When To Hit 3 Wood Off the Tee: Top 5 Times


We have all asked the question before, when should I hit my 3 wood off the tee.  The PGA Tour has changed drastically over the past decade with more and more golfers going with the driver. 

However, as the course tightens and is playing fast, you will see more and more 3 woods, but the general approach started by Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Vijay Singh is to grip it and rip it and go hack it out of the rough.  

Should the average amateur golfer take the same approach of hitting it as far as you can and figuring it out from there?  There are many factors that would play into the answer to this question. 

I am going to give you my top 5 times or situations when you should consider the 3 wood off the tee that would apply and help most amateur golfers.

Check out the trouble on each hole before deciding 3 wood or driver.

There are several stats that will drive the recommendation.  Some things to consider:

  • Your 3 wood will more than likely travel 20-40 yards shorter than your drive on average.
  • You will gain only 7% of accuracy with your 3 wood.
  • Driver technology has come a long way in helping the amateur golfer hit the ball further and straighter.

When Should I Hit 3 Wood Off The Tee?

There are 5 key situations when you should consider the 3 wood off the tee instead of your driver.  These top 5 reasons:

  • You are struggling to get your driver airborne.
  • There is a water hazard at the distance that your average drive travels.
  • There is severe trouble left and right of where your driver typically travels.
  • The hole is short and you better from a specific yardage inside of 100 yards.
  • You have a big lead over your opponent and simply need to keep the ball in play.

Let’s break it down further and provide some great detail about each situation.

Situation 1: You are struggling to get your drive airborne

I have seen way too many high handicap golfers truly struggle to get the ball airborne.  If you find yourself in one of these rounds at least go with the 3 wood for 2-3 tee shots and try to gain your confidence back.  

The 3 wood is easier to launch due to the increased loft and the 3 wood is a shorter club, providing more control.  While you may lose some maximum distance, sometimes getting the ball out there 200 yards or so and in the fairway is enough.  

Gain some confidence, hit some solid shots and then go back to the driver.  A round of golf is a journey, oftentimes taking at least 4 hours or more.  Take your time, get some confidence and keep yourself in the round or the match. 

It’s ok to go with the 3 wood early on and work your way up the driver.  Due to the length of the driver and with it typically only having 9 degrees of loft, it can be a rather difficult club to hit, even for the best amateur golfers around.

Quick Tip: Have you ever considered shortening your driver?  I did this with my older driver and found al ot of success. To read more, check it out here.

Situation 2: There is a water hazard at the distance that your average drive travels

There is a pretty simple situation, you come up to a hole and there is a water hazard 250 yards from the tee and you typically hit your driver 240 yards, play it safe and hit the 3 wood.  The course designer is challenging you to make the right decision. 

Make sure you are aware of the course and you have done your homework prior so that you don’t hit your best drive of the day only to find your ball in the water hazard.  

Also, be aware of sand traps in the middle of the fairway, especially if you struggle to hit a mid iron out of these sand traps.  Play it smart, keep yourself short of the hazard and keep par in play. 

Nothing is worse than hitting a great shot only to have it go a yard to fall and have to take a drop or you struggle to make solid contact out of the sand. 

The difference between an 8 iron from sand or even a 6 iron from the fairway can be significant.  More than likely, if you are an average ameateur golfer, the 6 iron from the fairway is the higher percentage shot.

Quick Tip: Play a hole backward in your mind and have a plan to keep par in play a high percentage of the time.  Are you looking to break 80, 90 or 100.  We have a complete series on each level.  Here is our practical guide to breaking 80.

Situation 3: There is severe trouble left and right of where your driver typically travels

Many course architects will challenge you by three different situations:

  • A hazard left or right of the typical landing area with a driver.
  • Narrowing the fairway at the point where most drivers land.
  • PUtting a major downslope in an area where the driver typically lands, causing a difficult downhill shot on the approach shot.

Be aware of the landing areas of where your driver travels.  Many people have taken to utilizing google maps to look at what hazards or landing areas look like prior to heading to the course. 

Be realistic about how far you carry your driver and how straight you can hit.  We know that the 3 wood only provides 7% more accuracy, but make sure you know the landing area size. 

