3 Wood vs 4 Wood: Tips on When to Use Each Club

Deciding which 14-clubs to add to your bag is a painstaking process. I recently tackled the subject of wedge selection, but today I will compare fairway woods. Specifically, which option is better between a 3 wood vs 4 wood?

I detail the ease of launch and the yardage these woods offer to help you decide if it suits your game. Although a 3-wood is a more popular option, the lesser-used 4-wood might hold the answers to maximum distance in your game.

 

Overview of The 3 Wood and 4 Wood

If you look closely at the bags of most amateur and Tour players, you will battle to find a 4-wood. A 3-wood tends to be the longest fairway wood in the bag, followed by a 5-wood. The former is a versatile club used as an alternative to a driver off the tee and produces max distance on long approach shots.

According to Golf Digest, retired tour player Justin Leonard employed a 4-wood to bridge the distance gap between his 3-wood and 3-iron. Without a 4-wood, Leonard found that 20-yards were missing from his bag.

Marty Jenson from Ping explains that Pros aren’t the only ones who benefit from the weaker lofted 4-wood. The extra spin it generates makes it easier to launch for the average golfer.

 

Differences Between a 3 Wood and 4 Wood

Loft

The main difference between a 3 wood vs 4 wood is their loft. Golf Monthly reports that the average 3-wood carries 13 to 16.5-degrees of loft. A player with a faster swing speed typically opts for a strong lofted 3-wood around the 13-degree mark. Contrarily, moderate to slow swingers may benefit from a 15 or 16-degree option.

Conversely, Golf Monthly suggests that the standard loft of a 4-wood is 17 to 17.5-degrees. The slightly higher loft enables the average player to consistently get airborne for improved carry distance.

Finally, Jertson says that the average golfer finds it easier to launch a 4-wood because of the weaker loft.

Shaft Length

The second area of difference between a 3 and 4-wood is the length of the shaft. Golf Works explains that 3-wood steel shafts are approximately 42.5-inches, while graphite is 43-inches. Contrarily, a steel 4-wood averages 42-inches, while a graphite shaft is 42.5-inches.

The shorter shaft is typically easier for the average golfer to swing because the setup is closer to your irons than a driver. Incorrect ball position is often the cause of amateurs’ misfortunes with fairway wood shots.

Furthermore, Golfweek explains that a longer shaft impacts the swing weight, flexibility, and kick point of a golf club. As a result, the club produces excess flex and low kick point, causing weak, inaccurate shots with reduced distance.

In addition, the extra shaft length can lead to topped shots and heel and toe mishits. Striking the ball in those areas of the clubface could prompt sidespin that causes a hook or a slice.

Overall, a shorter shaft leads to more consistent contact with the ball and optimal distance and accuracy.

Clubhead Size

Jertson explains that the head on a 3-wood game improvement model is almost 200 cc. Considering it is bigger than the original steel drivers, amateurs may struggle to strike their shots off the deck with these clubs.

For the most part, 4-woods feature a slightly condensed head size compared to a 3-wood. This gives the average player confidence at address to get their ball in the air.

However, a 3 is not always larger than a 4-wood, and it depends on the manufacturer. For example, the Callaway Epic Speed features a 173 cc head, while the 4-wood stands at 175 cc.

Ball Flight

The stronger lofted 3-wood is designed to restrict spin rpm to optimize your total distance. Therefore, it follows a lower trajectory than a 4-wood, producing optimal roll upon landing for increased total distance.

On the other hand, a weaker lofted 4-wood is designed to produce a higher ball flight for consistent carry distance. The increased apex also helps your ball stop rapidly on long approach shots. That trait benefits seniors and higher handicap golfers who may employ it for tee shots on long pars 3’s.

 

Which Club Typically Hits Further?

Golf Digest says that Pros and lower handicappers hit a 3-wood farther than a 4-wood. However, the results differ when we look at the average golfer.

They further explain that those with a driver swing speed below 85 mph gained five yards with 4-wood compared to a 3-wood. In addition, average golfers with swing speeds exceeding 85 mph achieved eight yards over a 3-wood.

Therefore, to answer the question, superior golfers hit a 3-wood further. Conversely, the average golfer gains more distance when swinging a 4-wood.

 

Which Club is Considered Easier to Hit?

Golf Digest suggests that the higher loft of a 4-wood generates increased backspin, enabling the ball to remain in the air for longer. As a result, it delivers consistent flight and increased forgiveness, compared to a 3-wood.

The high, long ball flight optimizes your carry distance, ideal for golf courses that deliver minimal roll.

Overall, the high launching nature of the 4-wood makes it easier for the average golfer to hit.

 

Do You Need Both Clubs in Your Bag?

