Shanking is rarely caused by setting up to the ball improperly. Most golfers who shank align the center of the clubface with the ball at address. Some set up with the ball off the club's toe in an effort to prevent a shank. Even if this works, it's not a great idea, because you're simply compensating for a swing flaw rather than correcting it.
If you suffer from the shanks, start with the most obvious possible problem – over-extending the arms on the downswing, which pushes the club out to where the hosel meets the ball.
This simple drill could provide an easy fix:
Like many drills, this one is intended to exaggerate the proper movement. Naturally, the happy medium lies between the swing which misses to the inside, and the one that produces a shank. Repeat the drill several times, then set up and hit the ball. If you hit a few off the toe, that's a good sign – mainly because anything is better than a shank, but also because it shows the drill is teaching you to keep the hands in on the downswing.
Shank Golf Shot Drills
There is nothing in golf quite as frustrating as the shank. Sure, you might get tired of hitting a hook or a slice if you continue to fight that kind of pattern round after round, but you can usually manage to make those misses at least somewhat playable. There is nothing playable about a shank. When the ball comes off the hosel of the club and shoots immediately to the right along the ground (for a right handed golfer), it is almost sure to end up in a bad spot. In fact, many shanks result in a lost ball and a penalty stroke. If you are going to get enjoyment out of the game, you have to figure out a way to eliminate the shank – it's just that simple.
Of course, getting rid of the shank is easier said than done. This is a swing problem that not only has to be corrected from a physical standpoint, but from a mental standpoint as well. If you are shanking the ball consistently, those poor shots are certain to get in your head, and it is going to be hard to regain your confidence even after making the appropriate changes to your technique. As you get ready to confront this problem head on, you need to be prepare to transform both the way you swing the club and the way you think during your swing. Only when both halves of the equation have been addressed can you really get yourself back on track.
Before we get into the specifics of how you can eliminate the shank, and some of the drills you can do to help you reach that goal, there is a topic related to the shank that needs to be addressed – embarrassment. When you shank the ball in front of your friends or other people on the course, you are likely to feel embarrassed. The shank is an ugly shot, and it doesn't make you look very good as a golfer. However, you need to put those concerns to the side right away. Golf is a hard game, and every golfer – literally every golfer in the world – has hit plenty of bad shots. It is the nature of the game to fail more often than you succeed. Other golfers aren't likely to be judging you on your bad shots because they can remember a time when they hit the same kind of shot. Set your ego and pride off to the side and simply focus on doing what you have to do to get better.
The nice thing about working on a problem like the shanks is the fact that you might be able to have a 'light bulb' moment where you figure it out and the problem goes away. That isn't the case with everything in the game of golf. Many improvements that you try to make to your golf game have to come a little piece at a time, with real progress only being seen after a period of months or even years has passed. The story is different with the shanks. As long as you can make the changes necessary to get the ball away from the hosel at impact, you can feel better about your game almost immediately.
All of the instruction contained 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.
What is a Shank?
This might seem like a question with an obvious answer, but many golfers actually don't have a clear understanding of what a shank it, and how it occurs. Before we get too far into the things you can do to fix your shanks, it is important that we clarify what is happening when the ball is shanked at impact. You always need to understand what it is you are trying to fix in your swing before you can have success and make real progress.
A shank is a shot that is contacted by the hosel of your golf club – the hosel is the part of the club head where the face of the club transitions up into the shaft. On your irons, there is an angled part of the club head at the hosel, and this angled portion will send the ball shooting quickly to the right if it meets the ball at impact. Of course, you are trying to hit the ball off the flat portion of the club face – ideally, you want to hit the sweet spot dead in the middle of the club. When the ball gets in toward the heel, however, it may contact the hosel before anything else, and a shank will be the inevitable result. You will likely know immediately that you have hit a shank, as there will be a vibration that comes up through the shaft to tell you that something wasn't quite right at impact.
One of the common bits of confusion that takes place in the minds of amateur golfers is thinking that a shanked shot came off the toe of the club. That, of course, does make sense – if the ball shoots off to the right immediately after impact, it does seem like you would have hit the ball off the toe. However, that is almost never the case. When hitting a shank, it is safe to assume that the hosel is the guilty party. In fact, if you look closely at the hosel area of your club, you will likely find the imprint of a few of the dimples on your golf ball.
