The shank is a shot so feared by golfers that some refuse to even say the word. Legendary teacher Harvey Penick, for example, referred to shanks as “laterals” or “pitch-outs.”
But there's no getting around it: Shanks happen. And they're utterly destructive. A shank occurs when the ball strikes the club's hosel – the part where the shaft and head connect – and darts almost directly to the right (left for a lefty). Nearly all shanks are hit with irons, as the hosels on woods and hybrids are usually placed out of harm's way.
Hitting a shank can be quite shocking -- and the affliction as tough to conquer as the common cold. But if you understand the cause, the cure can be pretty simple.
- Cause: Clubhead approaches the ball from an exaggerated inside path – This often happens when the golfer takes the club back too far inside the target line, reaching the top with the club pointing well left of the target in a “laid-off” position. The hosel reaches the ball first, sending it shooting sideways.
- Cure: A more upright swing – Taking the club back on a more direct line from the ball will make your backswing more upright (vertical), and the club's path to impact will mirror the takeaway. Try these drills – one for the backswing, one for the downswing:
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- Swing Upright to Cure the Shanks
- Cause: Standing too close to the ball – This one is quite logical: If you stand too close at address, the arms will extent on the downswing and push the clubface outward, past its starting point behind the ball.
- Cure: Play it off the toe – Penick's shank solution was to set up with the ball near the club's toe, then attempt to hit it on that very spot. Simple as that.
If it makes you feel better, even the greatest players hit the occasional “hosel rocket.” Jack Nicklaus, for instance, once shanked his tee shot on the 12th hole at Augusta National during the Masters.
The Shank – Causes and Cures
Most golfers are used to hitting bad shots from time to time. After all, golf is a game of misses, and even the best golfers hit multiple poor shots within any given round. There is no shame in hitting a bad shot, and you shouldn't let it get you down for long. The best way to respond to a bad shot is to simply come back and make a great swing next time.
The shank is different, however. When you hit a shank, it feels like more than just a bad shot. Not only does the ball usually end up in a terrible spot, but you likely will feel embarrassed by what you have done. Even though every golfer has hit a shank at one point or another, this frustrating miss has a way of making you feel like the worst golfer in the world. To recover from a shank takes a lot more mental fortitude than is required to bounce back from a regular bad shot.
Perhaps the biggest challenge related to the shank is to prevent it from getting in your head. The shank is no different than any other swing fault – there are things that take place in your swing that cause it to happen, and there are corrections you can make to get back on track. However, it can be difficult to look at the shank in this kind of level-headed manner. Instead, it is easy to get emotionally carried away as you allow your frustration to take over and your temper to get the best of you. When that happens, your chances of solving the problem will be decreased dramatically. The only way to move on from your shanks is to keep your cool and look at the problem from an objective and logical perspective.
You could be shanking the ball for a number of different reasons. If you hope to get over the shanks as soon as possible, your first goal should be to get to the bottom of the problem and identify the underlying cause. With that information in hand, you can then set about the task of fixing your swing mistakes so that a shank is unlikely to reappear. It takes hard work to make progress in your golf game, and fixing the shank is no different. It is certainly possible to get rid of the shanks, but expect to put in some hard work along the way.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Cause and Cure #1 – Outside-In Swing Path
Golfers who struggle with a slice are already familiar with the perils of an outside-in swing path. As the club moves across the ball from right to left at impact, slice spin is imparted on the ball and the shot will inevitably sail to the right of the target. At best, an outside-in swing pattern will mean that you have to deal with a slice on most of your shots. However, it can get even worse than that, as an outside-in path is one of the leading causes of the slice.
It makes sense when you think about it. If you are swinging the club across from the outside-in, you are going to be bringing the hosel of the club dangerously close to the ball at impact. If your timing is off by even a fraction of a second, you will miss the club face and the ball will strike the hosel instead – resulting in a shank. This is another great reason to work on correcting your swing path. Not only do you stand to eliminate your slice, which would do wonders for your game, but you can reduce your chances of hitting a shank at the same time.
To fix your path into the ball, you have to first correct your path moving away from the ball. In fact, if you are able to get your takeaway on track, you might not have to do anything at all to fix your downswing. The downswing is simply a product of what you have done during the backswing and the transition, so master those early phases of the swing and everything else will fall into place. The following drill will help you make a takeaway that sets you up for success throughout the rest of your swing.
- On the driving range, take your seven iron out of the bag and set aside a few golf balls to hit during this drill.