If the fairway narrows down to 12 yards, be careful and consider the length of the hole before picking your driver or 3 wood.  If it is a 420 yard hole, the driver might be necessary even if the landing area is narrow or there is additional problems. 

However, if the hole is only 320 yards, the 3 wood might be the perfect club.  Take these factors into consideration:

  • What is the wind doing?
  • Total length of hole?
  • Is the fairway firm or soft?
  • How are you feeling that day?
  • Are you hitting your mid irons solid or are you struggling?

Situation 4: The hole is short and you better from a specific yardage inside of 100 yards

I play golf frequently with a single digit handicap golfer who is much between from 80-100 ards vs. 20-40 yards.  Laying back to this distance for him would be wise decisions.  Where for my own game, get me as close to the hole as possible and I will figure it you with the 60 degree wedge.

Quick Tip: Get great with your 60 degree wedge, it can be an ultimate stroke saver and help you shoot lower scores and win more matches.  Check out our posts on when to use the 60 degree wedge.

If you fall into the category as my friend, consider laying back on short par 4’s to the length that is more comfortable.  Over the course of a season, we are talking about saving a significant number of shots and shooting better scores.  This leads to more fun and less frustration.

There are other many options on getting better from those distance, but if a mental block exists, stay back and play that 80-100 yard shot consistently.  It allows you to make more of a full swing and even control the spin on the approach shot. 

It will also keep you in the fairway more often and give you a better chance of playing consistent golf.  Isn’t consistent golf what we all want anyways?

Situation 5: You have a big lead over your opponent and simply need to keep the ball in play

Have you ever seen the John Van De Velde meltdown on the 18th hole of the 1999 British Open.  This poor guy, just couldn’t make the right decision.  All he needed was to make a bogey and he was the champion. 

If you come to this point in a simple match for 5 dollars or your club championship, do not let your ego or your opponent get the better of you.  Consider what advantage the driver gives you over the 3 wood.  

You might decide that you have been hitting your driver great all day, I might say, stay with the driver.  However, if it has been a rocky day with the driver and you have a 2 shot lead, go with the 3 wood.  Get out there in the fairway, keep par in play and keep double bogey out of play. 

Not too many people ask how, they just ask how many.  This means a win is a win.  You walk away with the pride of winning and the confidence that you can manage your game. 

Stay within yourself and always be honest with yourself.  Play smart and when you get home and reflect on your match, you will be glad you made quality decisions.

Quick Tip: Do you want to gain more distance and make your drive and 3 wood that much better of clubs to use?  Check out our post on increasing swing speed – 5 Tips.

Should I pre-determine what club I will hit off the par 4s and par 5s?

Regardless of where you are with your game, I hope that we can help you play better.  We all want to play more consistent golf.  Knowing when to hit the 3 wood vs the driver is a key decision that must be made. 

Some people prefer to pre determine what they will hit off of every time prior to the round and then stick with their game plan.  Others, will try to be honest with themselves throughout the round and make the right decision.

If you have a caddy and are playing in a tournament, he or she is a resource to use and hopefully can be honest with you.  You have to know how to react to situations and decide if you are someone that needs a game plan prior to the round or can be honest and adjust as needed throughout the round of golf.

Here at golfjourney365, I try to play golf as often as possible.  I love the challenge of getting better everyday and every round.  I was fortunate to build a golf simulator in my garage back in 2017 and have now played over 600 rounds of simulator golf. 

The joy and game development has been worth every penny.  Check out my many posts on golf insulators if this intrigues you:

Golf Simulator FAQs

Take Action – What You Can Do Today to Get Better

What does this mean for you?  I believe in the following recipe to get better:

1 – Improve your motion in the golf swing by identifying a golf instructor.  Here are some options:

Here is a list of golf instructors that we have reviewed:

2 – Train to swing faster and improve your swing speed.  Here are some options:

Looking to gain more Speed and Distance in your swing. Two Options:

3 – Understand course strategy and work to break through your next barrier.  Here is a series on breaking through:

We have provided guides on how to break 100, 90, 80 and 70. Check out more below, if interested.

4 – Practice Frequently

Did you know that I build a golf simulator in my garage and have played over 500 rounds of golf on my SkyTrak system?  It has been a game changer and one worth checking out. Here are some of my other posts on golf simulators frequently asked questions:

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