From the Tips

Long-Game Gapping: The Secret to Elevating Your Game

As golf’s popularity continues to grow, one thing remains the same: Your best opportunity to enjoy the game starts with properly-fit equipment. Having the 14 most-playable clubs in your bag can make a world of difference.

What’s the best way to know your set makeup is optimal? Go through a fitting session with a Master Club Fitter. These highly-trained professionals understand club nuances and can recommend the most beneficial options. Part of their assessment will involve “long-game gapping,” which simply means that every club between the driver and longest playable iron fills a distinct and necessary role. A pro tip: It’s a good idea to bring your entire set to a fitting, even if you’re being outfitted for just one new club. 

According to Chris Marchini, Director of Golf Experience, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Golf Galaxy, “long-game gapping is a huge opportunity in the industry.” For many, it’s a complete game-changer. “I’d say half the people I fit have multiple clubs filling the same gap,” Marchini says. Are you someone with two or more clubs that serve the same purpose or travel similar yardages? If you’re not sure, even more reason to get checked out. “When I’m fitting players, I try to get 15- to 20-yard [distance] gaps between clubs in the long game,” he adds. Other fitters we spoke with agreed that a large percentage of golfers have more than one club in the bag providing the same performance output. The good news: Launch monitors like TrackMan, the featured monitor in Golf Galaxy stores, make it easier than ever to accurately determine yardage gaps between clubs. 

With the launch monitor, most fitters look first at distance. Makes sense. “But, if they don’t combine it with landing angle [aka angle of descent] to ensure the most playable ball flight, then the fitter isn’t doing the player any good,” said Marchini. The point is, we all need clubs that produce a controlled trajectory, not ones that carry a decent distance but fly at knee-height.

Something else to keep in mind: gaps should be filled based on yardages, not club lofts. Take, for instance, the 7-wood. You can find 7-woods that range from 20 to 23 degrees of loft, which can make a big difference in ball flight and overall performance. Let’s go a step further. Hybrids are typically based on iron lengths, so a 21-degree hybrid might be 40 inches long. Meanwhile, a 7-wood with the same loft could be 42 inches or more. Obviously, the two 21-degree clubs in question won’t play the same.

Truth is, the impressive array of hybrids, fairway woods (including “higher-lofted” ones) and driving/utility irons available in stores today is almost an embarrassment of riches at the top end of the bag. “We can go three different ways based on the ability of the golfer or their preference—more fairway woods, rescues, or utility clubs,” said Tom Fisher, Director of Custom Product Creation, TaylorMade Golf. That hasn’t always been the case. 

In the early 2000s, high-lofted fairway woods were go-to clubs for slower-swinging high handicappers. With plenty of mass placed low in the head and away from the face, those sticks were a superb substitute to standard long irons. In particular for golfers who struggled to get adequate lift—and carry—with their traditional gamers. However, high-lofted woods carried the stigma of being “senior” clubs and fell out of favor with the masses when hybrids burst on the scene a few years later. By and large, it’s been more of the same for 15 or 20 years. 

Yet, in the past two or three years, high-lofted fairway woods (19 or more degrees of loft, so your 5-wood and up) have been gaining traction with amateurs and even among Tour players. In addition, newfangled driving irons are having their day. These clubs generally produce the lowest flight with least amount of spin among long-iron replacement clubs, which is why they’re typically recommended for, and preferred by, stronger players

Back to the higher-lofted woods: Why the sudden attraction? For starters, the club manufacturers are dedicating more time and resources to the category. In terms of materials, carbon fiber and tungsten are being used more often and the results are apparent. “We can move weight and dial in launch and spin even better than before to make the clubs perform,” says Michael Vrska, Director of Custom Fitting & Player Performance at Callaway Golf. 

Plus, there’s a wider variety of fairway woods to choose from. “Companies might have two or three wood models whereas just a few years ago it was ‘hey, here's our fairway wood,’” Vrska added. In other words, club engineers are designing for the needs of specific player types. Selections include woods with draw bias, more conventional heads for the masses, and lower-spinning versions for faster-swing-speed players. 

