Many players struggle to hit their fairway woods solidly. They make the mistake of trying to “sweep” the ball off the ground, sometimes even trying to lift the ball with the club; this results in a thin or “skulled” shot. However, a well-hit fairway wood shot feels solid, and the loft of the club does all the work of getting the ball into the air. With a few simple fundamentals, you can learn to hit good fairway wood shots.
Place Ball Forward
Although different teachers may appear to contradict each other—for example, Butch Harmon will say the ball should be played back and Travis Fulton will advise playing the ball forward—virtually all teachers describe this position the same way. They want you to position the ball between your driver position (off your front heel) and your mid-iron position (the middle of your stance). This allows you to hit slightly down on the ball so the loft of the club can do its job.
Proper alignment is important when swinging any club, but this is especially so when hitting fairway woods. Travis Fulton says that opening the shoulders--the most common alignment fault among amateur players--causes a steeper downswing, which can prevent solid contact. Keeping the shoulders square helps you to strike the ball with a flatter angle of attack, which works with ball position to create a well-struck shot.
Although you are playing the ball forward in your stance and attempting to make a flatter swing, you still need to hit slightly downward on the ball. The driver is the only club hit with an upward swing, and this is because the ball sits up on a tee. Ideally, you will take a very shallow divot just in front of the ball; this will let you know that your clubhead was traveling downward when it struck the ball, but the angle of contact was shallow enough to give you maximum distance.
Many players think that they must make harder and faster swings to get the ball up in the air with a fairway wood. Although it is true that higher clubhead speeds make the ball go farther, after a certain point extra effort only causes mis-hits. The best way to develop clubhead speed is to swing with a smooth rhythm and “within yourself,” swinging only as fast as you can comfortably control the club. A solid strike accomplishes more than an uncontrolled flailing at the ball.
Although a fairway wood shot is not quite the same as a good short-iron shot, Tony Ruggiero points out that the two have a lot in common. The main differences are that the ball is slightly more forward in the stance, which keeps the player’s body more behind the ball and discourages taking a deep divot; and the hands are more over the ball rather than ahead of it, again to discourage taking a deep divot. However, you still hit down on the ball as you do when using an iron; thinking that way will help you avoid scooping the shot.