If you asked me this question ten years ago, I would have said potentially. However, these days you can acquire weaker lofted 3-woods which are only one or two degrees stronger than a 4-wood. Conversely, you can find strong lofted 5-woods set at a similar angle to a 4-wood.

Ultimately it makes no sense to carry both clubs in your bag as it will impact what wedges you carry. Instead of playing with a 3-wood and 5-wood, an option may be to go with a 4-wood and a 3-hybrid.

 

Tips on When to Use Each Club

Tee Shots

We all have days where our drivers do not cooperate, and as a result, in the breakdown of trust, you turn to your next longest club. A 3 or 4-wood offers a viable replacement when the big stick is not firing.

The challenge amateurs face is adapting their setup to promote a pure strike. Unlike a shot off the deck, position the ball on the inside of your lead heel. This helps you to sweep the ball on the up.

Opposite to an iron shot, the low point of your swing should occur before the clubface strikes the ball.

If you hit down on the ball like you would off the fairway, your clubhead will catch the turf first and bounce up. That could cause the sole of wood to top the ball, leading to a loss of launch and distance.

You need to sweep the ball off the tee to get it in the air and travel consistently long. The higher loft on a fairway wood makes it easier to hit, especially for slower swingers who struggle with a low lofted driver.

Par 4 Approach Shots

When you find yourself way out from the green on a par 4, it helps to have a trusty fairway wood to turn to for relief. The distance offered by a 3 or 4-wood gives the average golfer sufficient club to reach the green from way back on a par 4.

In this instance, move your ball slightly back in your stance, compared to where you position it for tee shots. The aim is to strike your ball at the low point of your swing to compress it sufficiently for a high launching shot.

The extra loft on a 4-wood helps you generate additional spin for a high ball flight and soft landing on the green.

Par 5 Approach Shots

The longer hitters among us enjoy the luxury of reaching certain par 5s in two. For this to become a reality, you need a long-hitting fairway wood. The setup is the same as I mentioned above for par 4 approach shots. However, increased roll helps to get the ball up to the green.

A stronger lofted 3-wood produces less backspin and lower ball flight over a 4-wood, giving you additional roll. The extra yards gained once the ball lands could be the difference between chipping for three and putting for eagle.

Bump And Run

At the 2002 South African Open, I saw Tim Clarke pull off an epic bump and run.

It was the first time I had seen the shot live, and I was amazed at the effectiveness. The stronger loft kept the ball low, and the head weight gave it the power needed to run up to the hole.

I was amazed and began practicing the shot. These days it is my go-to when I am on the edge of the green, and I can’t get the spin needed to stop the ball dead.

Clay Ballard explains that to pull this shot off, you need to position the ball back of center in your stance. Then grip down on the club, stand slightly upright, and take a quarter swing. It is challenging to judge the speed of these shots. That is because of the weight of the head and the length of the shaft. However, with sufficient practice, it can improve your shot record.

 

3 Wood vs 4 Wood: FAQs

Should I Carry A 3 or 4-Wood?

Based on the information I have laid out above, the average golfer is better off carrying a 4-wood instead of a 3. Increased loft, coupled with a shorter shaft and a smaller head, is simpler for the average player to swing.

However, Golf Digest suggests that tour players and solid amateurs still send a 3-wood farther than a 4-wood.

Are 3 Woods Easier To Hit Than a Driver?

The average player finds it easier to hit a 3-wood over a driver. This is because of the club’s shorter shaft and increased loft. The reduced shaft length means that your setup is similar to an iron enabling you to consistently strike the ball cleanly. Plus, it requires you to position the golf ball, one ball back in the stance.

Furthermore, the increased loft of a 3-wood creates increased spin compared to a big stick. Therefore, it is an easier club to launch for optimal carry distance.

Does Anyone Make A 4-Wood?

Although a 4-wood is less common than a 3, some companies manufacture them. The Callaway Epic Speed 4-wood is likely the most well-known.

Despite many brands not offering a 4-wood, they may stock weaker lofted 3-woods and strong lofted 5-woods. As a result, these clubs can deliver similar results to a 4-wood.

When Should You Use A 3-Wood?

A 3-wood is a versatile club that can be employed in various scenarios. The most common use is off the fairway or rough on long par 4’s or par 5’s. However, the club also acts as a substitute for your driver off the tee. Plus, you can even play bump and run shots from the side of the green with your 3-wood.

 

Matt Stevens

Matt Callcott-Stevens started playing golf at the age of 4 when Rory Sabattini's father put a 7-iron and putter in his hand. He has experienced all the highs and lows the game can throw at you and has now settled down as a professional golf writer. He holds a Postgraduate in Sports Marketing and has played golf for 28 years.