Generally speaking, a swing that routes the club on an “inside-to-out” path toward the ball is highly favorable.
But in trying to achieve it, some golfers take the club back too far inside the line. Reaching the top of the backswing, the club is in the highly unfavorable “laid-off” position that causes the most dreaded shot in golf – the shank.
A more upright or vertical swing will eliminate the shanks. The “four tees drill” is a good way to groove a proper path and plane:
- Place the ball on a level lie and stick four tees just outside of it, lined up parallel to the target line about an inch apart, and about a half-inch beyond the club's toe. The tees should form a miniature wall. (You can use a clubhead cover or other object instead of tees.)
- To avoid hitting the tees after impact, you'll have to swing in a more upright manner. Your swing will then take a truer – and hopefully shank-proof – path to the ball.
This is also a good drill to use if you suffer from hooked or pushed shots.
Cure the Shanks to Start Enjoying Golf Once Again
Golf is great fun for many reasons. The fresh outdoor air, the time spent with your friends, the challenge of the game – all of these are reasons to find time for a round of golf as often as possible. Very few things can take the fun out of golf, but the shanks are certainly on that list. If you start to shank the golf ball – and you can't find a solution to the problem – you will quickly find that much of the fun has been taken out of the game. To restore your love for the golf course, solving your shank issue should be a top priority.
A shank is defined as a shot that is contacted by the hosel of the club, rather than the club face. The hosel is the portion of the club where the shaft connects to the club head, and when it strikes the ball, your shot will usually shoot directly off to the right (for a right handed golfer). It is almost impossible to wind up with a success shot when you hit a shank, and many of your shanks will result in a lost ball and a penalty. While golfers find all sorts of different ways to hit poor shots, very few shots are as damaging as the shank.
One of the most frustrating aspects of hitting a shank is the unpredictable nature of the shot. While some people will be plagued with persistent shanks, others can have them pop up seemingly out of nowhere. You can be going about your round, playing well, only to have a shank show up at the worst possible time. Of course, after you hit one shank, you will play the rest of the round in fear of hitting another. That fear can make your swing tentative, and you may have trouble regaining the form you had before the shank. This is a swing problem that is as much mental as it is physical, and just one or two shanks can throw you off of your game for many rounds to come.
As with anything else in golf, you need to take a close look at your technique when trying to fix this swing problem. Although the shanks can seem unpredictable, it is usually possible to find a specific cause when you break down the mechanics of your swing. This process can take some time, but it will be worth it when you are left with a swing that allows you to play every round shank-free.
All of the instruction below is based on a right handed golfer. If you play left handed, please reverse the directions as necessary.
Understanding the Shank
It is easy to become upset and even angry when you start to shank the golf ball. Those emotions, unfortunately, can get in the way of solving the problem. In order to get your game back on track as quickly as possible, it is important that you set aside your frustrations and focus all of your energy on correcting your swing mistakes.
The first step in that process is to understand what it is that causes the shank in the first place. Of course, the cause of a shank can vary from golfer to golfer, so you will need to think carefully about your own swing in order to determine the cause that is relevant to your game. Following are three of the most-common causes of the shank –
- Sliding to the left. The downswing portion of your golf swing should be a mostly rotational movement, with only a slight slide to the left. Many amateur golfers, however, use a dramatic slide to the left to bring the club down to the ball. This mistake can cause plenty of problems in your swing – including the shank. Since your body is busy sliding left, it won't be able to fully rotate through the shot. When that happens, you will be leading with the hosel as you approach impact, instead of allowing the club face to rotate into position. Any time the hosel is leading the way at the bottom of your swing, you will always run the risk of hitting a shank. Adding rotation, and removing the lateral slide, could go a long way toward limiting your risk of hitting a shank.
- Standing too close to the ball. This is a simple problem, with a simple solution, but it can actually be at the root of all of your shanking problems. When you take your stance too close to the ball, you will be limiting the amount of space you have to complete your downswing. As the club approaches the ball, you will need to push your hands out away from your body simply to provide them with enough room to complete the swing. As your hands get further from your body, the hosel will get closer to the ball, and a shank may result. Before you go making drastic swing changes to avoid the shank, be sure to check your address position as the whole problem may boil down to a simple adjustment to the distance between your feet and the ball.
