Shanks happen: Don't let one bring you down

By Brian Mull
For PGA.com

Series: Golf Buzz

Published: Tuesday, June 02, 2015 | 11:30 a.m.
Seldom seen and spoken less, the S-H-A-N-K is the scariest shot in golf. A low missile screaming to the right of the target, the dreaded hosel rocket is ugly, unpredictable, inexplicable and known to infect even the best golfers in the world. Just last month, veteran tour player Brian Henninger was playing a fine round in frigid conditions on the opening day of the Senior PGA Championship presented by KitchenAid. Then he reached the par-3 seventh and shanked his tee shot into the water, leaving NBC Sports commentator Gary Koch no choice but to utter the forbidden word.
 
However, Henninger is hardly the first professional to send an iron shot sideways with thousands watching. 
 
 
U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson frequently hits shanks, including on the eighth tee at Medinah Country Club during his singles match in the 2012 Ryder Cup.  Jack Nicklaus was defending champion in the 1964 Masters, yet on the par-3 12th he shanked his tee shot over the heads of Augusta National co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts. Going back to the days of the mashie niblick, J.H. Taylor won five Open Championships between 1894 and 1913 but still caught an occasional case of the shanks.  
 
Also known as “socketing,” the first written reference to a shank occurred in 1910, according to United States Golf Association historian Victoria Student, in the USGA Archives. It became part of the lexicon during the 1920s and 1930s, frequently appearing in the popular golf publications of that era, such as American Golfer and Golf Illustrated. Those reports range from educational to instructional to humorous, such as the tale from a practice round at the 1926 U.S. Open at Scioto Country Club in Ohio, where long-hitting Charles Hall of Birmingham, Ala., shanked a shot into a caddie’s mouth, injuring “only the boy’s dignity,” according to Golf Illustrated.
 
Over the years, we've been introduced to “Shankapotamus,” “Shank you very little” and other lighthearted terms and phrases to cast humor on a terrifying result. But it’s the unpredictability that makes the shot so befuddling and detrimental to a golfer’s confidence, as Anders Mattson, director of instruction at Saratoga National Golf Club in New York, explains.
 
“You could be going along just fine, hitting fairways, hitting greens, then suddenly a ball goes 45 degrees to the right and without notice, you suddenly feel like a 30 handicapper,” said Mattson, the 2014 and 2015 NENY PGA Section Teacher of the Year. “And, what’s worse is that you might believe you are a 30 handicapper!”
 
Many golfers misinterpret what causes a shank, Mattson said. Initial feedback leads them to believe the clubface was open when they hit the shot, but but Mattson challenges anyone to head to a driving range and intentionally try to shank a shot with an open clubface. 
 
“It’s nearly impossible and takes a great deal of hand-eye coordination to actually hit the ball poorly,” he said. 
 
Overanalyzing what produced the shot can actually do more harm than good. 
 
“So instead of swing adjustments, plane adjustments, clubface adjustments or path adjustments, we simply need to identify why the player missed the club face and hit the ball too close to the heel,” Mattson said.
 
Exposing the heel of the club to the ball too often can be the result of any number of swing or setup deficiencies. It’s common for a golfer to pull the next shot after a shank. But forgetting the shot – even laughing it off – and not allowing it to sidetrack a round or ruin your day is the best policy. 
 
“Try your best to accept the shot when it happens and treat it as an anomaly,” Mattson said.  “If the shot persists, you may have a pattern that causes you to hit the heel of the club too often, so make sure to check in with your golf coach and come up with a plan to help hit the ball in the middle of the clubface more often.” 
 

Brian Mull is a freelance writer from North Carolina who has covered amateur and professional golf for more than a decade. You can follow him on Twitter @BGMull