A blasphemous phrase that should only be uttered under the worst of circumstances in golf – shank. The mere mention of the word can strike fear in the hearts of even the most seasoned golfers.
So, what is a shank in golf?
A shank in golf occurs when the ball doesn’t make contact with the clubface completely but makes contact with either the complete end or hosel of the club. Shanking the golf ball results in it shooting sideways off the club, going nowhere near the intended target of the swing.
Shanking the ball can be a huge mental barrier to overcome. Players at your local municipal course will likely shudder in fear if you walk on the property and start talking about shanks. The topic is very taboo in golf, as shanks can become mental and start occurring more and more, even to the best of players.
What Is a Shank in Golf?
Shanking the golf ball is a phrase that refers to when the golf club is swung and the face of the club misses contact with the ball.
When a player completely misses the ball, the ball stays in place and it is said that the player whiffs. This is common among newer golfers who are still getting used to the hand-eye coordination and feel of a golf swing.
On a shank, the player comes close to missing the ball but catches a piece of the ball with either the heel or toe of the club. Unlike a shot that contacts the face towards the heel or toe, a shank makes contact outside the face of the club with either the rounded outside of the club toe or the hosel of the club where the head and shaft of the club connect.
Due to the unconventional and frankly unintended contact with the club, there is no consistency or ability to predict what the ball will do after contacting the club outside of the face. A shank can take many ball flights and lead to varying outcomes in what the ball performance looks like, but the key indicator for a player is the feel of contact outside of the club face.
Players who are struggling with this can take a few different approaches. The first step is to clear your head after this happens to you out on the course. Short-term memory loss is a golfer’s best friend. Then, look at your setup and make sure that the ball is properly positioned.
Shanks typically do not occur often to the usual player. Most of the time, it is a one-off occurrence due to something going wrong in that individual swing. However, it is possible to get mentally blocked about hitting the ball, especially with wedges, to the point that a shank can become a repeatable offense.
The occasional bad shot happens to everyone who plays golf. It’s important to accept a shank when it happens and then immediately forget about it. Focus on watching the club hit the ball – there’s no reason to get hung up on the issue and cause it to snowball, ruining your round.
What Causes a Shank in Golf?
A few different things can cause a shank while either practicing or playing out on the course. Contact with the club needs to be made by the ball, but not on the face of the club.
As a result, the ball needs to make contact with either the outside of the toe or in the hosel where the club shaft connects to the head of the club. A right-handed player would then see the ball shoot directly right instead of moving anywhere near in the direction of the target.
It’s worth noting that shanks are most common in the lower portion of the bag with wedges or very short irons, like an 8 or 9 iron. The reason behind this is the size of the club head and the precision needed to hit the face of the club.
Even when a player takes a bad swing with a driver, it’s less likely they’ll hit the hosel or miss outside the toe simply due to the size of the driver club head.
The number one reason that amateurs hit a shank is that the club path is abruptly interrupted, usually because the player picked their head up towards the target instead of watching the face of the club hit the golf ball.
The movement in the swing path has to be significant because the ball needs to miss the entire clubface and hit either the outside of the club past the toe or the hosel where the head of the club and the shaft connect.
The distance that a player stands away from the ball at address can also make a large difference. Crowding the ball can cause the club path to move inside out and create a greater opportunity for the player to miss the face and hit the hosel.
Standing too far away can cause the club to come inside of where the ball is and queue the ball off the end of the club as a shank.
How to Fix a Shank
The first stop on the trail to fix a consistent shank is to head to the range. Work on setup and club path with your wedges and irons to make sure that the club is able to be delivered into the ball consistently.
It’s important to identify which end of the club you are shanking the ball off of. For example, if you find yourself hitting the ball off the hosel of the club, back a half step away from the ball to give the club more space to rotate on your downswing and bring the face back to square on the ball at impact.
A good drill if you’re having difficulty bringing the club into the ball square is to put an alignment stick in the ground behind you when you swing on the range. The alignment stick should make a 45-degree angle with the ground, give or take a bit either way depending on if you’re having problems with your swing going either too far inside or outside.
You can also utilize a quick full-swing version of the gate drill by setting two tees straight in the ground about the width of the club head apart behind the ball. If you take one of the tees out of the ground on your swing, you can tell if you’re inside or outside based on what tee you hit on the downswing.
In a pinch, players can try to choke down on their wedges a bit, focus on the tempo of their club transition, and really key on keeping their head down. Hit some shots on the range where you never pick your head up at all. Who cares where the ball goes? The only purpose of this drill is to take full swings with no head movement whatsoever.