- Prior to making a swing, place an extra golf glove (or small golf towel) under your right armpit. You should be able to 'trap' the glove in place so that it stays under your arm as you take your stance.
- Once in your proper address position, start the swing while keeping the glove trapped under your right arm. The glove should stay in place throughout your backswing. If it falls to the ground early in your takeaway, you will instantly know that you have moved the club away from your body (and too far to the outside). When the glove falls during the backswing, stop your swing and start over. Continue working on your backswing technique until you can successfully keep the glove pinned under your arm.
- As you transition from backswing to downswing, continue to keep the glove in place. Your right elbow should be moving down toward the ground during the transition of your swing, meaning that the glove will still be stuck. Only when you swing through impact should your arms separate from your body. At this point, the glove can fall to the ground.
- Hit a series of shots with a glove pinned under your right arm until you feel comfortable with the swing path that this drill has created. It is almost impossible to use a dramatically outside-in swing path while completing this drill successfully.
The beauty of this drill is the instant feedback that it provides. If you can't keep the glove in place, you will know that something is going wrong. However, if you are able to keep the glove under your arm all the way up to impact, you can be confident that your swing path problems have been corrected. With the outside-in path eliminated from your technique, your odds of hitting a shank will instantly be reduced.
Cause and Cure #2 – Failure to Release
Even if you are able to get the backswing and downswing under control, your job won't quite be done just yet. You still need to allow the club to fully release through impact so that the club face can become square to your target line and you can strike the ball on the sweet spot. If you resist the releasing of the club head through impact, you can again expose yourself to the risk of a shank.
As the club swings down toward the ball, the heel end of the club head is leading the way. That isn't a problem – it's how the swing is supposed to work. Of course, that means the toe end of the club will eventually have to catch up in order to get things square at impact. This 'catch up' happens during the release. It is tricky to teach the release because it should be something that happens naturally instead of manually. If you are trying to manually release the club through the shot, there is very little chance that you will actually pull it off.
The rotational force of your swing should release the club, but that will only happen if your hands don't get in the way. Many golfers hang on tight at the bottom of the swing to resist the release because they aren't confident enough in their swing to just let it go. When the player resists the release, the heel end of the club will continue down toward the ball farther than it should, and a shank suddenly becomes a possibility. Unless the release takes place at the last instant, the hosel will strike the ball and the shot will go shooting off low and to the right. Despite having made a quality golf swing overall, you will have hit a shank based solely on your inability to release the club through the shot.
So what can you do about this problem? Work on your release, obviously. More specifically, you need to work on keeping your hands 'out of the way' so the release can happen naturally on each and every shot. Try the following drill to learn how a proper release should feel through impact.
- Head to the practice chipping area of your local golf course. You will need a sand wedge, along with a few golf balls.
- Find a spot to chip from that offers a flat lie and fairway-length grass. This drill is focused only on the release, so you want to make the rest of the conditions around your shot as easy as possible. Be sure to find a good lie for the golf ball prior to each shot.
- Pick out a target on the green for each shot. While this isn't a chipping drill specifically, you still want to have a target to help guide your address position.
- Stand over the ball and prepare to hit the shot. However, before you start to take the club back away from the ball, you want to drop your left hand off of the club. Remain in your regular address position while holding the wedge with only your right hand.
- Hit the shot. In order to strike these chip shots solidly, it is going to be essential that you release the club fully through impact. The release should come easier without your left hand on the club, as that is the hand that will usually get in the way.
- Continue hitting one-handed chip shots until you are satisfied with your progress.
Even though this drill only has you hitting chip shots, and not full shots, it will still do wonders for how you perceive the release of the club. Your right hand doesn't have as much control over the club as does your left, so the release should flow naturally when you are only holding on with your right. The feeling of a free release through the ball that you have with this drill should carry over into your full swings.
When you return to the range to hit some full shots, try making some one-handed (with your right hand) practice swings first. Don't hit balls with these one-handed swings, but use them to get a feel for the release. After a couple of practice swings, put both hands back on the club and hit some shots. Hopefully, the release sensation that you have found in the drill above will translate and you will be letting the club head tear through the hitting area. With your release firing on all cylinders, the shanks that you have been hitting just might be a thing of the past.
Cause and Cure #3 – Lack of Confidence
Confidence is important all over the golf course. If you lack confidence in your ability to hit good shots at any point during a round, your performance will suffer. It is important to have good swing fundamentals if you want to play good golf, but it is just as important to have a high level of confidence. The combination of proper technique and confidence is a duo that is hard to beat on the golf course.