Generally speaking, shanks are only a problem with irons because woods (including your driver) don't have the same kind of hosel as your iron heads. A shot that is hit off the heel of your driver or fairway woods won't travel as far or as straight as a shot that comes off the sweet spot, but it won't be the disaster that is a true shank. Some amateur golfers prefer to hit their woods as compared to their irons simply because they don't have to worry so much about the possibility of a shank.
It is also important to understand that a shank might not happen for exactly the reasons you may assume. We will get into potential shank causes in the next section, but before even getting to that point, you should realize that this is not a shot that is necessarily caused by standing too close to the ball. Many golfers think that since the ball is coming off the heel of the club, they must be standing too close at address. That is not necessarily true. You may be standing too close, but most likely, the error is going to be found within your technique rather than your setup. There is a good chance that something is going wrong within the mechanics of your swing which is leading to your shanks.
The shank is a problem that frustrates golfers possibly more than any other in large part because it is so mysterious. You can be going along, having a great round of golf, only to have a shank pop up and ruin your day. Even those who suffer from a bad case of the shanks usually don't shank the ball every time – more likely, the shank will pop up on occasion as they go about their round. To limit the chances of this unfortunate mistake getting in your way of a good score, it is important to do as much as you can to keep the ball safely away from the hosel.
Causes of the Shank
So, if your shanks aren't caused by standing too close to the ball, what is it that is leading you to hit the ball off the hosel? Unfortunately, there are a few potential causes, which is why it can take so long for some golfers to diagnose the problem accurately. If you are going to be able to get rid of the shanks once and for all, you need to figure out exactly what it is that is causing this mistake – after all, the only way to solve a problem is to know what the problem is that you are trying to solve. Once you 'crack the code' on your shanks, making the physical correction just might be the easiest part of the job.
The list below contains some of the most-common causes of the shank. Review this list while thinking about your own swing to determine which of these points is the likely cause of your issue.
- Lack of lower body rotation. It is possible that this is the single most-popular cause of the shanks among amateur golfers. As you swing down into the ball, your lower body should be rotating aggressively toward the target. This rotation not only helps you to build speed, but it also turns your lower body out of the way so your hands and arms have room to swing through impact. However, if you don't turn properly, your hands and arms will be forced out closer to the ball – and the hosel will move closer to the ball as a result. If you can do a good job of turning to the left on the way down with your legs and hips, you will likely find that your shanks quickly become a thing of the past.
- Minimal knee flex at address. This cause is more of a cause-and-effect kind of situation, as standing with little knee flex at address can cause you to have insufficient lower body rotation on the way through the shot. You need to have a strong and stable base under your swing in order to make the right moves from start to finish, but your base won't be strong without putting some flex in your knees. Not only does your lower body need to be flexed at address, but it also needs to remain flexed throughout the backswing and into the downswing. You might not have previously thought that your lack of knee flex could cause a shank, but that is exactly what can happen if you fail to hit on the important fundamentals of the game (such as the stance).
- Active hands early in the swing. There are a lot of golf swing problems that can be caused by overactive hands in the takeaway – and the shank is one of those problems. When you use your hands to get the swing started, the club head will almost always be rotated in to an open position. When that happens, the hosel will be far more likely to be the first thing to return back down to the ball. Avoid this outcome by using your shoulders and upper body rotation to start the swing, rather than your hands. A solid one-piece takeaway that keeps the hands quiet is the best thing you can do to prevent the hosel from getting too close to the ball when impact comes around.
It is possible that just one of these errors is causing the shank to pop up in your game. Or, it is possible that you are making more than one of these mistakes, and the combination of problems in your technique is leading to shanks. Either way, the goal from here is clear – to make the corrections necessary to get yourself away from the shanks once and for all. Identify the mistakes you think you are making and spend some time on the driving range working on making the necessary adjustments/corrections. Hopefully, if you have identified the correct cause within your current technique, your tendency to shank the ball will go away as soon as you alter your swing mechanics.
