The shank shot is something most golfers associate with iron or pitch shots but it can spread its tentacles much wider.
One place the shank can rear its ugly, unwelcome head is in bunkers. Amateur golfers tend to struggle with bunker shots before the shank appears so stopping that dreadful shot quickly is very important. If a golfer finds themselves shanking the ball from the bunker, here are some reasons why it might be occurring and how they can fix the problem.
Why do golfers shank the ball in the bunker?
With a normal bunker shot, golfers need to open the club face about 45 degrees at address to help increase the amount of loft and bounce angle. This opening of the club face is important to help play consistent bunker shots. However, by opening up the club face, golfers move the hosel around into a position where it leads through impact. In other words, the club travels into impact with the hosel reaching the ball before the rest of the club face. If the hosel literally reaches the ball first then a shank shot will be produced.
How to stop the shanked bunker shot
There are two main reasons a player could shank a bunker shot.
1. Standing too close to the ball - If a player stands too close to the ball during a bunker shot, the hosel is most likely to hit the ball first. A good indicator to judge if a player is standing too close to a bunker shot is the distance between the hands and thighs at address. If the hands and thighs are almost touching, the club might not have enough room to swing past the body through impact. Golfers should try to leave about four to five inches between the hands and thighs at address.
2. Swing path - When hitting bunker shots, the stance should be slightly open to the target. This allows the golfer to open the club face. However, many golfers who shank bunker shots don't allow the club to travel along a correct path. The club should travel along the toe line (out-to-in in relation to the ball-to-target line). Swinging along the correct path should allow the golfer to strike across and through the ball hitting the ball more off the middle/toe of the club.
To help stop shanked shots from the bunker, players should check these two points of their bunker set up and swing. If they correct one or both of these errors they can swing with more freedom through the ball and start saving more shots from the sand.
Cure Your Golf Bunker Shot Shanks
It's never a good feeling to see your ball disappear into a bunker. As you watch the ball fly through the air toward the fairway or the green, you certainly have high hopes for the shot. Unfortunately, sometimes those hopes are dashed as the ball lands in a bunker, leaving you with a challenging shot to save your par. It should go without saying that avoiding bunkers as often as possible would only mean good things for your scores. If you can keep the ball on the grass throughout the day without running into any bunkers, water hazards, or other undesirable places, you will be on your way to a good round of golf.
Believe it or not, seeing the ball disappear into a bunker could actually be the least of your problems. How so? If you proceed to go into the bunker and hit a shank. Shanking your bunker shot will lead to a long list of potential problems, and you will likely be looking at making at least a double bogey on the hole before all is said and done. While there is no good time to hit a shank, producing one in the bunker may be the worst possible timing. Your situation will have gone from bad to worse, and your frustration will be through the roof as you try to figure out any way possible to simply finish the hole.
The reason a shank from the bunker is likely to be extremely costly on the scorecard is because there is a good chance the ball won't even get out of the bunker. That means you will be left to play another shot from the sand, and you probably will have a poor lie because the ball will have been sent into the corner of the trap. In the worst case scenario, your ball may even plug below the level of the sand, meaning you will most likely need to hit two more shots to just get back onto the grass. If your ball does happen to clear the lip of the bunker after you shank it, the results aren't likely to be much better. You could wind up in a different bunker, in the water, in the tree, or just about anywhere other than where you want to be. To make a long story short, there is nothing good to say about shanking the ball when you are playing from the sand.
Obviously, if you are struggling with the shanks, you will want to correct this issue as quickly as possible. Although it can be highly frustrating, the best way to eliminate the shank from your game is to set aside your emotions and simply look at it as a problem that needs to be solved. Using the information contained in the content below, get to work on your bunker game so that you can play your sand shots with confidence in your upcoming rounds.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Understanding the Bunker Shank
A shank that it is hit on a greenside bunker shot is significantly different than a shank that it struck from the fairway. While these two shots have a couple of things in common, it is best to think of them as completely separate issues, simply because the swings used to create the shanks are so much different. If you are fighting a shank in the bunkers, there is a good chance that your full swing is just fine – so don't worry about making changes to your regular swing technique just because you hit a couple of terrible bunker shots.
On a full swing from the grass, a shank is a shot that strikes the 'hosel' of your club and shoots immediately to the right. Rather than catching the club face only, the ball hits a portion of the club face along with the hosel, which deflects the ball to the right instead of allowing it to go toward your intended target. To fix your shanks in the fairway, you have to move the ball off of the hosel and back out into the center of the face.