Those lacking confidence in their swings might find that the shank quickly becomes a problem. The issue of lacking confidence is actually tied in to the previous point regarding the release. When you have a low level of confidence in your game, you may struggle to let the club release fully. In this case, your problem is more mental than physical. Your mind will be getting in the way of your body as it is trying to swing the club. Many golfers who fight the shanks don't have anything at all wrong with their golf swings – they just don't believe in themselves enough to execute the shots properly.
It is hard to find confidence when you are struggling with the shanks, because confidence usually comes from seeing success. Try using the tips below to summon some self-confidence in your game, even as you are fighting a case of the shanks –
- Quality range time. There is nothing like a great practice session to shake off the doubts and start to believe in yourself once again. If you can go through a session on the range without hitting a shank, the fear of that shot will start to leave your mind. You shouldn't feel the same kind of pressure on the range that you feel on the course, so there should be no problem with your nerves getting in the way of your release. Should you continue to shank balls even on the driving range, you will know that your problems are physical instead of mental. In that case, you need to get back to work on your swing fundamentals to correct the problem. Hopefully, the shanks will stay away on the range, and you will be able to build up some much needed confidence prior to your next round.
- Nothing to lose. When you step up to the first tee to start your next round, convince yourself that you have nothing to lose. Of course you want to play well, but it is just golf at the end of the day. Think about all of the things in your life that are more important than golf, and you should quickly be able to put the game in its proper perspective. By taking some of the importance off of your golf game, you can relax your mind before the round even begins. Then, when on the course, you can let your natural ability take over as you trust your swing to get the job done.
- Find an easy course. Another great way to regain lost confidence is to play an easy course that doesn't present you with very many challenges. Find a local course that has few hazards and a short overall yardage. Going around such an easy course will allow you to hit some good shots without worrying too much about the dangers that other courses may present. Put a couple rounds under your belt on an easy course and you can suddenly begin to feel better about your game.
Managing your confidence is one of the most important challenges that a golfer has to face. While you aren't going to feel great about your game all the time, you need to take steps to protect your confidence so that you can continue to make 'free' swings that don't lead to shanks. Simply by believing in your ability to hit a good shot, it is possible to ward off the shanks and play great golf.
Other Shank-Related Notes
By reading through the three 'causes and cures' above, you should be well on your way to eliminating the shank from the list of things you need to worry about on the golf course. Even with that done, there are a couple other notes to keep in mind related to this topic.
The first is the shank problem that can arise when you are faced with an in-between yardage on a short shot. For example, if you hit your sand wedge 60 yards and your gap wedge 80 yards, a 70 yard shot can be quite a challenge. Most golfers will reach for the gap wedge in that situation, which is the right play. However, when you do that, you are opening up the possibility of a shank.
Again, it comes back to the release. Since you are trying to hit the ball softer than usual, it is easy to limit your release through impact in an effort to take distance off the shot. When that happens, the club face doesn't get back to square, and the hosel strikes the ball first. To control the distance of this shot without hitting a shank, it is best to limit the length of your backswing. Tighten up your backswing so you don't have as much room to create speed, and then go ahead with a full release through impact. Practice controlling your distance by shortening your backswing and you shouldn't need to worry about shanks on these delicate approach shots.
One other point that you need to keep in mind is the increased possibility of a shank when playing a shot where the ball is lying below your feet. If the ball is well below your feet on an iron shot, the hosel will be more exposed to the ball as impact approaches. The key in this case is to maintain the flex in your knees all the way through the shot. As you come down toward the hitting area, it is easy to stand up out of the shot and lose your posture. When that happens, a shank is very likely to occur. Work hard to maintain the position of your lower body through the hit in order to find the center of the club face.
No one likes to hit a shank. It's embarrassing, it's damaging to your score, and it can have long-lasting negative effects on your confidence. If you do hit a shank or two, it is important to keep your head up and look for a solution without losing your temper. Getting mad at yourself for shanking the ball isn't going to help solve the problem, but it could make it worse. Use the content above to solve your shanking problem and get your game back on track as quickly as possible. Usually, the shank isn't related to some complicated problem with your swing mechanics – rather, it is generally a simple fix that is needed to get the ball back in the center of the club face. Take a logical approach to correcting your shanks and hopefully they will disappear in short order.