The Curious Case of Gear Effect and the 3-Wood

About five years ago I did what many golfers do. I wanted a new 3-wood, and I went on the internet and purchased one that I figured would be good for my game. No testing, no real research. I figured this brand (it was Adams) had a good reputation for making quality fairway woods so I went ahead and bought one. Little did I know having this club coupled with a concept called gear effect would make it harder to hit quality golf shots.

After several rounds I started to notice a bizarre trend occurring with my new fairway wood. When I hit it properly, everything would be fine. Straight shots, and plenty of distance off the tee.

However, when I didn’t really "catch it" I would get wildly inconsistent results. Shots slicing or hooking too much, and far less distance than I should be getting. You can see from my GAME GOLF data that I was hitting my 3-wood just as far as my 3-iron hybrid. Something was clearly up.

The dispersion seemed to be much more extreme than any of my other clubs in the bag. As you would expect, I started to develop a psychological block with this club, and as time went on I pretty much avoided using it.

One playing partner of mine made a keen observation: “no enemies in the bag.”

If I was using less than driver off the tee, I would use my 3-hybrid instead. Since I was a bit too stubborn to admit that I had made a mistake at the time, I kept the club in my bag instead of investing in a new one that was better suited for my swing.

Fast forward a few years later, I decided it was time to figure out what was actually going on. I went to my friends over at Pete’s Golf Shop, and did some work with co-owner Woody Lashen on their launch monitors to find out what exactly was happening.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what golf equipment can and can’t do for your golf game. None of that is helped by the strong claims by many of the manufacturers. In this article I am going to give you a clear example of what can happen with the wrong club.

Spinning Out of Control

Since I have worked with Woody several times in the past, he had a good idea of my swing profile. I don’t usually have issues with too much spin with woods or irons, and any club that has a higher spin profile is generally a bad idea for a player like myself.

Woody took one look at the 3-wood and told me “that club spins way too much for you” even before I started hitting shots with his Foresight system.

Several swings later the results were confirmed.

It’s not that this was a bad golf club, it just wasn’t the golf club for me.

This particular 3-wood had a much higher center of gravity, which is intended to help higher-handicap golfers get the ball in the air more easily. However, for a player like myself with more swing speed it was actually hurting me.

Taking a look at the numbers versus other 3-woods that were better suited for my swing, you can see that the spin numbers and distances changed dramatically.

The other fairway woods took my spin rate down by 25%, which is a significant number. Additionally, I gained almost 20 yards in distance.

The Mysterious Gear Effect

Let’s explore the reason why I was experiencing so much inconsistency with this club when I didn’t hit it properly.

There’s a concept called gear effect that you may or may not have heard of. I’ll briefly define it for you…

Gear effect is sidespin which is the result of an off-center hit with a club whose center of gravity is well back from the clubface.

Here is a video form Trackman featuring Martin Chuck to also give you a better explanation of what gear effect is.

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Long story short, when using a driver or fairway wood, if you strike the heel of the club it will put left to right sidespin on the ball, and vice versa for a toe strike.

My tendency as a player is to have my misses on the heel of the club. With a wood that spins too much for me that is a recipe for disaster. When I made contact on the heel with this club it actually caused my ball to slice, and the extra spin just made it worse.

This is exactly why when I hit shots off target they would travel much further off line than usual.

This is a perfect scenario that explains how getting the right club fitted for you can change your results on the golf course.

Woody decided to go with a Callaway XR Pro 3-wood because it had a profile that matched my swing, and we also used the same shaft from our driver experiment.

What Will This Actually Do?

Now that I have a golf club that will spin less for me, can I expect to hit straight shots every time?

No, not quite!

Golfers have wildly unrealistic expectations in many parts of their game, and equipment is no different. That’s exactly why I try to write these articles to educate all of you about concepts like gear effect, and what equipment can and can’t do for your game.

In this example you have seen what happened when I just randomly purchased a club that I thought would be good for me based on brand reputation. It didn’t work out well.

But what can you expect when you are properly fitted with the right club from someone that knows what they’re doing?

Well it’s not perfection, that’s for sure. In this case, because the club was so dramatically wrong for me, getting the right one had an immediate benefit. My shot trajectory was much tighter, and I immediately picked up more distance. You can see from my GAME GOLF data that I'm now hitting the new 3-wood a much more reasonable distance for my swing speed.

If I had to summarize what the right equipment can do for your game it would be making your good shots a little bit better, and your bad shots a little less worse.

That’s a very rudimentary way of putting it, but it’s a very realistic explanation believe it or not.

This new 3-wood is not going to allow me to hit every fairway. However, when I don’t hit it properly it won’t spin as much, which probably won’t cause it to veer as far off target as my previous club and I probably won't lose as much distance.

Not magic. Not 5 strokes off my scores, but marginal improvements. Over time that might add up to a noticeable difference in my game.

If you want to learn more about golf equipment, I encourage you to check these articles out:

Why You Should Get Fitted for Golf Clubs

The Quest for a More Accurate Driver

Single Length Irons - Passing Fad, or Here to Stay

Why It's so Important to Have the Right Lie Angle

What is Wedge Bounce, and How Do You Use It?

Should You Get Fit for a Putter?

Read This Before You Get Your Next Driver

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