- Lack of release. As the club makes its way through the hitting area, it is important that you allow it to release fully into your finish position. If you 'hang on' to the shot, meaning you limit the release by using your hands to stop the club head from rotating, you may hit a shank. For most golfers, this error results from a lack of confidence. When there is doubt in your mind coming into impact, your hands may sense that fear and resist the natural release of the club head. This is a problem that can compound itself, because as you start to hit more shanks, you will only get more tentative prior to impact. To shed this problem, it is vital that you find your self-confidence and believe completely in your swing all the way through to your finish.
Most golfers who struggle with a shank will find their underlying problem in one of the three categories above. Think about the times you have hit a shank on the course, and try to decide which of these three issues was the culprit. The following sections will address each of these three mistakes individually, so you can use the instruction that relates to your own game in order to get back on track.
Stop the Downswing Slide
Golfers struggling with the downswing slide will not only have trouble with the slice, but a number of other ball flight problems as well. If you are sliding to the left in your downswing, you are likely losing yardage and frequently hitting your ball to the right of the target. Even the shots you do strike cleanly will not live up to their full potential because you have missed out on the opportunity to build speed through lower body rotation.
To eliminate your slice as well as correct your other ball flight issues, you want to make sure that your lower body is rotating aggressively in the downswing – rather than sliding toward the target. For a golfer that is used to sliding, this change can be a major adjustment. Before you start in on making this swing change, be sure you can set aside at least a couple of weeks where you can stick to the driving range and avoid playing an actual round on the course. Heading out to the course could undo the progress that you are making on the range, so stay away for a couple of weeks until your new mechanics begin to feel comfortable.
One of the best ways to change your slide into a rotation is to use the following drill. Go through a number of repetitions of this drill on the driving range prior to hitting any shots and you will quickly learn what it feels like to use a proper rotation in your downswing.
- To get started with this drill, you will need just one golf club and no practice balls. During this drill, you will only be working on improving your body movements and won't actually be hitting any shots.
- Take your stance as you would for any regular shot. You should be holding the club in your normal address position, pretending that you were lining up for a shot.
- Once you have taken your stance, pick the club up from its usual address position and hold it across your shoulders. The shaft of the club should be parallel with the ground, and you should cross your arms so that your right hand holds the club near your left shoulder, and vice versa.
- With the club in place, make a 'backswing' by turning your shoulders and maintaining good positions in your lower body. Obviously you won't be swinging the club like normal when executing this motion, but you can mimic your regular backswing even though the club is across your shoulders.
- As you transition from backswing to downswing, focus on turning your lower body toward the target. This is where you get into the specific goal of this drill. The drill is focused on your finish position – specifically, making sure that your finish position is perfectly aligned with the target. When you complete the downswing and arrive at your finish, you should have your belt buckle and your chest pointed directly at the target. Golfers who slide in the downswing will struggle to reach this goal – especially with their belt buckle.
- Finish your swing and hold your position. Is your belt buckle pointing toward the target? What about your chest? If both of those points of reference are pointing to the right of the target, you will know that you have under-rotated, likely because of a slide. Try the practice swing again, working harder with your legs in the downswing. Repeat the drill until you feel comfortable arriving at the perfect finished position.
The finish position can tell you a lot about the swing that you just made. When you reach a balanced finished and find that your belt buckle and chest are pointing perfectly at the target, you can be confident that the slide is gone from your swing. Make this simple drill a regular part of your practice routine to eliminate the downswing slide, and the shank should disappear right along with it.
How to Stand the Correct Distance from the Golf Ball
Taking a proper stance, including standing the right distance from the ball, is an important fundamental for a number of reasons. In addition to helping you avoid the shank, standing the correct distance from the ball can also help you to improve your ball flight, add distance, and improve your consistency. Your address position is crucially important to the success of your game, and standing the right distance from the ball is a big part of that equation.
Unfortunately, it isn't always easy to 'get comfortable' over the ball. Ideally, you could just walk up to your shot, set your feet, and fire away. Of course, golf isn't that easy. You need to have a plan in place in order to get set up correctly each and every time. Just like any other part of your swing, it will take practice to master your address position.
Use the following drill to position your feet the proper distance from the ball prior to every shot.
