Perhaps there is a reason why the word shank is similar to shark. Like a shark spotted at a beach, a shank strikes fear into the heart of every golfer. A shank is a shot so scary that many players avoid even saying the word. Some of the greatest in the game, including Johnny Miller and Jack Nicklaus, suddenly developed a shank in the heat of competition. "Golf Digest" included the shank in its list of the five most embarrassing shots in golf. One reason a shank is so feared is the mysterious nature of the miscue. The cause is debated, and so are the potential cures. One thing is certain. When you start shanking, you become almost paralyzed over the ball, praying to the golf gods that it won't happen again.
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What Is a Shank?
If you are a right-handed golfer, a shank is a shot that darts to the right at an angle that The Golf Helper website describes as "amazing." If occurs when you strike the ball with the hosel rather than the clubface. The hosel is the tiny raised area between the shaft and the clubface, and the ball ricochets off the hosel with a sickening sound and result.
Margain of Error
A shank is so scary, in part, because it is a small error that results in a major miscue. The distance between a disastrous shot off the hosel, as opposed to a good shot off the clubface, is a matter of roughly 1/2 inch. If you shank a shot, you've actually come close to hitting a solid one. But it doesn't feel like it.
The Golf Helper cites a handful of common causes of a shank. Setting up at address with your weight on your heels and transferring it to your toes during the swing can move the clubface forward just enough to lead to a shank. So can standing too close to the ball and then adjusting by moving the club more to the outside on the downswing. A drift of your arms away from your body can move the hosel into the impact area. So can an incomplete backswing. However, noted instructor Butch Harmon defies conventional wisdom by asserting most shanks are caused by an inside-out swing and a closed clubface, instead of an open clubface, at impact.
When a top instructor such as Harmon says that a closed clubface causes shanks -- a notion that seems to defy physics, since it seems the ball should ricochet to the left in that case instead of the right -- you know you are in mysterious territory. However, regardless of the cause, Harmon's suggested cure makes sense. Put a headcover outside a ball on the practice range and work on swinging the club with more of an inside-out motion. If you do so, you won't hit the headcover and you will be unlikely to strike the ball with the hosel.