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Mar 30

Shanking – the Worst Experience in All of Golf

Shanking Like Catching the Flu

It’s worse than missing a short putt – in front of people on the weekend, you can rationalize that – everybody misses a short putt now and then, even on TV. It’s worse than chunking out of the rough – man, that brush was thick…Tarzan couldn’t have gotten out of that. It’s even worse…yes, it is, than whiffing a tee shot…Oh, no, my back! Someone call a doctor…no wait, I think I’m better.

Shanking is worse than anything, because it always happens when paradise, or a very large, yawning green, seems to have opened itself wide for your arrival and eventual tap-in after an easy chip. It’s worse because it consciously sets you up for a fall. There’s a “shank” deity that walks away laughing his head off, as all of your friends try to nonchalantly look the other way.

shankShanking is like catching the flu, or a bad cold. We don’t have the shanks all the time, we catch them and they stay with us for a while, eventually departing as mysteriously as they arrived. Usually, it’s in the short irons, but for me, it can happen anywhere – I can shank a putt or a drive if I get a bad enough case of it.

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Usually, it hits my pitching wedge first, and with my limited supply of knowledge, I don’t have the antidote. I am usually mere yards from a vast expanse of well-mown green, the pin placement in the very center, a fool-proof, idiot-proof, bad technique-proof shot. All I need to do is make minimal contact with some semblance of coordination, and I’m on – but no, it “ricochets” directly right, threatening to hit anyone on that side. The iron shank produces a sound that cannot be duplicated by anything else on the golf course. It’s a kind of clank that only belongs, perhaps, in the special effects of Johnny Cash’s recording of “John Henry.” It is an anvil shot, pure and simple.


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Now, at my more advanced age, I know that the pitching wedge must go back in the bag after the first errant missile, and must not be used again in this round. Out comes the sand wedge instead, and that helps. My sand wedge was built by the ancient Phoenicians, and they forgot to connect the shaft anywhere near the face. It’s the only club I can’t shank.

I ran across an article by Herman Williams on why we shank and how to stop it. I’ll give you the link, because it can probably help you, but what caught my eye were the reasons we do it. Number one, a severe in to out swing, making the club head fall behind the arms and come down with the club “stretched” away too far from the player Number two, a severe out to in swing, with the centrifugal force sending the club head past the ball. I’ve avoided out to in most of my life, and use an in to out for most of the long clubs. How am I supposed to stop doing that after all these years? Number three, a swing that looks really good – gee, thanks a lot. Williams says that there’s a scooping going on with arms and wrists, and that a head cover one inch on the outside of the ball will cure it. Just don’t hit the head cover. You can put a tee on each side of the ball, and feel as though you’re hitting through the goal posts.


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There are worse shanks, apparently, than my right-oriented blast. Apparently, it can go right between your legs. I know I’ve never done that, because I’d never play again if I had. You can shank straight, if you catch impact with the shaft just right, but I’ve never been that lucky.

shank 2When I get the shanks, I treat it like a fever and go home, but maybe you’ll have better luck. Go see Herman Williams, and good health to us all.

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About the author

G.F. Skipworth

has spent every available moment playing golf or studying the greats since the 60s, in between world tours as a classical musician, Harvard studies in Government or as the author of a dozen novels. Nicklaus and Snead may be the statistical greats, but Skipworth is a life-long devotee of Gary Player, and considers meeting the South African at the Jeld-Wen to be an unforgettable milestone. His driving passion in golf these days is to raise viewer interest in the LPGA.