What Causes The Shanks? (& How To Fix Them)

Golf Shank
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A golf shank is one of the three worst shots that can happen in our amazing but challenging sport.

I think the other two that nearly rival the hosel rocket is a topped shot (especially on the first tee shot) and possibly getting the yips on or around the greens. The crazy thing is that these shots can happen to both beginners and experienced players alike. 

The good news is that you can fix this issue easier than you might think. If you’ve struggled with this issue in the past or are doing a Google search to find a mid-round fix, we’re here to help. 

Don’t let one shot define you and use these tips to start hitting better shots more consistently.

Golf Shank Explained 

A golf shank is something that a lot of players experience in their life and for some, it might happen more than we care to admit. The first step to overcoming any issue in your swing or certain shot that scares is you by understanding it. 

Once you understand why something is happening, you bring it to your awareness. Then, you can remain aware on the golf course and in practice to avoid certain issues that hold you back from scoring well.

Before fixing your shanks, let’s first understand them. 

A golf shank happens when the ball doesn’t hit the sweet spot of the club and misses on the heel. When you hit the ball closer to the hosel (hence the nickname, hosel rocket), the ball shoots dead right for right-handed golfers. A shank goes a fraction of the normal distance and usually leads to players feeling confused on what just happened. 

The frustrating and embarrassing golf shot tends to happen with mid-irons and not a common miss with woods or hybrids. While it can happen with those clubs, it’s just not nearly as frequent. Instead, this shot tends to happen with irons and can happen from the fairway or rough. 

One moment you’re looking to hit a great approach shot to have a close look at birdie. Then, your stomach churns as you watch your shot dive right and maybe even out of play, depending on the golf course.

So, what causes you to hit the ball on the hosel instead of the sweet spot? Let’s diagnose this issue…

Why Golf Shanks Occur (and How to Fix the Shanks) 

What’s crazy about these shots is that it doesn’t happen from just one specific move. Unfortunately, it can happen from one specific issue or even a combination. 

Here are the five biggest reasons why golfers hit shanks. 

1. Weight on Your Toes 

Balance is one of the most important parts of hitting the ball consistently with any club in the bag. Despite Scottie Schefller’s “happy feet”, most PGA Tour pros exemplify the ability to create tons of power yet maintain perfect balance. 

When you aren’t balanced, that’s when things can go bad.  

Cure: Stay Balanced

To avoid this from happening, make sure your weight stays balanced from setup through your follow through. 

You want to feel like your weight is directly over the middle part of your feet or even back toward your heels. This will ensure you don’t get up on your toes in the downswing and can create maximum power as well. 

2. Standing Too Close to the Ball 

The second common reason that shanks happen is also from a poor setup position. You might have perfect balance but if you’re too close to the ball, it’s easy to hit the dreaded shank.

Instead, you want to have plenty of room to create an inside-outside swing path (more on that in the next point). Plus, this will help you maintain your posture and spine angle throughout the swing.

Cure: Check Address Position 

To create a better setup that will almost eliminate the ability to hit shanks, stand further back in your stance. When you crowd the ball too much, it’s easy to make contact with the hosel, not the sweet spot in the middle of the club. 

3. Playing Fades

If you play a fade, it’s easier to hit a shank than it is when you hit a draw due to swing path issues. Remember, the shanks come from hitting the hosel, which is more toward the heel of the golf club. 

The opposite shot is a draw, which is hit more from the toe on mishits, not the hosel. 

Cure: Start Hitting Draws 

If you’re on the golf course and this happens, you don’t have the luxury of going to the range to work on your issues. So instead, try to picture a draw shot for your next approach shot. Visualize the ball taking off right of your target and drawing back toward it.

On your practice swings, try to really feel an inside to outside move on your downswing so you’re swinging out toward the target. 

If you’re hitting a shank on the range, try to overcorrect and hit massive hook shots. Or, use a training aid like the Lag Shot to create more lag and in the downswing. 

Related: How to Hit a Draw 

4. Sliding Lower Body

An issue that might happen during your swing is laterally moving toward the target. When your knees move laterally, it forces the hosel to come into the impact zone before you have time to square the face. This will lead to the hosel rocket that we all hate. 

Remember, sliding will not only make it easier to hit a shank, it will kill power too. Instead, you need to learn how to transfer your weight properly for maximum power on each shot. 

Cure: Turn Your Lower Body

To make sure you don’t slide your lower body toward the target, you want to feel like you’re pushing off the back foot. When using the ground instead of sliding, you will push up and around instead of laterally toward the target.

A good training aid to help with this issue is the Swing Board 2.0. It’s a great device to help you understand how to transfer your weight in the golf swing. 

5. Mental Game Woes 

While a lot of this shot is caused by bad mechanics and a poor setup position, some of it is mental too. 

Cure: Practice a Pre-Shot Routine

The easiest way to avoid your mind from sabotaging your success is to create a great pre-shot routine. It’s one of the most common habits of elite golfers and a great way to prime your mind and body for the shot.

