Fairway Woods Relevant Again - So We Put Them To The Test

This time last season, if you looked in any golfer's bag, more often than not you'd find a new driver, new(ish) irons, fresh wedges, and a new putter to replace the one that just stopped working. But fairway woods...you'd still find guys who 3 woods were actually made of wood. Golfers carried 'em, but that didn't mean we actually cared about them. What was in our bags, most of us didn't love, but hey, at least it was familiar, and since it'd been years since anything gave us pause to consider replacing them, we kept them around. But let's be honest; nobody gave a damn about fairway woods.

And then IT happened.

The "it" was the TaylorMade's RocketBallz Fairway Wood.

Regardless of what you happen to think about TaylorMade, its products, or the marketing behind them, nobody on the smart side of Gump'd would argue that TaylorMade, with one astounding claim, did something nobody in the industry would have dreamt possible. They made the fairway wood relevant. I'd go so far as to suggest that TaylorMade turned 2012 into the Year of the Fairway Wood. All it took was a slot and the promise of 17 More Yards, and suddenly fairway woods mattered again.

The new found interest in golf's forgotten clubs provided the perfect opportunity for our staff to round up ten nine fairway woods from the biggest names in golf, hit them head to head against one another, look at the data, and sort out the longest, the most accurate, and the best overall fairway woods on the market today.

Is the RocketBallz really the longest? What's the most accurate fairway wood on the market today? What's the best option overall? And what about those clubs that while not ideal for everyone, might prove to be great options for the right kind of player?

We wanted to find out.

In today's (Part I) we examine overall distance. As you'll see, there a few real standouts in this bunch, and as is usually the case when MyGolfSpy puts golf clubs to the test, a few surprises as well. Be sure to check out the Distance Data section at the bottom of this review for detailed launch monitor data (individual and group averages) for all of the clubs in the test.

Let's get to it.

TaylorMade RocketBallz - 1st Place Total Distance

ERMAHGERD, I CAN HAZ 17 MORE YARDZ!

That's basically what TaylorMade wanted you to believe when they released the RocketBallz fairway wood. You probably heard something about it at the time (lord knows I did). The claim was bold. Clearly the suggestion is that the TaylorMade RocketBallz is the longest fairway wood in golf, and consumers bought in to such an insane degree that TaylorMade spent a good chunk of the season reporting record earnings (again).

Of course, as is sometimes the case when TaylorMade does its marketing-thang, some were dubious of the claims. "There's no way a marketing company's club could actually be the longest", said many. As it turns out...WAY.

Based on our test results, while it's not the longest for everyone, comparing the raw averages of our 5 testers, the RocketBallz is actually is the longest fairway wood in golf. #believeit (whoops, I crossed up my official golf hashtags there). #17MoreYards...#FreakishlyLonger...I don't know. It's so hard to keep track these days.

We didn't want to hand TaylorMade the crown before giving Adams's XTD a shot, but just because we want to do something, doesn't mean we can. No doubt conspiracy theorists will assume TaylorMade had something to do with Adams not being able to provide samples (I don't personally believe it). The bottom line is we weren't able to turn this battle into a referendum on slot technology, but from this bunch, the TaylorMade RocketBallz is the clear distance king.

With the TaylorMade RocketBallz our testers produced a combined average of 250.67 yards of total distance. That's just shy of 2.5 yards more than the 2nd place club. While 2.5 isn't exactly 17, in fairness, TaylorMade only promised that its club was 17 yards longer than its own previous model. And for guys looking to squeeze every inch out of their fairway woods, 2 and half yards is...well...2 and a half yards.

The RBZ has a reputation for launching the ball comparatively low, and perhaps picking up some additional yards due to roll. While some of the rep proved to be true, it should be pointed out that the RocketBallz also produced the longest carry distance (244.73 /249.77 adjusted) of any club in our test.

If you're looking for a reasonable explanation for the added distance, the number suggest the combination of the fastest average ball speeds (145.19) and 2nd lowest average back spin numbers (31.69.53) are the significant contributing factors. Regardless, for overall distance, the TaylorMade RocketBallz came out on top.