The story in the bunker is a little bit different. While it is possible to hit a shank this way from the sand, the more likely occurrence is actually to hit the ball off of the toe of the sand wedge. As you swing down into the sand, you may catch the ball with the toe of the club rather than sliding the club under the ball as you intended. When this happens, the ball will quickly shoot right and you will likely be left in a terrible spot for your next shot. Many golfers mistakenly think that this kind of shank came off of the hosel, but there is a good chance the ball came off of the toe instead. To find out which is the case, take a close look at your club head and check for signs of impact with the ball. Most likely, you will have a small mark either on the hosel or on the toe, depending on what kind of shank you hit.
It is more likely to hit a toe shank in the bunker as opposed to a hosel shank because you will be swinging across the ball intentionally while in the sand. A good bunker player swings across the ball from outside-in while playing from the sand in order to loft the ball gently up into the air. An outside-in swing path will provide elevation to your sand shots, and it will also help you to land the ball softly on the green with plenty of backspin. Unfortunately, the same technique that leads to great bunker shots can also cause a shank from time to time if you swing too quickly across the ball. You still need to line up the center of the club face with the back of the ball, and you need to get the club into the sand before you reach impact. In fact, you don't actually want the club to contact the ball on most bunker shots – instead, you want to toss the sand up into the air, which will carry the ball out and onto the green.
So, if you are hitting a toe shank in the sand, there are likely two problems that need to be corrected. The first problem is the fact that you aren't getting the club into the sand quick enough. If the club was already in the sand when you reached impact, you wouldn't be able to hit the shank because your club head would be lower than the level of the ball. Second, you are swinging across too sharply from outside-in. You don't want to lose all of your outside-in path, but you will need to reduce it slightly in order to steer clear of the shanks.
Sliding the Club Under the Ball
First, you are going to work on correcting the problem of not getting the club down into the sand soon enough. Splashing sand out of the bunker with your wedge is one of the main keys to good greenside bunker play, so you need to learn how to get down through the sand on a regular basis. Not only will improving in this area help you to eliminate the shank, it will also make you a better bunker player overall.
There are a couple of steps you can take in order to make it easier to get the club under the ball in the bunker. The first thing you should work on is adding a little bit of knee flex to your address position. Your knees should be more flexed prior to a bunker shot than any other shot you hit throughout the course. By getting deep down into your knee flex, you will be able to lower the overall level of your body, meaning you won't have as far to reach in order to get the club under the ball. It is a pretty simple equation in the end - bring the club and your hands down closer to the sand, and you will have an easier time getting down to the shot.
Another way to get your body down closer to the shot is to wiggle your feet into the sand prior to making your swing. This is a move that you have probably seen the professional golfers on TV do time and time again whenever they find their ball in a bunker. By simply wiggling your feet back and forth a few times to move a little bit of sand out of the way, your feet will dig in and you will be a couple of inches closer to the ball. Since you are only trying to move the ball under the ball by one or two inches, digging your feet into the bunker may make all the difference.
The last tip that you need to be aware of that relates to getting under the ball in a bunker is simply to keep your head down. There is a sense of anxiety that comes along with hitting a bunker shot for most players, and as a result, it is common to look up early in order to see where the ball is going. You need to have the discipline in your game to keep your eyes down on the ball all the way through the swing. Looking up early isn't going to do anything to help your shot, and it could actually increase your risk of hitting a shank. Watch the ball closely until it becomes airborne, at which time you can go ahead and look up to see where it lands. Keeping your eyes on the ball will allow you to keep your head down, which will enable you to keep your arms and chest down through the shot properly.
It is important to remember that you need to be accelerating the club aggressively through the shot when you are playing from a greenside bunker. Since you are intentionally sticking your wedge into the sand under the ball, it is going to take plenty of force to move the club through the heavy sand with enough speed to lift the ball up and onto the green. If you slow down prior to impact, the club will quickly lose momentum in the sand and the ball may never get enough speed to leave the bunker. There is no room for hesitation or doubt when playing an explosion shot from the greenside bunker – swing all the way through the shot with confidence and the ball should come up and out more times than not.
