Congratulations, you’ve chosen a comfortable grip, or hold position, and learned how to place your hands on the club. You have an idea about the basic concepts of a fundamentally sound swing, and our gurus have shown you the proper way to address each shot and where the ball should be positioned in your stance.
Now is a good time to learn when to hit each club.
On the practice range, it’s best to start swinging with your shortest clubs. On the golf course, though, things usually start with the driver, the biggest club in your bag. Drivers may vary in shaft length, clubhead size and loft angle, but they usually are labeled No. 1.
You may have other woods in your bag, with numbers such as 3, 4, 5 and even a 7 or 9. As with irons, the higher-numbered woods generate more height, less distance. These clubs are called woods because, before modern clubmakers began using metallic substances, clubfaces were made of wood such as persimmon and maple.
Without swinging any harder, you should be able to hit your driver farther than any other club. Therefore, typically you will use it to hit your first shot on most par 4s and par 5s—and perhaps some longer par 3s.
Because you can hit the ball farther with this driving club, you might wonder why you don’t use it all the time. The reason is simple: Your first shot is the only one you may place on a tee, and the driver’s clubface has a very slight angle (7 to 12 degrees), which makes it difficult to hit a ball off the ground. Your other wood clubs are ideally designed to hit those shots because their clubfaces have more loft.
Though distance varies from golfer to golfer, the 3-wood and 5-wood typically are used when you are more than 175 yards from the hole. But for the sake of golfers playing in the group ahead of you, please don’t experiment with distances during a round.
Have an idea beforehand how far you can hit each club. This not only will help you score better but also prevent a potential embarrassing (and painful) explanation of why your previous shot landed in the seat of the golf cart ahead of you.
The ideal way to determine how far you hit the ball—using a normal swing—is to test each club at a practice range. Most ranges have yardage markers, and as you work your way from club to club, you will begin to get an idea of your distance with each club.
Remember, each club is designed to hit a ball a certain distance, so rather than overswinging, let the club do the work. Take that knowledge to the golf course.
As you continue to hit shots with each club, you might discover that the distance between some clubs is negligible. At this point, it becomes a matter of preference. Some golfers, for example, might feel more comfortable hitting a 7-wood from 150 yards than a 5-iron. Individualize your game around your comfort level.
Many new golfers find it easier to hit a higher-numbered wood than a long iron (2, 3 or 4). The benefit in using irons over woods is they generally provide similar distance with more accuracy. Again, test each club at a driving range to determine which one you are most comfortable hitting.
Mid-irons (5, 6 or 7) serve multiple purposes but typically are used within 150 yards of the hole. These “approach shots” tend to travel higher and land more softly, ideally on or around the green. Many golfers also use these clubs to tee off on par 3s.
As you get closer to the green, accuracy becomes critical. As you play more, you will quickly discover that the majority of your shots are within 100 yards of the green. You want to hit your short-iron shots (your 8-iron, 9-iron and wedges) as close to the flagstick as possible. These clubs provide the most loft, which means your shots should go higher and roll less.
The key to the basic shots is learning your distances. That way, when you need to hit a 125-yard approach shot close to the hole to beat your best friend or a mortal enemy, you’ll know exactly which weapon to draw.