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What Causes a Shank?

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

There is nothing more terrifying for a golfer than hitting a shank during a warm-up routine. As you watch that ball fly sideways towards the net or treeline that defines your driving range, your body is filled with dread. It’s nothing. Just an anomaly.

You rake another ball from your pile and then set-up for your next 8-iron. Oh my God, I did it again. And another, and another, and another. What causes this to happen?

With ten minutes left before your tee time, what do you do? It’s time to take a deep breath and review your list of baseline fundamentals.

Step 1: Check your set-up.

A lot of the time, many of our swing faults that cause mishits are symptoms of a bad setup. Do you have your own list of set-up basics? If so, great. If you don’t have this list, stay tuned for my article on the subject coming soon. For now, pay particular attention to whether you are 1. Too bent over (the tips of your finger should touch the top of the knee for people with average length arms); 2. Standing too close (your arms should hang naturally from the shoulder sockets); or 3. Weight on the heels (your weight should be evenly distributed from the heel to the toe or on the balls of your feet).

The first condition leads to the player standing up during the swing in order to avoid burying the club in the dirt. This standing up action is one form of early extension and often leads to shanks.

The second condition (standing too close) is a more obvious reason for some people’s shanks. Funnily enough, from what I have seen, this is rarely the case; however, it is possible and worth ensuring you are not 'crowding the ball.'

The final condition causes your balance to shift towards your toes on the downswing which can move your strike towards the hosel at times.

Are you hitting it out of the center again? Great! If not, move on to Step 2.

Step 2: Check your Pocket-Line and Head Line.

So you’re set up perfectly, yet still shanking the golf ball. Don’t panic.

Instead, go to a wall or fence and practice your Pockets on the Wall Drill. Watch this video by Erika Larkin on how to do this without a wall using just an alignment rod. I will make my own video series in the near future, but for now I can just link to others demonstrating the drills for me!

Pockets on the Wall Drill Defined.

Set up with both pockets touching a wall and pretend to hold a golf club. Turn back to a three-quarter swing (Position 3 or P3) and check to make sure your right pocket is now touching the wall. Slowly begin to swing down and stop when your imaginary club reaches parallel (Position 6 or P6). At this point, both pockets should be back on the wall. Continue in slow motion into “impact” (Position 7 or P7) and stop. At this point, your left pocket should be on the wall and your right pocket should be just off of the wall. Finish the swing in slow motion to parallel with your imaginary club (Position 8 or P8) and check to make sure the side of your left hip is still on the wall.

My guess is your left pocket is off the alignment rod at impact which indicates either 1. Early Extension or 2. Drifting towards your toes (often from setting-up with your weight on your heels). Both of these can cause heel or hosel strikes. If you have a difficult time keeping your pockets on the alignment rod as Erika’s video demonstrates, head over to a wall without a club and swing in slow-motion making sure your pockets stay on the wall.

If you are indeed doing these things correctly already, don’t worry. On to Step 3.

Step 3: Check the Transition: Drop the arms, don’t pull.

If you are throwing your arms over the top in the transition from backswing to downswing, that can often cause you to have an overly open clubface on the downswing and lead with the hosel into the ball. It often also causes the hands to raise through impact. Letting your arms drop in a more vertical fashion can help keep the face more square and keep your arms on the body.

A swing thought that might help is feeling your lead arm glide down the buttons on your collared shirt in the transition.

Still shanking them? If so, on to Step 4!

Step 4: Skill Based Drills.

One definition of an athlete is being able to complete a given task regardless of the circumstances. Because I believe all human beings are athletes, it sometimes helps to simply focus on basic contact. This ladder drill is a great way to do just that.

Take a pile of ten balls with your eight iron. Hit the first ball 40 yards and try your best to hit it out of the center of the face. Did you do it? Great. Now 50 yards. And then 60 yards, and so on until you are hitting full shots out of the center of the face.

Want to really accelerate your learning curve? Place a plastic water bottle parallel to your target line just to the side of your golf ball. Give yourself a quarter inch of room between the toe of your iron and the water bottle. If you hit the ball off the heel or hosel, you will hit the bottle! Focus on missing the bottle, and this can help your basic contact improve.

If you have any questions or would like me to write about something specific, please hit the Contact tab at the top of the screen, and send me your message. I’ll try my best to get back to you as soon as I am able.

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- Connor from Serious Golf Talk

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