Silver Lining: When you're #1 in overall distance, you don't need no stinkin' silver lining.

BUY NOW: $179

eBay: Click Here

Callaway RAZR Fit - 2nd Place Total Distance

It's only a slight simplification to suggest that until very recently Callaway's approach to marketing has been, "Hey, were' not TaylorMade...and also, check out Justin Timberlake...he's driving around in our forged composite Lamborghini". In many respects Callaway's RAZR Fit is the anti-RocketBallz. While TaylorMade was talking about 17 more yards, Callaway basically said nothing about their surprisingly good little fairway wood. If you didn't know any better, you might have believed Callaway's fairways only exist to fill the background in pictures of their RAZR Fit Driver. As it turns out, the fairway is actually a pretty sweet little club itself.

Our testers combined for an average 248.22 yards with carry yardage accounting for 242.88 of it. That's 2nd overall for carry distance Not bad...not bad at all.

Interestingly, the RAZR Fit was the 2nd lowest launching of the fairway woods we tested (13.58°), which like the results for the RocketBallz run counter to the assertion that lower launch always leads to more roll. Under certain launch conditions, low launch can also produce more carry.

While there is one exception, the fairway woods that performed the best for us were the ones where average spin numbers stayed below 3400 RPM. The RAZR Fit was on the higher end of low (3314.24 RPM average), but distance doesn't appear to have suffered much at all as a result.

Silver Lining: #2 , and right on the heels of the RocketBallz. This is not the same old Callaway.

BUY NOW: $149

eBay: Click Here

Mizuno MP-650 - 3rd Place Total Distance

"I didn't know Mizuno made anything but irons". Seriously...one of our testers said that. Not only is he now keenly aware of the fact that Mizuno makes woods, we've all learned that they make a pretty damn good ones. If you're looking for the single biggest surprise of the entire test, it's Mizuno's MP-650. The RocketBallz is supposed to be really good, but a Mizuno fairway wood? Pffft.

As it turns out, the Mizuno MP-650 was not only above average, it finished 3rd in overall distance. Our testers hit the MP-650 an average of 248.16 yards. For the mathematically challenged, that's all of 2.16 inches behind Callaway's RAZR Fit. Not bad for a club that nobody (well...nobody other than GolfSpy X) thought would be competitive.

Somewhat surprisingly (and in spite of its Titanium face), the MP-650 finished fourth in average ball speed (143.93), but still produced more total distance than the club that ranked 2nd for ball speed.

The MP-650 was average for launch angle (14.93°), while producing the least spin (3005.19) of any fairway wood in the test. Generally speaking, high launch and low spin is a solid recipe for distance, but mid launch and low spin will get you there as well.

Silver Lining: The MP-650 proves Mizuno woods can hunt with the big dogs.

BUY NOW: $199

eBay: Click Here

Cobra AMP

You could make a case that the results for Cobra's AMP Fairway are the single most intriguing in our entire test. The Cobra guys will admit that last year's AMP Driver was a bit spinnier than most of what they've produced in recent years. Not surprisingly, our results suggest the same is true of the AMP Fairway.

So what's interesting about a club that spins too much for our test pool?

Well...since you asked...despite being one of the 3 highest spinning woods, the Cobra AMP finished 4th in overall distance (248.19 yards), and 2nd overall for total carry distance (248.19 yards). It also produced the 2nd highest average ball speed (144.24) and the 3rd lowest launch (14.28°). The damn thing performs.

Unlike the majority of clubs in this test, our shaft choices were limited to the stock made for Aldila RIP, which at a minimum is likely a contributing factor to the 3555.10 RPM average spin rate. While we can't be certain we could have brought the number down with a broader selection of shafts (there were 3 clubs where we had a decent shaft selection and were still unable to improve spin rates much), given how good the rest of the numbers looked, it would have been interesting to find out.

