shot Scope’s database.

We’ll also be using the performance average for tee shots, which eliminates all the tops, duffs and other unspeakable things we’re all guilty of from the tee.

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Driver v 3-wood: The distance point

While some might claim that their 3-wood goes as far as their driver, that’s not what data shows on the whole. Sure, your 3-wood might go a similar distance, but for most of us, that simply isn’t true.

For our 10 handicapper, their average driver is going to go a very respectable 259 yards off the tee.

Compare that to the 3-wood, and that number falls to 233 yards.

That might not sound like a huge difference, but think of it this way. On a 400 yard par-4, it’s the difference between having a 141 yard approach shot to having a 167 yard approach shot.

For the same ten handicap, that changes a 9-iron second shot into a 6-iron approach. We know which one we would rather.

Driver or 3-wood
The driver is almost always the right play off the tee. (Credit: Getty Images)

Driver v 3-wood: The accuracy debate

Now, you’re probably thinking that this is where the 3-wood comes into its own. It stands to reason that the shorter club with more loft is going to help average, run of the mill golfers, find the fairway more often.

Well, in short, it doesn’t.

Sure, in your specific case, if you’re wild with the driver in your hands, it might be the case that the 3-wood finds the short grass significantly more often, but for the average player, data shows that simply isn’t true.

Our same ten handicap golfer hits the fairway 49% of the time with their driver.

When they switch to the 3-wood, that number does rise, but only to 52%.

Does a 3% jump warrant a change in strategy, when that strategy is likely to mean three extra clubs into each green? We certainly don’t think so.

Interestingly, for 25 handicap golfers, the highest in Shot Scope’s database, fairway percentage actually goes up with the driver, compared to the 3-wood.

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Driver v 3-wood: The conclusion

If you’re going purely on data, the answer is clear. The driver is the sensible play.

Of course, there will be situations where this doesn’t apply. If you hit your driver 250 yards and there is a water hazard 240 yards away, then it would be silly to reach for it.

But, if you really want to find the fairway and think reaching for the 3-wood for safety is the smartest play, you might want to think again. If you’re going to be in the rough, you might as well be closer to the hole.

If we believe the data, which in this case is compelling, you should almost always be leaving the 3-wood in the bag and hitting driver off the tee.

More from Shot Scope

For more from Shot Scope, head to their website.

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Lewis Fraser As bunkered’s Performance Editor, Lewis oversees the content that’s designed to make you a better player. From the latest gear to tuition, nutrition, strategy and more, he’s the man. A graduate of the University of Stirling, Lewis joined bunkered in 2021. Formerly a caddie at Castle Stuart Golf Links, he is a member of Bathgate Golf Club where he plays off four.

Performance Editor

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