There are certain words or phrases in sports that superstitious players love to avoid. In golf, there’s no word that gets a cold sweat going faster in a golfer than the word “shank.” It has created many mental issues in many players, as a shot that shoots 90 degrees to the right for the right handed player can paralyze that player for the next shot and beyond. But there is hope out there for those of you who struggle with the “shanks,” and it’s time to help you figure out the reasons for it so we can cure it forever.
First, let’s define the “shank.” It is a shot that is hit off of the neck, or hosel, of the club and goes immediately sideways. It feels just plain awful, looks terrible, and as soon as it happens it creates an awkward silence in any foursome on the course, as if the other players are afraid of catching it like a disease. But in my experience there are 2 main reasons for hitting the “shank”, so let’s tackle them.
One of the main reasons for the “shank” is the player swings excessively steep and downward into the golf ball. This means that from the top of the swing, the club shaft gets very vertical coming down, and there is nowhere to go but down on top of the ball, usually with the hosel of the golf club. Typically, these types of players have issues at the top of the swing. Their club points way to the right of the target line (for a right handed player), which also leads to their elbows getting very far apart. Once in this position at the top, the “path of least resistance” is straight downward into the ball, leading to the sweet spot of the golf club moving too far outside of the golf ball and a shot off of the hosel is the result.
The way to fix this is to get a small beach ball or kickball and put it between your forearms at set up. Go to the top and feel a shorter backswing where your elbows stay closer together and the club isn’t pointing in an extreme position. Then, as you start down, focus on maintaining pressure between the elbows as if squeezing the ball together between them. You will be amazed, as you start hitting shots slowly off of a tee, how this lines up the sweet spot of the golf club on the ball. “Shanks” fixed!
The other main way to “shank” the ball is to come too much from the inside of the ball. This is generally a better player’s miss and happens 1 of 2 ways. First, the player gets the shaft a bit too vertical as they start down, but being a good player, they drop the club head back in order to try and get the club to come from inside the ball (swinging out to the right). This drop back of the club head happens too late, causing the hands to move outward and the club head to do the same, and the result is a shot off of the hosel. This player needs to feel the hands work a touch more outward as they start down, so that the shaft of the club “lays down” or gets less vertical in the start down to the ball. A great image of what should happen here is to look at a baseball hitter. The bat starts vertical, but when they step into the pitch what does the bat do? It flattens out in order to make contact, which is exactly what a good golfer should do as well.
The second way some of my better players “shank” the ball is to let their pelvis come toward the ball too much on the downswing. As they come into the ball, the space between their hands and their body shrinks too rapidly, pushing the club outward from the ball and hitting it on the hosel. These players should focus on a couple of feels. Imagine that you are bending over a fence line, and that through impact, your pelvis can’t get closer to the ball; rather, it stays tucked under and gives your hands and club room to swing down the line instead of moving away from the body. The other way is to feel the rear end staying back, almost as if you are rolling the back pockets of your pants along a wall through impact. If you push the pelvis out to the ball, the back pockets would come off of the wall and a “shank” can occur. Keep in mind that on the backswing, the right back pocket (for the right hander) is on the wall, then as the club transitions into impact, both pockets get onto the wall briefly, then the back left pocket at impact. These kind of images will help tremendously to improve your impact conditions.
So fear has many names in golf. The “shank,” the “hosel rocket,” the “Joey Shankapotomaus”, or just simply “the right shot.” But you don’t have to speak in hushed tones any longer. Fight the good fight and understand why it happens, and enjoy your trip to the middle of the club face for the rest of your golfing life.