It's easily the best of the rest...and probably better than that.

Silver Lining: With some lower spinning shaft options, the AMP probably would have cracked the top 3, and might have made a serious run at the RocketBallz.

BUY NOW: $129

eBay: Click Here

Titleist 910

Historically speaking, Titleist clubs have gained a reputation for being about as forgiving as your wife might be should what happened in Vegas fail to stay there. Now I believe that, for their part, Titleist hadn't done anything to diminish their reputation for being for club better players. That rep has given Titliest an air of exclusivity, and as it turns out, there's probably some truth to the idea that Titliest may not be quite as forgiving as some others.

The handicaps of our testing pool for this test range from 4 to something in the ballpark of 18. Some of the guys are very solid ball strikers, and some of us, well...let's just say we use every inch of the face, and those off-center hits... the 910 appears to punish the golfer more than most.

The Titleist 910 finished 5th in total average distance (246.58 yards), and 5th in carry distance (240.31) and 6th overall in ball speed (142.93 MPH). As it usually is, it's that ball speed number that is key.

Launch angle (14.81°) and back spin (3197.12 RPM) were both in line, and perhaps, generally speaking, better than some of the clubs that finished ahead of it, but for whatever reason, our testers simply weren't able to generate the kind of velocity off the face that they did with many of the other clubs in this test.

Just guessing here, but for the pure ballstrikers among us...those guys who actually wear out the meaty part of the clubface, the 910 would likely perform much better. The rest of us will probably be better served with one of the clubs that finished ahead of it on this list.

Silver Lining: We love the low spin numbers, and would definitely recommend the Titleist 910 to better players who place a premium on being able to work the ball.

BUY NOW: $249

eBay: Click Here

Bridgestone J40

The results of our testing with the Bridgestone J40 fairway wood are polarized. Our two lowest handicap golfers put up excellent individual results with the club (longest overall for one, 2nd longest for the other), while our mid and higher handicap golfers struggled quite a bit. Much like the Titleist 910, the results suggest the J40 probably will appeal more to more consistent ball strikers, and that for that segment, it should prove to be among the very best on the market.

As a group our testers averaged 243.45 yards (238.43 carry). Telling is that our better players averaged significantly more distance (253 and 255) than the group as a whole. Overall ball speed numbers were below average for clubs we tested, however; our better ballstrikers produced ball speed significantly above the average for the club (the remaining testers significantly dropped the averages). All of this supports the contention that the J40 is an excellent choice for better golfers.

Our testers produced high-average launch angles (14.86°), and average spin (3407.26). Bridgestone did provide us a reasonable selection of shafts, which allowed us in some cases to decrease spin rates by a couple hundred RPM give or take.

Silver Lining: For the most consistent ballstrikers the J40 could be the longest. It's our #1 recommendation for better players.

BUY NOW: $199

eBay: Click Here

Nike VR_S

As you'll find out when we discuss the subjective qualities of the clubs, the VR_S is a club our testers like quite a bit. I go so far as to say that some love it. Unfortunately from a distance perspective, it simply didn't measure up to most of the others in our test.

Our testers averaged 242.60 yards (238.41) carry. Once again, we did have a single tester who achieved outstanding results (#2 overall for him), but generally speaking, our testers didn't hit it very far (comparatively). What we do like is that the VR_S produced higher average ball speeds than 4 of the clubs in this test, however; it clearly didn't translate directly to distance.

If you're looking to point the finger anywhere, the likely culprit is spin. Despite having a very good selection of aftermarket shafts to work with, almost to a man, our testers spun the ball more than we think is desirable (3588.58 RPM). Admittedly, those averages are boosted by 1 plus 4000 RPM tester, and 1 plus 5000 RPM tester, but even the two guys who hit it best produced more spin than they did with most of the other clubs in the test.

It's also true that the Nike VR_S produced among the highest average launch angle (15.14°) and the 2nd highest apex (50.53 yards) of all the clubs in our test. High spin + high launch + high apex = ballooning, and that's what happened here more often than not.

