In a recent addition to the user forum over at The Sand Trap website, a reader addresses his newly developed problem with “shanks” and how The Inner Game helped him work through it.

Devoted the last 6 months of my golf life to short game practice, and mainly trying to understand and execute Stan Utley’s techniques. I had been happy enough with my long game and my distance and consistency, but was sick of not scoring any better for many many years.. perpetually stuck in the low 80s barrier.

So for about 6 months I averaged probably at least an hour per day of short game practice, overall. I didn’t playl. Occasional driving range to make sure my long shots were still ok. Usually I would head over to the practice area in a public course near my house, in the AM before work, and then sneak again over there at lunch, for another session. Logistically I was lucky in that it’s easy for me to get over there.

Yeah, that’s a lot of practice. Some days I would skip, but I would go more often then not. I was able to grasp, absorb and improve my facility with Utley’s various methods for chipping, pitching, putting, bunker and recovery. I read all his books and watched all his golf channel and youtube vids over and over again, religiously.

My technique improved. I often would find myself looking like a genius on the pratice area. But I started having a problem. It usually started when I would move to working on slightly longer pitch shots from tighter lies. I would start shanking– often combined alternatively with fat shots. Horrible!!

It started to become a very consistent pattern… I would get to the practice area, hit a bunch of great shots and then at some point start shanking. I would gradually deteriorate, shanking more and more until I would eventually stumble on something that would make them go away, I’d hit great shots again and feel like a hero once more. I would think it was licked, only to have it return again, the very next day, usually as soon as I started trying the tougher lies again. Frustrating!!

Very very frustrating. Started to get me thinking about throwing in the towel. One who shanks doesn’t deserve to play golf! The dreaded shank!! Most golfers don’t even want to say the word!

I developed all sorts of theories as to what was causing them: ‘Pitching from tight lies is hard and causes tension, and the tension makes me flinch and shank.’ or ‘I get tired and my swing stops working’ or..’i’m too old (48) and golf is just too hard’, or.. ‘my setup is wrong, Im too closed, and if I try to swing on a single plane (i.e. flat) as utley advocates, then I’m misaligned and at that point I have to shank.’

I started laying down a club as a reference point for my allignment, and that helped, but wasn’t a cure. They returned after I would stop using the club.

I firmed up my grip and left arm and increased my arm swing length somewhat and that seemed to help, but ultimately I knew that was a bandaid and sure enough they came back.

Finally I saw that they weren’t going away completely. I would need to come to terms with them, or just stop playing. Then I started to think more about shanks in general, and decided that shanks had a bad rep that was undeserved; I convinced myself that a shank was no better or worse than a fat or thin shot, just different. An unfairly categorized mis hit. That kind of thinking oddly seemed to help and reduce the tension or whatever it was that was causing them to begin with, but they still didn’t go away completely, and clearly I wasn’t going to be breaking 80 very much with them being so “abundant”.

Finally I decided that my only hope was to take it a step further. I decided I would truly welcome the shanks. I borrowed a method that I got from Tim Gallwey’s golf book that I read long ago, called “welcoming the yips”. Sure enough when I really allowed myself to shank and really started to feel and focus on what was actually going on, something really cool happened: I started focusing on the heel of my wedge. Without trying to control it, I just focused on it, to see what it was doing exactly. Then it happened: I felt myself leaning in towards the ball slightly during the process of the swing. And as soon as I became aware of it, the instability felt really noticable– like a big ship teetering in the waves.

The cure seemed clear.. stop doing that leaning thing!! It made sense that the leaning could cause both shankin and the fat shots. But I knew from the inner game book that trying to avoid something doesn’t nessesarily make it go away, and often strengthens it. So I focused instead on expressing stability during the swing, and kept on focusing on the heel of the club, and just noticing whether I leaned in or not and how much, without trying to control it.

Well– in short, Bingo. No more shanks. I’m happy to report that I’ve been doing much better the last few days, and ‘they’ are being held at bay. I’m feeling much more confident now and I even think I’m getting ready to play again. Will keep you posted as to my progress. Dang shanks!

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