The most dreaded disease in golf is the shanks. In the game of golf, nothing worse compares to it except swiping at that little white sphere and missing it altogether. I don’t know which is more embarrassing–a shank or a miss. It depends on how bad the shank is and the course layout. If it’s a really bad shank, and there’s a boundary to the right, the ball might go out-of-bounds. Same for a water hazard. Either way, both shots make a shank worst than a miss because you incur one or two penalty strokes.
Some non-golfers reading this blog might be saying, “I know what a miss is; but what’s a shank.” It’s when you hit a ball on a certain part of an iron club and the ball flies way off to the right of your intended target. A shanked shot is so misdirected that the golfer who hit it might not even see where the ball went.
Shanking a ball is the golfer’s worst nightmare. Many an avid golfer has given up the game because he or she contracted the shanks, for which there is no cure or medicine to take to get rid of them. It’s worse than the putting yips because the shanks are much more embarrassing. Plus, when you have the shanks, your playing competitors should be forewarned and therefore not stand anywhere near the right side of your intended ball flight. You don’t want to kill your golfing buddies. Moreover, those who stand too close to your shanked shots and get buzzed might not ever play another game with you. Getting the shanks can even be bad for your social life.
At least with the putting yips, you usually can find an excuse. You’re too old; or your eyesight is failing miserably; or you’ve got the shakes from drinking too much; or you’re depressed because your dog just died; or any number of sundry reasons. But with the shanks, THERE ARE NO EXCUSES. Unless it’s Vertigo.
The first time I got Vertigo, I was in my mid-forties. I had a private golf school a few days later. While instructing the group of men on the practice tee, I took one swing at a ball for demonstration. I totally missed the ball. That was the first and only time I ever did that as a pro golfer. Actually, it’s easier to swing and miss than to shank a ball. In fact, you’ve got to be a pretty good golfer in order to consistently have the shanks.
So, what causes a shank? Just look at how an iron golf club is made. It has two parts–a shaft and a head. These two components are joined together by what’s called a “hozel.” The hozel is part of the club head. In the manufacturing process, the separate shaft is inserted into the partially hollow hozel. That is what causes a shank. The outer end of the club head is the “toe,” and the part of the club head near the hozel is “the heel.”
Of course, when you play golf, the ideal is to hit the ball every time on the center of the club face. Golf club manufacturers call that its “center of gravity;” Touring pros abbreviate it to “CG;” it’s known popularly as “the sweet spot.” When a golfer hits a ball too much in the heel, that’s getting close to the hozel for comfort. Hitting the ball on the inside of the hozel produces the shanked shot.
A few, small, golf club manufacturers have made iron clubs with no hozel, so that you can’t shank. But those companies have never captured much of the iron club market. Plus, golfers who use such clubs sometimes are frowned upon by the fraternity of elite golfers. It just isn’t cool to play golf with hozel-less iron clubs. They look so funky. The leading edge has to be rounded in the heel. Golfers not used to them think that rounded heel makes them difficult to align the leading edge to the target at address.
Little Jerry Barber (5′, 5″) was the 1961 PGA Champion and my friend. He owned a small golf club company that made the best shank-proof iron clubs. I once asked the astute Mr. Barber if he believed in Jesus of Nazareth as his Savior from sin. Jerry answered by reciting the famed Apostles’ Creed. Ha! That got my attention. Jerry was known for having taught Sunday school at his Methodist Church. Jerry never needed to play his shank-proof clubs even though he did so for his club business. He hit the ball every time right in the CG. It’s just didn’t go very far. Yet he beat long-driving Don January in that PGA playoff.
To an avid male golfer, the word “shank” is about like the word “hell” to a churchman. In other words, you just don’t say that word in pleasant, refined company. Or, if you do, you say it in hushed tones, perhaps with your hand covering your mouth so that no one can read your lips. To tell a golfer who is about to hit an iron swing, “you’re going to shank it,” is like telling anyone, “you’re going to hell.”
Just like the fear of going to hell, the memory of hitting a shanked shot puts fear in the best of golfers and the bravest of souls who dare to play the game. The hardest thing to do in golf is to extricate the memory of a shanked shot. I’ve thought there should be a golf swing instructor who is also a psychologist who specializes in getting golfers to both quit shanking and quit thinking of it. The latter can be just as troublesome as the former. That is, you might get rid of the shanks, but the memory of them might still linger somewhere in your cranium. Telephoning such a pro to make an appointment would be like calling “ghostbusters.”
When I was about fifteen years old, I had a golfer friend named Jim Angsted who was a few years older than me. Jim was a near scratch golfer (0 handicap) who sometimes got the shanks. And when he did, he had a very difficult time getting rid of them. Like a brash juvenile, I once called him “Shanksted” to his face, just joking. But he didn’t take it that way. I have never known a shanker who does. I thought I was going to get killed.
The shanking disease has hit the PGA Tour. And it’s not just the lesser knowns who have caught the disease. The shanks have arrived among golf’s elite at its highest level. Last month, the Englishman Ian Poulter–once a star player who disappeared from the leaderboard for the past few years and then from action altogether due to injury–stepped back into the limelight at The Players Championship at Sawgrass. That event is regarded as the de facto fifth major tournament in international golf. Poulter finished tied for second behind winner Si Woo Kim to pocket nearly $1 million in change.
On May 14th, I posted about Poulter’s finish as follows: “Poulter said in the television interview after his round that he was pretty nervous today. He even admitted he shanked his second shot on the last hole, sending the ball way off into the right trees. (I never shanked a ball in tournament play as a pro golfer. It’s pretty rare for that to happen.) Even though Poulter has had an outstanding pro golf career, including being a hero in Ryder Cup play, he was listed in the 197th position on the Sony worldwide rankings this week and in danger of losing his playing privileges (card) on the PGA Tour. This week definitely bolted him way up that list.”
It happened again yesterday, but this time to 21-year old sensational rookie Si Woo Kim of South Korea, winner of The Players. It was during the second round of the PGA Tour’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational at Colonial, played at the Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas. Playing for the first time since winning The Players, Kim hit his second shot into the greenside, left, sand bunker on the short par four ninth hole. A small pond is located right in front of the green. Kim then shanked his third shot from the sand bunker. The ball sailed way right and rolled into the water hazard. Kim then had to go to the other side of the pond, drop a ball, and pitch it over the water onto the greek. In frustration, as golfers are sometimes known for, this young man Kim from the land of the setting sun, then tossed his golf club into the water. But he saved the day, if you can call it that, by making a fifteen foot putt. See Woo walked away with a “snowman” on his scorecard. In golf parlance, that’s an 8. He missed the cut to take the weekend off.
Somebody tell Poulter and Kim that if they can’t get the shanks out of their brains to check out those Jerry Barber clubs. And tell them, “shanks for the memories.”