Shank Stoppers

Shank StoppersYou’re enjoying a great day on the links, and you have an easy pitch to the last green where a par or even a bogey will give you your best score in a month. Easy pitch, easy swing, stick it close. But instead, some evil dragon maliciously guides your hosel toward your ball, and you shank it right of the greenside bunker. The shot so unnerves you that you proceed to shank a succession of shots around the perimeter of the green counterclockwise. Finally, in desperation, you putt the ball on to the green (thank God you have a center-shafted putter that only has a face and no hosel). Afterward, none of your friends want to discuss or even acknowledge that it happened. They merely look down at their shoes and avoid the subject of your 10 on the last hole. It seems that some folks feel shanking is contagious.

What Is It?
Actually, shanking isn’t at all the insidious, terminal, career-ending disease that most golfers believe. It’s just a heeled shot with an iron. That’s right. If you examine your golf clubs, you’ll find that there are two areas of the clubhead that can be used to hit your golf ball. One of them is large and flat–the clubface. The other is small and round–the hosel–and connects the clubhead to the shaft.

If you hit the ball with the heel of any of your irons, the ball will carom off to the right (for you right-handed players) at an alarming angle, and always, it seems, toward trouble. It has nothing to do with the face being open. A shank can be hit with a closed, open or square clubface. This is an important point because if you mistakenly think this is a face angle problem, then you won’t be successful in solving it.

Why Does It Happen?
The main reason you’ll hit the ball on the heel of the club is that the heel of the club is the direct extension of your hands when they hold the grip. When you hold a tennis racquet, the sweet spot lies on a straight line coming out of your hand. It’s truly an extension of your hand. The handle of a baseball bat is a straight line that extends to the sweet spot in the head of the bat. Hit a tennis ball or baseball with the extension of your hands, and the sweet spot is automatically on the ball.

A golf club, on the other hand, isn’t as simple or as natural as that. The true extension of your hands down the shaft ends at the hosel, not the sweet spot. The sweet spot is about two inches away from the end of the shaft you’re holding in your hands. In fact, people who have a good sense of space with their hands often shank their iron shots because their sense of the clubhead is that it’s at the end of the shaft. It isn’t.

Test this yourself by putting a tee in the ground between you and the ball, about an inch or so from the near edge of the ball. Hit the tee with the heel of your club when you swing and you can’t shank. On the golf course, you have to pick out a piece of grass and make sure you swing the heel of your club at that spot instead of at the ball. After a while, you should have a better sense of which part of the club should hit the ball.

ShankShank Stoppers
First, get away from the ball at address. We’re all prisoners of our own perception and, even though you may not feel that you’re any closer to the ball, it’s my experience that most of my students who shank have begun crowding the ball noticeably at address.

Second, address the ball with your weight more toward your toes than your heels. Your body will always seek a balanced state when you put it in motion. That means that if you start on your heels, your body will attempt to move to a more balanced position toward the center of your feet. This, of course, will move your body and the heel of the club closer to the ball. Conversely, if you start with your weight favoring your toes, your body will again try to move to a balanced position during the swing that will be more toward the center of your feet. In this case, the heel of the club will be moving away from the ball to a position more inside the target line.

Third, look at a spot about two inches inside the ball position toward your feet and try to hit that spot with the center of the clubhead. Some students find this an excellent choice, while others are uncomfortable doing it. Try it regardless of how it feels to you. It can really work wonders on the golf course. Just pick out a piece of grass or any irregularity that you can focus on and look at it during the swing. It’s just a way of adjusting your perception so you can hit the ball more toward the toe side of the sweet spot.

Finally, try to hit all your shots on the toe of your club for the rest of the round. At this point in the game, you no longer have the luxury of trying to hit the ball on the center of the face. Remember, shanking isn’t so much a golf swing problem as it is a hand/eye coordination problem. For that reason, you must use hand/eye coordination solutions. Many people suffer needlessly from chronic shanking because they try to solve this problem with golf swing corrections. You must have a measure of control over your clubhead as it swings, much the same as a carpenter must control the hammer when driving a nail. Your hand/eye coordination system is what gives you that control. Learn to move the club with skill, not by chance.

After The Round
Building better skills on the practice tee after the round will go a long way toward removing the dreaded shank from your repertoire of shots. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use a toe board. A toe board is any block of wood that you place just outside the ball so that if you hit the ball on the heel of the club, the toe will hit the board. Hit as many balls as it takes to be able to make center-face contact with the ball and consequently not hit the board with the toe of your club.

So don’t fear the shank any longer. Fix it forever–first, on the golf course and then on the practice tee. Remember, just take better aim; it is, after all, your responsibility, not your golf swing’s.

A.J. Bonar, a PGA professional with three decades of teaching experience, is director of golf at AJ Golf Schools in San Diego, Calif.

6 thoughts on “Shank Stoppers

  1. I like the bit about not correcting your swing during the game…. don’t worry about it there and then just set-up to the toe of the club while in shanking territory.

    I also found remembering to clear the hips also helps tremendously!

    thanks for the advice

  2. the test of puting the tee an inch from the ball and hitting it with the heel of the club is to me the best golf tip of all time, since using the tip I have shanked one ball, thank you very much

  3. I agree with Charllie this has got to be the best tip ever. I have had several lessons to correct my chipping/pitching but used the toe board having read the explanation and it worked a treat. Stuff like this can change your whole attitude to your approach play. Excellent.

  4. I hope some people will get this response as I am desperate. Of course I’ve heard every story, drill, cause of the shank virus. Nobody’s story seems to compare to the level of destruction this virus has caused me for years. I’ve come to think that my physical anatomy is genetically structured to that my natural swing is shank. Solid, consistent and deadly accurate shanks. I certainly appreciated the drills mentioned above. Here is my dilemma and I would be so greatly thrilled if somebody, anyone could explain what I am doing to cause this:

    I’m left handed by the way. When I do the toe board drill, I have on many, many occasional actually shanked the ball wonderfully yet I DIDN’T HIT THE BOARD!!! HOW??? Yes, I even marked the edge of the board, used Styrofoam that would easily move if struck..nothing. The board and the styrofoam sat there unscathed as the ball careened dead left. So you can imagine my frustration when I pick a blade of grass, align with the toe, etc…It gives me no guarantee I won’t shank. I believe I must be coming in from very inside with a closed face yet my path is able to miss the board. I really don’t know as I’ve never had this swing analyzed with good enough equipment to capture the club head clearly. Any ideas how I perform such magical and devastating shanks? Please help!!!!!!

  5. KJ,
    I feel your pain. Same problem for years, despite many lessons. If your shank is conventional, the only way you’re not hitting the toe board is that the board is too far from the ball at address. Move the board so close to the ball that you must hit the board in order to hit the ball on the sweet spot.
    As for anti-shanks tips, the one about clearing your hips is most helpful. This gives your hands and hand path room on the inside to swing in-to-out. To promote clearing your hip for a lefty, think about pivoting on your right heel. Turn your right hip back towards your right back pocket. If you can get a full shoulder turn back with the club behind your back, then clear the hips and drop the club handle straight down ( not towards the ball), you’ll make center contact. Good luck.

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