- For this drill, you are going to need a mid-iron, a few golf balls, and a friend to help you. Since you will actually be hitting shots in this drill, you are going to need to be at the driving range.
- Walk up to the grass hitting area (or driving range mat) and take your stance. However, you should not have yet placed a ball down on the grass or mat, and your friend should be holding your golf club. Simply settle into your stance by focusing on your body positions.
- Once you are happy with the stance that you have built, allow your arms to hang down freely from your sides. You shouldn't have to force them into position – they should simply be hanging from your shoulders in a comfortable position.
- Next, bring your hands together in front of you, while still allowing your arms to hang down in a relaxed manner. When done correctly, your hands will meet out in front of your belt buckle, about 6''-8'' from your body.
- With your hands together, ask your friend to place the grip end of the golf club into your hands. Don't move your hands to reach for the club – ask your friend to bring the club to you. Take your grip without moving the position of your hands.
- Set the club head down on the ground. You have now established your perfect address position. Ask your friend to set a ball in front of the club head, and go ahead and hit a shot after they have stepped away safely.
- Repeat this process until you are comfortable with being able to build this address position without the help of a friend.
The great thing about this drill is that it teaches you how to find the right address position without actually quantifying the distance that you are standing from the ball. If, for example, you were to try standing exactly 18'' from the ball for each shot, you would never find that mark consistently. However, by basing your distance on the natural position of your arms, you can achieve far greater consistency throughout a round of golf.
Another thing that is important to note is that this process doesn't change when you hit different clubs. Sure, you will stand farther away from the ball when hitting a driver, but that is only because the club is longer. Position your hands the same way prior to every shot, and your club head will find its way into a great position.
While this might sound like a minor detail in the grand scheme of your swing, it can mean the difference between hitting a solid shot and hitting a shank. Take the time to work through this drill with a friend on the driving range so you can head to the first tee with confidence that your shanks are a problem of the past.
Release the Club Fully to Remain Shank-Free
The release is a tricky part of the golf swing, mostly because it happens so incredibly fast. Even if you aren't the longest hitter in the world, your release still happens in just a fraction of a second. Human reaction times aren't good enough to manually release the club with your hands, so you have to use your swing mechanics to set up a proper release. Of course, once that release is set up, you have to actually let it occur. If your mind gets in the way of your release, you can ruin what was otherwise an excellent golf swing.
As it relates to the shank, a tentative release can force the hosel right into the back of the golf ball. The toe of the club should be 'closing' through impact, which is exactly what will happen if you allow the club to release naturally. If you are nervous or lacking confidence, you may tense up in your hands, which will prevent the release from taking place. Therefore, it is possible to hit a shank when your golf swing is actually in good shape simply by letting your mind get in the way.
To avoid this fate, try the following tips –
- Focus on the target. It is never a good thing to think too much about your golf swing when on the course. Ideally, you will leave all of your mechanical thinking for the driving range. During your next round, try preparing for each shot by picking out a very specific target and then focus your mind on that spot all the way through the swing. Just trying to hit the 'middle of the fairway' isn't good enough – find a small brown patch or a tree in the distance to use as your point of reference. If you can dedicate all of your attention to hitting that target, your mind won't have time to interfere with your release.
- Be sure of the club. When you aren't convinced that you are holding the right club for the shot, it is easy to make a tentative swing. While you won't always pick the right club, it is important to believe that you have the right club in your hands. Think about your target and decide if it is better to be long or short. Then, when choosing a club, pick the one that will allow you to err on the safer side. This simple technique will give you more confidence over the ball, and more confidence will lead to a better release.
- Eyes on the ball. One of the first lessons that every golfer learns is to keep their eyes on the ball. This remains an important tip, even if it seems awfully basic. By keeping your eyes on the ball until you have struck the shot, you will enable your body to release the club head better through impact. To work on improving your ability in this area, hit some short shots while focusing your eyes on a specific spot on the ball. Gradually increase the speed until you are able to control your eye movement even when trying to hit a long drive.
Regardless of which of the three problems above is causing your shanks, you will want to get to work right away on a solution. Golf simply isn't very much fun when you are fighting a shank. Fortunately, this is a problem that you can fix through some hard work and the use of some basic drills. Get rid of the shank by putting in the time on the practice range and it will be nowhere in sight when you return to the course.