There is one last point that needs to be made when it comes to sliding your club under the ball in a bunker. Every bunker that you encounter is going to be a little bit different, so you need to judge the condition of the sand prior to hitting the shot. For example, some bunkers have a lot of fluffy sand, making it relatively easy to get under the ball. On the other hand, some courses feature bunkers with dense, hard-packed sand that will make hitting an explosion shot a real challenge. Even within the same round you may find bunkers in varying conditions, so take a moment prior to any bunker shot to look closely at the sand before deciding how you should proceed.
Correcting Your Path
Once you are getting under the ball nicely on all of your bunker shots, the other half of the equation comes down to using a good swing path through the ball. While it is true that you want to swing from outside-in while playing from a greenside bunker, you don't want to exaggerate that move too much or you will risk hitting a shank. The path that you use should be only slightly moving from outside to in – just enough to cut under the ball and give the shot some backspin as it heads toward the hole.
The best way to set yourself up for an outside-in path is to open your stance at address. Set up with your feet open to the target and swing along the line that your feet have created. That's it. If you manage to follow that simple direction, your path should be right on track. When setting up in an open stance, make sure to place the ball forward in your stance and open the face of your wedge in order to get the shot the necessary loft to clear the lip of the bunker. When done correctly, swinging across the ball like this will produce a soft shot that doesn't roll out very far after it lands.
Most players who are having trouble hitting a toe shank in the bunker are making a swing that moves too dramatically from outside to in. If that is the case in your bunker game, try closing down your stance a little bit at a time until the shanks disappear. The best stance for you to use on these shots is probably somewhere between your current stance and a totally square position. Find a practice bunker at your local course where you can hit shot after shot in order to experiment with different stance positions. It shouldn't take too long to find the right stance in order to hit high explosion shots that don't run the risk of turning into a toe shank.
While playing your greenside bunker shots from an open stance is a good idea, you may need to modify that stance from time to time depending on the specific situation that is in front of you. For example, if you are facing a long bunker shot all the way across the green, it may be necessary to square up your stance in order to get a little more 'hit' on the back of the ball. This is also a good way to go when you are playing from firm sand that won't allow you to cut under the ball successfully. During your practice sessions, work on a variety of different shot types in order to give yourself options when you find challenging situations on the course.
The Rhythm of the Sand
Greenside bunker shots are quite a bit different than any other shots you will play from around the green. Instead of using a short swing to pitch or chip the ball onto the putting surface, you will actually need to make something close to a full swing in order to get the ball out of the sand. Short backswings are destined to fail in the bunker, so make sure you are making a big turn and a full backswing before you head down into the ball. Plenty of momentum and speed is required to carve through the bunker sand at impact, and you won't be able to develop the power needed if you cut your backswing short.
There is a certain rhythm to playing greenside bunker shots that you will need to learn if you are going to be successful on a regular basis. Although the backswing may be just as long as the one you use for a full swing, your downswing is going to be somewhat different. Instead of using your lower body to drive toward the target as you would do when hitting a shot from the grass, you are going to keep your lower body quiet as you let your arms and the club swing down in front of you. This is counter to what you have learned in your full swing, so it might be difficult to execute this move properly at first. Spend practice time working on this method of playing bunker shots until you are comfortable with the overall motion.
The downswing that you make with your arms should be an aggressive one even though you won't be using your legs to help the swing. Continue the motion all the way through impact and up into a finish position. Throughout the shot, your legs should remain engaged in the swing with plenty of flex in your knees. At address, take note of how much space is between your two knees in your stance, and try to maintain that space all the way through the swing. If you keep your knees apart, you can be sure that your legs stayed quiet while allowing your arms to do all of the work.
Of course, you need to remember that this kind of swinging motion is restricted to the bunker and it shouldn't work its way into the rest of your game. The mechanics that you use to hit good bunker shots would be a disaster if you used them in your regular swing. In fact, the way you are supposed to hit a bunker shot actually includes many of the swing mechanics that are seen among golfers who fight the slice. A quiet lower body, an outside-in swing path, and active hands are a great way to hit a quality greenside bunker shot – but make sure those techniques stay in the sand while keeping them out of your full swing.
Hitting a shank while you are in the greenside bunker is a quick way to ruin your score for the day. Unfortunately, golf is a game with very little room for forgiveness, and even a single mistake such as a bunker shank can cost you two shots or more. You have to pay careful attention to every shot that you hit during a round of golf in order to avoid major mistakes popping up at the worst possible time. Use the content provided above to steer clear of the bunker shanks. Even if one or two shanks do pop up from time to time, you should now have the knowledge necessary to quickly fix the problem and get your game back on track.