There is also a considerable mental game to ending the shanks. If a player consistently sees these awful outcomes when trying to hit wedges, they’re going to shy away every time they have to take a wedge out of the bag. It’s important to recognize that everything with the golf swing is temporary. A fix will come. Don’t lose faith.
Finally, be sure that you are standing an appropriate distance from the ball. Players should be standing so that the club allows their arms to loosely hang at address; not with the hands too close to the player’s groin or stretched out too far so they’re reaching out to the ball at address.
What Is a Hosel Rocket in Golf?
As we discussed, a shank can occur either when the ball hits the complete outside or the complete inside of the club, missing the clubface. The portion of the club where the shaft connects to the club head is called the hosel.
A “hosel rocket” is a term for a shank where the ball makes contact with the hosel of the club and fires dead right (or left for our fellow left-handed golfers) in a line drive motion. This can actually be very dangerous, as hitting a ball 90 degrees right of the target isn’t generally expected.
Due to the infrequency of players hitting a hosel rocket, players will sometimes forget that the possibility exists and stand off to the right of a right-handed player or the left of a left-handed player.
Should the player accidentally fire off a hosel rocket on their swing, there is a great potential for injury since it is generally unexpected by the playing partner, and the ball fires off the hosel with some serious velocity, hence why “rocket” is part of the terminology.
It is also worth noting that other players on adjacent fairways or course employees could also be at risk. The unexpected nature of a hosel rocket means that there really is not a great way to prepare. The only tip that can be provided is to avoid standing anywhere except behind where a player is preparing to hit a golf ball.
Shank vs Slice
A shank does have more in common with a slice than with a hook; however, the outcomes of these two shots are completely different. Players who are used to hitting a slice when they swing the golf club can plan for that. There is no planning for a shank.
For example, if you know that you are going to hit about a five to 10-yard slice every time you swing, it is easy enough to try to aim to the left (or right, for lefties) of your target, anticipating that the ball will slice and make its way back to the target.
However, players who hit a shank generally don’t have that luxury. First off, every golfer in the world hopes that a shank is a one-off event instead of a consistent miss. However, a shank generally doesn’t advance the ball much further down the course towards the green.
Instead, a shank will cause the ball to go dead right (or left if you are left-handed) off the face of the club. This generally is not planned, nor should players start aiming 90 degrees left of their target expecting to hit a shank. Shanks are not a playable ball flight and must be dealt with through practice and perseverance, as we discussed earlier.
That being said, there are some similarities between the two. Both result because the player did not hit the center of the club face when trying to swing through the golf ball. Both also generally move the ball in the same direction, with a shank being significantly more severe than a slice.
If you are a player who typically plays a slice, you may be more prone to the occasional shank just because of the path your club takes into impact. Many slices are a result of taking the club too far outside on the back swing.
If the club is pushed more outside than usual and can’t make it back to impact, the ball could catch the hosel of the club more easily than on a swing that typically produces a hook.
The best recommendation for this is to make sure that you aren’t making a chopping motion in your swing if you play a slice. Taking the club outside and up steep is what leads to this lack of consistent impact that can cause a hosel rocket. Be sure to stand far enough away from the ball that the club can be delivered back into impact on a similar plane, even when playing a slice.
Shank vs Hook
No, this isn’t a strange Peter Pan spinoff, although seemingly that’s the only way these two things could be put together. A hook swing generally does not produce a shank. Of course, there’s one very special exception to this.
It is possible to shank the ball on a hook swing, but it really only occurs if the player is too far away from the ball at address. The club takes its normal path, but the player cannot extend the club far enough on the downswing to reach the ball. Instead, the ball makes contact with the outside of the club head beyond the toe of the club and fires off as a shank.
This is generally an easier fix than with a slice swing because the player can just take a slight step inward when they’re about to swing at the ball and it should allow the player to no longer miss the ball with a shank.
If the player is too close, they could seemingly still shank the ball, but crowding the ball at address is more associated with a slice, so there is a sliding scale in terms of what types of swing you’re taking and your setup versus the probability of a shank.
The hook swing comes with a curse of its own – the dreaded duck hook. Although the duck hook generally advances the ball further down the course towards the green than a shank, it’s still a major miss. Also known as a snap hook, the ball nosedives dead left off the club instead of moving towards the target with a slight right to left (opposite for a lefty) motion as planned.