You'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.
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.