Unfortunately we don't have any true low spin players in our testing pool, but I suspect that if we did, the results would be substantially better.

Silver Lining: High launch and high spin suggest the VR_S is an ideal option for guys who otherwise have trouble getting the ball in the air with their fairway clubs.

BUY NOW: $109

eBay: Click Here

PING G20

We gave PING the choice of which fairway wood to send and they chose the G20. For the right guy, it's unquestionably a very good fairway wood, but I think the i20 (our request for product was sent pre-Anser) would have been a better fit for our testers, and I think, in hindsight anyway, PING would probably agree.

Somewhat surprisingly the PING G20 finished near the bottom for overall average distance (240.63) and some of our testers found they hit the matching 5 wood almost as far. The average ball speed numbers produced (140.98) were also near the bottom.

Spin rates (3457.69) were only slightly above average, while the average launch angle produced (15.30°) was the highest of any club in our test.

It's somewhat unfortunate that the Anser fairway wasn't available at the time we started this project. Given everything we know about our testers and PING woods, I think it's safe to assume the G20 head probably isn't the best fit for the majority of our testers.

Silver Lining: We still think it's an excellent choice for the game-improvement crowd, and we think our guys will love the i20 and Anser fairways.

BUY NOW: $169

eBay: Click Here

TourEdge XCG5

Let me put it out there right now; given its titanium face, the fact that the XCG5 was used to break the world record for ball speed, and how well the CB4 fairway performed for us; going into this we thought the XCG5 was the club most likely to steal the distance crown from the TaylorMade RocketBallz. To say that didn't happen would be a bit of an understatement.

There's no way to sugarcoat it, the XCG5 fairway finished last in overall distance (239.78 yards / 235.81 carry). To put the number in perspective; while it's less than a yard behind the PING G20, it's also nearly 11 yard behind the TaylorMade RocketBallz.

As with most of the clubs in this test; when distance suffered, above average spin rates would seem to be at the root of the problem. Our testers produced an average 3835.97 RPM, which is more than 500 RPM above the mean. Although we had multiple flexes, weights, and shaft models to choose from, all but one of our testers struggled to produce consistently positive results with the XCG5.

For our highest swing speed golfer, the difference between the club he hit the longest and the XCG5 was is astounding 26 yards. The distance gap between the XCG5 and the next shortest club for him is still over 5.5 yards. If we look at the numbers differently, and drop the lowest performing tester for each club in the test, thee XCG5 actually moves up to #6 on this list.

While we can't make a legitimate case that the XCG5's distance numbers suggest it deserves to be in the top 3, it does appear that average distance numbers were more heavily skewed by one or two individual results than any other club in our test.

Silver Lining: Much, much better than our averages suggest. While perhaps it's not among the elite, for the guy it fits, it almost certainly would be.

BUY NOW: $219

eBay: Click Here

By The Numbers - (For Easy Reading)

By The Numbers - (For The Data Heads)

In the chart below you'll find all of the relevant distance-related data for the 9 fairway woods in the test. By cycling through the various tabs you can view individual tester averages for Carry and Overall Distance, Ball Speed and Spin Rates, as well as Launch Angle and Apex. The final tab (Group Averages), shows how each club performed for our testers as a group. As we always do, we've provided you the ability to sort the data and to filter by club and golfer. The dotted gray line represents the average for each data point in the charts. When you filter (remove testers or clubs), the average is dynamically updated based on which clubs and golfers are left in the filter set.

Next Up

Distance is only one piece of the equation when considering a new fairway wood. In part 2 (tomorrow) we'll be looking at how accurate each of these clubs was for our testers, and you'll get our tester's takes on the companion 5 woods.

Also, be sure to check out the Official Ultimate Fairway Wood Test Discussion Thread in the MyGolfSpy Forum. We'll provide more detailed information about the challenges we faced during the test, and the test themselves. You can also use the thread as Q&A forum. The thread will be continuously updated as we publish each of the 3 parts in this test series.