We had some disagreement in-house about how embarrassing a shank is. On the one hand, you can be close to hitting a decent or even a very good shot. On the other hand, have you ever seen a golfer become an emotional puddle faster than after a case of repeated shanks?
Johnny Miller was contending in the Crosby at Pebble Beach in 1972 when he hit "a perfect shank" at the 16th hole and lost to Jack Nicklaus in a playoff. Nicklaus could relate: As the defending champion in the 1964 Masters, he shanked his tee shot at the 12th hole directly over Augusta National co-founders Bobby Jones and Clifford Roberts while playing with Arnold Palmer. And now that you're really queasy, Rex Caldwell remembers shanking three consecutive chip shots in his PGA Tour debut. But our favorite shank story is from a round at Prestwick, just down the road from Troon, during British Open week in 1997. The first hole runs parallel to railroad tracks on the right, and when a member of our group shanked his approach, the ball squirted directly into an empty rail car of a passing train. After we all did double takes -- what's a shank without a double take? -- the shanker rebounded with a line he has used ever since: "I hit one that's still going."
In his book, The Pro: Lessons from My Father About Golf and Life, Golf Digest Teaching Professional Butch Harmon recalls this explanation on shanks from his dad, Claude, the 1948 Masters champion and a legendary teacher at Winged Foot:
"Dad watched my student take one swing and said, 'To stop shanking, you've got to understand what causes a shank in the first place. Most people assume that the clubface is open and that the hands are in front of the ball. They think this causes you to make contact where the clubface meets the hosel. In fact, the opposite is true. A shank is caused by a closed clubface. You release the club early, throwing it at the ball on the way down. This shuts the clubface and traps the ball between the hosel and the ground, causing it to shoot to the right -- a shank. Because people think they've got the clubface open, they work hard to close it, which only exacerbates the problem. The more closed you try
to get it, the more likely you are to hit a shank.' "
Says Axe: "As I understand Harmon's explanation, it's a special case of a double-hit, first off the clubface and then the hosel. I feel sure that this is not the only way to cause a shank. In about 15 minutes on the far end of the range, I taught myself to shank about two out of three balls by addressing the ball on the heel of the club and making a normal swing. (It was hard to force myself to make a full swing without shin guards and an athletic cup, but I emerged unscathed.) I feel sure that I did not make any large change in the clubface orientation at impact between shanked and unshanked shots."
CHUCK'S tip: Most shanks are hit with the face closing, the hosel swiveling out into the ball. So play a fade. The open face brings the hosel away from the ball.