While most people think about taking practice swings during a routine, it’s important to think about the right things too. Specifically, focus on your target and where you want the ball to go. 

Unfortunately, so many golfers do the exact opposite and think about where they don’t want the ball to go (water hazards, out of bounds, bunkers, etc.). But the mind doesn’t understand the word “don’t” so it’s vital to focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.

A strong mental game paired with sound mechanics, especially at setup, will make it much less likely to hit a shank.

Top Questions about Shanks in Golf

Do you have more questions or concerns about this frustrating miss with your irons? If so, we’ll cover them below so you can finally overcome this miss once and for all.

What is the difference between a shank and a slice in golf?

A slice in golf is a frustrating shot as you lose distance and it’s not very accurate either. The shot usually leaves you a longer approach shot and oftentimes have to hit from the rough or behind trees. While it’s not the best shot to hit off the tee, it’s at least playable and almost expected for higher handicap players.

But a shank is entirely different.

A shank goes violently right immediately after impact and is one of the most embarrassing shots in all golf. Not only will it leave you perplexed, it could hit a fellow golfer if they’re standing too close. Or, it can travel out of bounds, into a hazard, and make it hard to play well the rest of the day.

While a slice isn’t the best shot to play off the tee, it’s a lot more playable than a shank. 

How do you fix a golf shank?

Use the tips and drills from above to fix your issue sooner, rather than later. While the tips above will help your mechanics, I also suggest creating a strong pre-shot routine to prime your mind for success.

You can have great mechanics but if your mind is filled with negative thoughts, it’s hard to hit great shots. Make sure you practice your routine on the range, including your breathing, and mental thoughts too. This will make it easier for you to go on autopilot when hitting shots and not have your conscious mind holding you back. 

Remember, golf is a mental game just as much as it is a physical one. As Arnold Palmer said, “Golf is a game of inches. The most important are the six inches between your ears.” 

Are golf shanks mental?

As I mentioned before, the “S” word is one of the most frustrating shots in all golf. But another shot that rivals it for more embarrassing is the “Y” word aka, the yips. 

The yips happen to all types of players, from beginners to experienced professionals. Even Tiger Woods, who has some of the best hands in golf, had to overcome them a few years ago. 

While shanks happen with irons and your mid-game, yips happen on or around these greens. Unlike shanks, yips tend to be more of a mental block than a physical mishap. 

So, are golf shanks mental? 

To an extent, yes, but I would say it’s 20% mental and 80% mechanical. While the yips are flip-flopped and probably 80% mental, 20% mechanical. 

Why do good players shank?

Good players hit these awful shots just like the rest of us, sometimes even in big moments. Since they have such technically sound swings, it’s safe to assume that it’s more mental than physical. 

What’s impressive about watching pros hit these shots is how good they bounce back. So many amateurs hit a shank then are mentally screwed up for a few shots, few holes, or even the rest of the round. While professionals can hit a bad shot, brush it off, then hit a great shot to follow. 

Why am I suddenly shanking my irons?

If the miss happened out of nowhere, I suggest checking your setup position first. Don’t look to change anything with your swing before starting with the golf swing basics

At set up position, check your:

  • Weight distribution is in the middle of your feet (not on your toes) or even slightly on your heels.
  • Position to the golf ball. Make sure you aren’t crowding the golf ball and have plenty of room to create a free flowing swing. 

If neither of these fixes work, use the other three cures above to free yourself from the shanks. 

Why is a bad golf shot called a shank? 

Now that you’ve learned just about everything about this weird golf shot, you might wonder where did this term come from? 

According to National Club Golfer, “It’s an old English word, of West Germanic origin, and refers to the lower part of a leg – hence the lamb shank we all tuck into at a Sunday carvery. It is thought to have come into use as a verb, and a golfing term, in the 1920s.”

Wrapping Up

Golf shanks are an unfortunate part of the game but likely happen to everyone at some point or another. 

Just remember, whenever you do hit one, remind yourself it happens to the best golfers in the world. Ian Poulter is a great example (sorry Ian) as he’s been known to hit this awful shot on some of the biggest stages of golf.

While it’s frustrating, it’s important to not personalize the shot and move on quickly. There’s no need to relive the shot over and over again. This will only make you more likely to remember the mishit and could impact your mental game down the road.

Instead, diagnose the issue objectively and focus on the next shot. With these fixes and a strong mental game, I know you won’t let it ruin your round. 

What’s your biggest cure for fixing the shanks? Does this dreaded shot happen with one specific club? 

Let us know in the comments below. 

Phil Grounds

Phil Grounds

Phil is an entrepreneur, avid golfer, and the creator of The Golfers Gear. He’s been playing golf for 20+ years, and obsessed with helping golfers score better. He’s overcome so many common issues that most golfers face (like that nasty slice), chipping yips, and more to become a single digit handicap

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