A Helpful Drill
Sometimes, all you need to get your game moving in the right direction once again is a bit of confidence. With that in mind, this drill is designed to help you feel the ball coming off of the sweet spot once again. If you have been fighting with the shanks, it may have been awhile since you have felt a well-struck shot coming off the face of one of your irons. In this drill, we are going to simplify the swing so you can feel some quality contact and begin to rebuild your belief in your ability to play this game. Once you are done with the drill, you can go back to your normal golf swing with a renewed sense of confidence and optimism.
To get started with this drill, you will need to be at the driving range with a bucket of balls and at least a few of your irons. When you are ready to begin, please follow the simple steps below.
- Place the first golf ball down on the ground in front of you and pull a short iron from your bag. You are going to start with a short iron, but you may move on to longer clubs once you get the hang of this drill.
- Once you have picked your club, the next step is to select a target that you can use for this shot. You are only going to be hitting the ball a short distance – likely less than 50 yards – so you will need to pick something to aim at that is close to the front of the range. Even if there are no target flags on the range at that distance, you should be able to spot a discolored patch of grass, or even a golf ball, that you can use for your target.
- Using your target to aid your alignment, take your stance and get ready to hit your first shot. You are going to use the same stance that you would use for any 'standard' shot during a round of golf. Take your time to get into a proper stance, make sure your knees are flexed, and verify that you are aimed at the target correctly.
- To start the swing, you are going to use only your shoulder rotation away from the target. The key to this drill is keeping your hands completely out of the swing – in fact, they are never going to get involved, from start to finish. Swing back using only upper body rotation while your lower body remains static.
- When this modified backswing is complete, change directions by engaging your lower body as you turn toward the target. Remember, you are not going to use your hands or wrists at any point in this swing. This is an 'all-body' swing. While you aren't going to generate much power while swinging in this manner, it should be easy to put the sweet spot on the back of the ball time and time again.
- After you have hit your first shot, take a second to think about how it went before trying again. Hit as many as you would like until you are happy with the progress you have made. Specifically, pay attention to the feeling that you get when the ball hits the sweet spot on the club face, as that is the feeling you will be trying to replicate with your regular swing.
This drill is sure to feel awkward at first, but it will get more and more comfortable as you go. Since you aren't using hand action, you should find it relatively easy to hit your target, which will only help in building confidence in your game. As you transition back to your regular full swing, remember what you have learned during this drill – especially as it relates to keeping your hands quiet in the takeaway. With quiet hands early in the swing and an aggressive lower body later on, you will be very unlikely to run into another shank any time soon.
Shanks in the Short Game
Sadly, shanks are not confined only to the long game. It is also possible to shank the ball in the short game, specifically when you are chipping or pitching onto the green. A shank in the short game won't be quite as damaging to your score in most cases – because it won't go as far when you hit it – but it will still cost you at least one stroke. Additionally, hitting a shank on a short shot can quickly damage your confidence around the greens, which will likely lead to more and more poor shots in the near future.
So what is it that causes shanks in the short game? Usually, it comes down to a lack of commitment through the hitting area. Obviously you aren't going to be rotating your lower body through the shot like you will when making a full swing, so that isn't the problem. However, when you swing the wedge back and through while chipping or pitching, you need to be fully dedicated to the shot you are hitting and the motion you are making. If there is any doubt in the back of your mind while swinging the club, you may fail to release the club head through the hitting area – meaning the face will be open, the hosel will be exposed to the ball, and a shank could result.
The best way to get over this problem is with good old fashioned practice. By practicing as much as possible with your wedges, you can see success over and over again – which is only going to build confidence. That confidence will help you to execute your technique properly on the range without any doubts getting in the way. Make time during each one of your practice sessions for some focused chipping and pitching practice and you will likely be able to move on from the shank problems that you have been fighting.
There is nothing fun about hitting a shank, but you don't have to deal with this problem forever. By using the instruction contained in this article, and by putting in plenty of practice time on your swing mechanics, you can eliminate the shank from your game and lower your scores. Thank you for reading, and play well!