The shank can be a bit like proverbial London busses – you can wait a long time for one to arrive, but usually a few more follow in quick succession and there’s a reason for that, which I will come to in a moment. Like all swing faults, it is caused by incorrect technique, but the issue that always needs to be addressed first is whether or not that flawed technique is owing to a lack of golf fitness. A golfer seeking to eradicate the shank should first identify the exact source(s) of the problem and ascertain, via screening, whether the root cause is in fact a physical restriction of some kind.
What Causes A Shank?
A shank occurs because the club head has moved closer to the ball at impact than it was at address and, as a consequence of that, contact with the ball is made off the hosel instead of the centre of the club face.
A popular misconception is that a shank is pretty much exclusively caused by an excessively open clubface, when, in reality, it is more frequently the result of a player swinging out-to-in with a fast closing clubface, a combination of factors that positions the hosel closer to the ball. The majority of higher handicap golfers have an OTT move and an out-to-in swingpath and if they experience a shank, they tend to imagine that it is at least in part owing to an open clubface and they try to close the face with the trail hand through impact. This only makes the path more out to in and the face more closed, thus increasing the chance of another shank – hence the London busses analogy.
The OTT move in transition can be caused by a number of physical issues, including insufficient rotational mobility in the thoracic spine and/or the hips (along with an inability to adequately isolate their rotation in order to achieve the requisite degree of separation between shoulder and pelvic girdle rotation), or an insufficient range of external rotation in the trail shoulder. A flying right elbow can also be the result of the trail hand overpowering its lead counterpart. Insufficient strength in the lead arm can lead to the golfer actually supporting the lead hand with the trail hand ‘at the top’. If this is the case then the lead arm/hand must be strengthened because they should play the dominant role throughout the swing.
The shank can equally be the result of early extension, which sees the spine and hips move closer to the ball during the downswing often coinciding with a loss of spine angle/posture. As the hips and pelvis move closer to the ball during the downswing, the upper body will lift up in order to maintain balance. This is why a lot of shanks occur with the shorter clubs, because many golfers lean forward more to accommodate the shorter shaft, thus shifting their COG forward, causing them to lose balance and pitch forward during the downswing. Once again the issue is one of posture, COG management and maintaining the spine angle.
The increasingly sedentary nature of modern lifestyles means that many golfers have a combination of tight hip flexors/hamstrings and weak gluteal muscles. When weak glutes force the lumbar extensors and hamstrings to try to compensate for them, it usually results in the golfer losing their spine angle in the downswing. Weakness in the abdominal muscles will equally inhibit a golfer's ability to maintain their spine angle, as can tightness in the calf muscles. It is perhaps also worth mentioning that the shank often rears its ugly head in the latter stages of a round and this is a sign of a lack of endurance strength. Even if the core and glutes are basically strong, if their endurance is poor, as the round progresses they will cease to function effectively and increase the likelihood of early extension.
A shank can result from an excessively in-to-out swingpath in which the clubhead falls too far behind the player, creating an overly shallow downswing and propelling the club outward through the impact zone. In an effort to avoid blocking the shot, the tendency is then to try and close the clubface sharply, which can increase the chances of shanking the ball.
Just as both an out-to-in and an in-to-out path can cause a shank, so can two other polar opposites: if the body slides rather than rotates so that it blocks the arms, or indeed if the hips ‘spin out’ and rotate too quickly thus outracing the arms and hands, either way the clubface can reach impact so wide open that the ball shanks off the heel. If your downswing loses correct sequencing and your upper and lower body becomes disconnected, the likelihood of a shanked shot increases exponentially.
The sway and slide lateral move is most often owing to restricted hip internal rotation. Any restriction in the ability to pivot around the lead hip will force the golfer to transfer downswing momentum in alternative directions and can cause him/her to slide or hang back, both of which, as we know, can precipitate a shank.Yet another contributory cause is ‘casting’ and/or incorrectly rolling/scooping with the hands and wrists through the impact zone. Ideally a full wrist hinge of 90° or more will be preserved in the downswing to, or just below, waist-level. Thereafter, the back of the lead wrist must rotate downward (supinate) as the trail palm also rotates downward (pronates.) crucially without the shaft being pushed outward. As the trail arm extends it must essentially straighten downward, otherwise it will propel the clubhead off-plane and increase the possibility of shanking the ball.
Obviously insufficient flexibility in the wrists – especially restricted dorsiflexion – will prevent that “support the tray” trail hand position ‘at the top’ and restrict the ability to hold onto it (and thus lag) in the downswing.
The Way Forward
Use our FREE self-assessment screening videos to check for any of the above physical restrictions that might be inhibiting your swing and could at any time lead to a bout of the dreaded shanks. Then use your results to select the appropriate module(s) from our comprehensive Foundation Level Conditioning Programme to rid yourself of that most destructive of shots.