Let’s not forget the effect of launch monitors, either. Golfers know in real time how clubs perform head-to-head. High-lofted woods typically launch higher, spin more and hold greens at a different rate than their hybrid counterparts. Fairway woods also produce the most ball speed of the three categories used to fill the gap. “They’re a great way to create trajectory for low-ball hitters, and meaningful distance gaps for golfers with slower speeds,” Fisher added. The new crop of woods are also versatile in the rough and can even take on chip shots around the green. All of which is appealing to a lot of players. Even major-championship winners such as Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Bubba Watson have put 7-woods in the bag. 

Of course, this isn’t meant to dismiss hybrids—they continue to be a solid choice for the right players. “If you have a steeper angle [into the ball] and hit down on the ball more, then hybrids and utility (driving) irons are good options,” says Marchini. “But not everybody should use hybrids. Players with a shallower angle of attack tend to struggle. For them, the longer [shaft] length, higher loft, and added ball speed of a high-lofted fairway wood could help.” Vrska sums it up this way: “What’s most important is how far the ball goes and what it does when it lands.”

The bottom line is it’s a great time to examine your set makeup and take advantage of the myriad options at the top of the bag. 

Read on to familiarize yourself with many of the leading fairway woods, hybrids and utility/driving irons on the market today. Then team up with a trained clubfitter at Golf Galaxy to try them out and determine what types and models work best for your game. All this will help ensure you have the 14 most playable clubs in your bag. Schedule a fitting today!

TaylorMade Stealth 2 Core, Stealth 2 Plus and Stealth HD Fairway Woods 

The three different models in the Stealth fairway-wood family share a lot of cool features. The updated “Inverted Cone” design—e.g., distinct variable-face thicknesses in each loft—helps to bolster ball speed across the clubface. A lower-profile carbon crown contributes to the lower center of gravity, which improves playability and forgiveness. Meanwhile, the iconic V Steel sole has a more rounded leading edge, which augments the club’s versatility in different lies.

The customizable Stealth 2 Plus comes with a 50-gram movable weight along the sole. Positioning the weight in the most-forward setting produces the lowest ball flight and spin, while the rear setting delivers the highest shots and most forgiveness. 

Although the Stealth 2 has no movable weight, the head is a little larger and more forgiving than the Plus on mis-hits.

Armed with more aggressive internal weighting, the Stealth 2 HD (stands for High Draw) offers the most forgiveness and highest shots that tend to fly with draw bias. Available lofts: Stealth 2 Plus—15° (3), 18° (5); Stealth 2—15° (3), 16.5° (3HL), 18° (5), 21° (7), 24° (9); Stealth 2 HD—16° (3), 19° (5), 23° (7).

Callaway Paradym, Paradym X and Paradym TD Fairway Woods 

Companies constantly strive to shed weight from “low-stress” areas of the clubhead and redistribute the mass elsewhere. Using a carbon crown instead of stainless steel is a popular way to save a few grams. Instead, with the Paradym family, Callaway utilizes lightweight forged carbon in the sole (Paradym) and toe areas (Paradym X). By doing so, heavy tungsten cartridges can be positioned low and near the clubface, which improves spin properties and ball speed. In addition, the proprietary A.I.-designed “Jailbreak” structure stiffens the body. As a result, the maraging-steel face cup can flex more, and generate faster, more consistent ball speeds on off-center hits. 

Designed for a wide range of golfers, the Paradym is the mid-launch, mid-spin option with neutral ball flight. The Paradym X offers more forgiveness, higher launch and a slight draw bias. A third model, Paradym Triple Diamond, is for stronger players who’d benefit from a lower-spinning, boring flight. Lofts: Paradym—15° (3), 16.5° (3HL), 18° (5), 20° (Heavenwood), 21° (7), 24° (9), 27° (11); Paradym X—15° (3), 16.5° (3HL), 18° (5), 21° (7); Paradym TD—13.5° (3+), 15° (3), 18° (5).

Titleist TSR2, TSR3 and TSR1 Fairway Woods 

Hitting fairway woods consistently well off the ground can be a challenge, particularly for moderate-to-slow swingers. The ultra-lightweight TSR1 might be the answer. With a cleverly designed head shape and weighting enhancements (i.e., mass removed from the high heel), golfers can expect high-launching shots, more ball speed and plenty of forgiveness. 

