I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I have battled through multiple bouts of shanks throughout my amateur golfing career. Even when I was striking the ball well, I still feared the possibility of hitting hosel rockets with any approach shot shorter than 100 yards. I basically learnt how to cope with this internal fear, attempting to use mental strength to overcome what is ultimately a physical problem.
Thankfully, I can now comfortably say that my shanks are gone forever. Even if I were to shank the ball at some random point in the future, I would know exactly what went wrong, and exactly how to fix it.
I say all this because I know how frustrating and terrifying the shanks can be. More importantly, I am more than happy to share my solution to this particular problem. My hope is that if you experiment just a little bit with the ideas that I suggest, you will overcome the shanks forever.
What causes you to shank a golf ball?
The main reason that you shank the ball is because you take your hands too far inside during the backswing. As a natural consequence, your hands then travel on an excessively in-to-out path during the follow-through.
Said another way, by taking the club back too far inside, you increase the likelihood of your hands and arms moving toward the ball during the follow-through. If you are able to ‘flip’ your hands at impact, you can make reasonable contact. However, if you fail to ‘flip’ your hands at the right time, the clubhead will continue along the exaggerated in-to-out path, and it becomes very easy to drive the hosel of the club into the golf ball. This is what causes a shank.
You can see in the image above that a good pitcher of a golf ball will have their hands very close to their lower body through the hitting area.
Conversely, people who struggle with hitting shanks tend to have lots of space between their hands and their lower body. This is because the hands are moving along an in-to-out path that gets increasingly closer to the ball.
How To Stop Shanking The Golf Ball
To help break this problem into easily digestible parts, we are now going to look at it from two perspectives, namely the backswing and the follow-through.
Backswing Problem: You take the club away way too far inside
You might not realize it, but the first move that you make basically sets off a domino effect that is very difficult to recover from
When you take the club away too far inside, the weight of the club gets stuck behind you. In order to make contact with the ball, you then have to implement an excessively in-to-out path during the follow through. The result is that your hands and your clubhead move out toward the ball.
Backswing Solution: Learning how to keep your arms in front of your chest
I have to be honest. It was only watching some of Jim Waldron’s videos on YouTube that I truly came to understand what it means to keep your arms in front of your chest.
To get a sense of what this feels like, hold your arms straight out in front of your chest (see image below).
Now turn your torso to the right and to the left. You should find the relationship between your hands and your chest actually stays pretty much the same.
Waldron calls this the Arm Swing Illusion. Most people think that they need to move the arms as far as possible horizontally when in reality, only a smidgen of horizontal movement is required. Instead, the predominant movement of the arms is actually vertical (upwards and downwards), while you turn your torso back and through.
These gifs pretty much sum up the arm swing illusion.
The images below demonstrate what most amateurs do with their arms during the backswing and the follow-through.
By moving the arms directly inside during the backswing, the clubhead moves way under the ideal plane, and you are forced to make a series of compensations in order to make contact with the ball. One of those compensations is moving the hands out toward the ball during the follow-through and at impact, which is the main cause of a shank.
As a final point on the back swing solution, keep these image in mind.
You need to learn how to combine the correct arm movement upwards and downwards, with torso rotation and back and through. When these movements are combined, you will find it much easier to keep the club on an ideal plan, rather than way below the ideal plane.
Follow Through Solution: Find The Correct Arc On The Downswing
When you find the correct arc, you can use momentum to your advantage.
With chipping and pitching specifically, you need to learn how to drop your hands and arms downwards rather than outwards (toward the ball) during the first part of the follow through. Malaska calls this ‘tipping the club’. Joe Nichols calls it standing the club up. Other people call it ‘dropping the club into the slot’.
It is crucial to understand that the movement Malaska is advocating is actually about creating a balance between opposing forces. Due to momentum, inertia and gravity, the clubhead has an automatic tendency to fall behind you on the follow through. This applies to good players and bad players alike.
The Malaska move is all about redirecting the weight of the club in front of you as the first move in the downswing. Doing this well positions the club into the correct arc, and makes the process of running the club into the ball almost effortless.
Conversely, if you fail to redirect the weight of the club in front of you, the weight of the club will fall behind you, and you will be forced to flip the club at the last millisecond in order to make contact with the ball. This introduces the possibility of hitting shanks, and it makes it almost impossible to become confident and consistent with both chipping and pitching.
Importantly, the feeling of getting your hands, arms and club into the correct arc might seem counterintuitive at first. The golf industry loves to talk about driving the butt of the club toward the ball, but the feel that you should actually be aiming for is driving the butt of the club directly into the ground when you start the downswing. When you set this intention, you are essentially converting gravity, momentum and inertia from a nemesis to a trusted ally.
Finding the correct arc is all about finding the balance between these opposing forces. The weight of the club has a natural tendency to fall behind you during the transition. Your goal is to figure out how to reposition the weight of the club in front of you to start the downswing. By tipping the club ever so slightly at the top of the swing, it’s like you are placing the weight of the club along the correct train track. Once the weight of the club is positioned along this track, all you really need to do is focus on running the club into the ball. The hard work has already been done, and the momentum of the clubhead will naturally want to continue along this arc until the end of your follow-through.
Some More Helpful Follow Through Ideas
Learning How to Downcock Your Wrist Correctly
Take a second, and just try hitting the ground with your club, as if you were chopping a piece of wood with an axe.
You should find that this is actually pretty easy to do, and you can hit the ground in the same spot with relative ease.
Now all you have to do is learn how to do this motion (upcocking and downcocking the wrists), while turning your torso.
Honestly, this is arguably the easiest way to learn how to chip and pitch a golf ball, even if it’s slightly different to what you are used to. Upcocking and downcocking the wrist (a vertical movement pattern), is completely different to flipping the club into place (a horizontal movement pattern).
Moreover, it is my belief that amateurs who struggle with their short game never learn how to downcock their wrists correctly. They never learn how to escape the flipping motion that causes shanks, fat shots, thin shots and ultimately the disintegration of short game confidence. You simply need to learn how to upcock and downcock your wrists (like a judo chop), while turning your torso. This is a very different feeling from the backhanded slapping motion that so many coaches advocate.
Using the butt of the club as a reference point
Interestingly enough, using the butt of the club as a reference point can be a dealbreaker when trying to cure the shanks.
Instead of driving the butt of the club toward the ball (this is basically the perfect recipe for a shank), you need to learn how to return the butt of the club into a vertical position at impact.
It can be helpful to think of pointing the butt of the club toward the ground as you start the downswing. This subtle move slots your hands and arms into the correct arc, making it much easier to run the club into the ball.