Should I Always Lay Up

    Every now and then, we’re forced to invoke the most dreaded word in golf: shank.

    Much as we’d love to pretend otherwise, shanks happen. They’re as inevitable as death and taxes – and arguably the worst of the three. A shank occurs when the ball is struck between the hosel and face of the club, usually an iron or wedge, and rockets away at a nearly 90° angle to the target line.

    Not good. Not good at all.

    OK, so now that we’ve got them out in the open, we might as well deal with the shanks head-on. That means examining their root cause, a swing flaw called “laying off the club.”

    The term describes a position at the top of the backswing where the golfer’s club points well left of the target (assuming he’s right-handed). Unless the golfer can compensate for this position on the downswing, the club approaches the ball from a severe inside-to-out angle. When the golfer is unable to rotate the clubface on time, the hosel reaches the ball first and a shank ensues.

    Now that you know the definition and dangers of laying off the club, it’s time for a little good news: It’s a fairly easy problem to fix. Usually, a laid-off club results from a takeaway that’s too far inside the target line. This creates an extremely flat (horizontal) swing plane and, ultimately, a shank.

    Here’s a practice drill that’ll help you correct a laid-off backswing:

  • Place a headcover, range ball basket or similar object on the ground about 6” – 10” behind the ball, and a few inches inside the target line.
  • Make a slow half-swing, taking the club back straight down the target line so that you miss the headcover.
  • Stop when you reach the top, and look up to gauge where the club is pointed. Ideally, it will be parallel to the target line, although slightly left or right is OK. Practice with your left side to a mirror to get a better look at your position.
  • Try several more half-swings to gain a feel for the proper takeaway. Then graduate to hitting shots. Once you’re striking them solidly and shank-free, remove the headcover and repeat the same backswing.
  • The drill is designed to ingrain a more upright (vertical) swing plane and get your club approaching the ball at a shallower angle. Achieve this and you’ll bury the shanks for good.