Titleist’s newest woods include two additional models, the TSR2 and TSR3. Again, inessential mass high and heel-side is moved lower in the head. The results are impressive. The TSR2 has the lowest-ever center of gravity in an all-steel Titleist fairway wood. Not surprisingly, it’s more forgiving, longer and flies higher than its predecessor, the TSi2. 

With the TSR3, players benefit from several adjustability features, including the five-position track system on the sole to fine-tune ball flight. Plus, golfers can tweak swing weight. As always, we recommend that you collaborate with Golf Galaxy club fitters to take full advantage of the adjustable settings. Lofts: TSR1 (high lofts available)—15° (3-wood), 18° (5), 20° (7) and 23° (9-wood; custom order). TSR2—15°, 16.5°, 18°, 21°. TSR3—13.5°, 15°, 16.5°, 18°.

Ping G430 Max and G430 SFT Fairway Woods  

We’ve all been there—on shots struck low on the clubface, the ball invariably spins too much, which costs ball speed and carry distance. Knowing this, Ping’s design team updated the roll radius (amount of curvature from crown to sole) with less loft low on the face. The not-so-subtle change reduces spin on low hits and leads to improved carry. 

In addition, both the G430 Max (max forgiveness) and draw-bias G430 SFT feature a lightweight composite crown that wraps around the stainless-steel body in the heel and toe. All told, 10 grams are saved in the crown area. The resultant lower center of gravity enhances forgiveness and ball speed, so shots should fly higher and longer. Plus, the high-strength maraging steel face wraps into the crown and sole, which creates more of a “trampoline effect” at impact. 

Both models come in a High Launch (HL) version that’s significantly lighter overall and built for golfers with slower swings. Lofts: G430 Max—15° (3-wood), 18° (5), 21° (7), 24° (9); G430 SFT—16° (3-wood), 19° (5), 22° (7).

TaylorMade Stealth 2 Core, Stealth 2 Plus and Stealth HD Hybrids 

Behold the shared technologies in TaylorMade’s first-ever family of three hybrids. First, the updated “Inverted Cone” titanium face increases ball speeds over more of the hitting area. There’s also a light titanium crown, which contributes to a lower center of gravity and leads to higher launch and more forgiveness than the original Stealth. And let’s not forget the venerable V Steel sole that’s versatile enough to navigate a variety of lies.  

The Stealth 2 Plus hybrid, unlike the matching fairway wood, does not feature a movable weight along the sole. However, there is a 5-gram fixed sole weight that helps decrease spin, which can improve overall forgiveness and distance. The club’s natural ball flight is mid-launch, mid-spin with a neutral shot bias.

The Stealth 2 is engineered to produce higher-launching shots than the Plus model with relatively less spin. 

With higher lofts and more draw-bias weighting, the Stealth 2 HD (High Draw) suits players with moderate swing speeds. Lofts: Stealth 2 Plus—17° (2), 19.5° (3), 22° (4); Stealth 2—19° (3), 22° (4), 25° (5), 28° (6), 31° (7); Stealth 2 HD—20° (3), 23° (4), 27° (5), 31° (6).

Callaway Paradym and Paradym X Hybrids 

With the debut of the Paradym series, one thing is clear: Callaway’s continuing to evolve—and improve—A.I.-designed clubface technology. Both new models, Paradym and Paradym X, feature a powerful face cup made of 455-stainless steel. Plus, the perimeter of the frame is stiffer than previous models. This enables the hitting area to flex even more, which leads to faster ball speeds and, potentially, longer shots. Meanwhile, there’s a heavy tungsten sole weight positioned low and toward the face to decrease backspin. The winning formula—lively face, faster ball speed and lower spin—adds up to longer shots. Also, the reconfigured sole has more camber (curvature) on the leading edge, making it easier for the clubhead to get through turf. With the adjustable hosel, players can tweak face angle or loft (+2° to -1°). The midsize Paradym has a neutral flight bias for low-to-mid handicappers, while the draw-bias, oversize Paradym X targets mid-to high handicappers. Lofts: Paradym—18° (3H), 21° (4H), 24° (5H), 27° (6H); Paradym X—18° (3H), 21° (4H), 24° (5H), 27° (6H), 30° (7H).

