The fairway wood-vs.-hybrid debate seems to get a little hotter every year. Fairway woods have been around for decades, but hybrids are the “new kids on the block” and receiving more attention. Even professionals are split--while most have at least one hybrid in the bag, Tiger Woods carries only fairway woods and Phil Mickelson carries a hybrid most of the time, but not always. Both types of clubs have advantages, and Golfsmith provides guidance on how to choose which is best for your game.
Although now made from various metal and composite materials, fairway woods have always looked just like their namesake--woods. However, unlike a driver designed for use off of a tee, they are meant to be hit directly off the fairway--hence the name. Hybrids are designed to be a cross between a wood and an iron, incorporating the distance and ease of hitting that characterized fairway woods with the accuracy of an iron.
Fairway woods have been around for many years--for example, Bobby Jones used fairway woods as part of his arsenal in the 1920s and '30s. In fact, players then often carried more fairway woods than we use now; one popular club of the time was called a “brassie,” and our modern equivalent would be a 2-wood. Hybrids are a much more modern development. TaylorMade’s Tour Preferred Raylor, a utility wood with runners on its sole, was introduced in 1988 and is the forerunner of modern hybrids.
Hybrids, unlike fairway woods, were designed to replace other clubs. Hybrids have shorter shafts than fairway woods, making them easier to control; hybrids built more like woods are intended to provide more accuracy than a corresponding fairway wood. The most popular hybrids are meant to replace a player’s long irons; the larger wood-like heads are much easier to get airborne than a corresponding long iron.
Hybrids combine some of the best qualities of woods and irons. The heads generally have a smaller-sized face like that of an iron, but the head is much deeper, more like a fairway wood. This allows them to incorporate the advanced backweighting techniques and materials used to create extra distance and accuracy in woods. A typical hybrid uses the flat face of an iron, making it easier for players to create backspin and stop the ball on the green.
Although most modern hybrids are more like irons, there is another branch on the hybrid family tree. Those clubs are often referred to as “rescue clubs,” and they look very much like any other hybrid except that the face is curved slightly, similar to a fairway wood. This allows them to impart more roll to the ball when it lands, increasing the distance you can hit them. Rescue clubs are the direct descendants of utility woods such as the TaylorMade Raylor, and are well-suited for hitting out of tough lies.