Titleist TSR1, TSR2 and TSR3 Hybrids 

Two new models, the TSR2 and TSR3, feature a redesigned sole with “relief” pockets so the heads can move seamlessly through the rough or fairway. Overall, the clubs are higher launching as well as more powerful and forgiving than their predecessors. How do the two heads differ from one another? The TSR2, for players who prefer to use a sweeping swing, is the more forgiving model due to the longer blade length and lower, more rearward center of gravity (CG). The TSR3, for players who prefer to hit down like they would an iron, has less offset for more workability. The TSR3 also has a five-position sliding track. Simply adjust the CG to dial in the desired ball flight. 

A third model, the ultra-lightweight TSR1, is for golfers with moderate swing speeds. The TSR1 heads are larger than most hybrids, attach to longer shafts, and come in several high-lofted options. Lofts: TSR1—20° (4H), 23° (5H), 26° (6H) and 29° (7H); TSR2—18° (3H), 21° (4H), 24° (5H); TSR3—19° (3H), 21° (4H), 24° (5H).

Ping G430 Hybrid

The stainless-steel G430 employs several design features that make it fun to play in a variety of conditions. A high-strength maraging-steel clubface wraps into the crown and sole, which allows the face to flex more, producing added ball speed. With eight different hosel settings, there’s plenty of opportunity to find the loft (+/- 1.5°) or lie angle (up to 3° flatter than standard) that compliments your natural ball flight. Using a carbon crown (it wraps around the heel and toe areas) saves eight grams versus steel. The added weight lower and more rearward (tungsten backweight) should result in more playable misses. 

There’s also a lightweight option, G430 High Launch (HL), for slower-swing-speed players. With even more sole weight plus high-launching shafts, the targeted players will have an easier time getting shots airborne on a reasonable trajectory. Lofts: G430—17° (2h), 19° (3h), 22° (4h), 26° (5h), 30° (6h), 34° (7h); G430 HL—19° (3h), 22° (4h), 26° (5h), 30° (6h), 34° (7h).

Titleist U-505 Utility Iron 

At first blush, the U-505 looks the part: a versatile, full-bodied iron with shallow face and wide sole. By design, it has a shorter blade than the company’s previous utility iron, the U-510. It all adds up to a high-launching, powerful long-iron replacement. The thin, forged, L-shaped clubface packs a wallop, while polymer placed inside the hollow head helps maintain ball speeds on off-center hits. In addition, dense tungsten plugs low and toward the heel are key in generating higher flight than the U-510. It’s common for hollow-headed irons to have some sort of mechanism to control impact vibration and sound. In this instance, a polymer-infused “plate” covers up the back cavity. Lofts: 16° (1i), 18° (2i), 20° (3i), 22° (4i).

PING iCrossover 

Designed for better players, the compact iCrossover has a thin, lively maraging steel face and lower center of gravity than standard long irons. As a result, golfers can expect shots to spin more, fly higher (and farther) and land more softly on the green. In addition, the flat-face design (no bulge or roll) should deliver more directional control than typical hybrids. 

Another nicety: the adjustable hosel (default setting is 0° loft/1.5° upright lie) can be configured to eight different positions, including 1° stronger-than-standard loft with 1° upright lie, or 1.5° weaker loft with standard lie, and so on. We recommend that you work with one of our qualified fitting professionals, rather than on your own, to ensure the setup is best-suited to your needs. Lofts: 18° (2-crossover), 20° (3), 22.5° (4).

TaylorMade Stealth DHY Utility iron 

While the company’s Stealth UDI is more of a traditional driving iron, the Stealth DHY is a cross between driving iron and hybrid. Given its wider sole and lower center of gravity, the DHY (or driving hybrid) makes it easier for players to get shots airborne on a playable trajectory. Like the UDI, this one has a forged steel clubface with the company’s “inverted cone” design to bump up ball speed on slight off-center strikes. Plus, there’s a slot along the sole which allows the face to flex more, particularly on shots struck toward the bottom half. The additional flexion aids shots that otherwise would fall well short of the target. Lastly, the hollow body is filled with a proprietary lightweight foam that refines the feel and sound of impact. Lofts: 17° (2), 19° (3), 22° (4), 25° (5).

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