Explaining the Dreaded Shank

What it means to have a case of the shanks, plus the causes and cures

Illustration showing the hosel and ferrule on a golf iron head.
A shank happens when the golf club contacts the golf ball on the rounded hosel portion of the clubhead, rather than on the flat clubface. Cleveland Golf

Shhhhhhh! Don't even say that word! The "shank" is such a dreaded shot that many golfers are superstitious about hearing the word while on the golf course.

The shank is one of the worst (and most embarrassing) mishits in golf. A shank happens when the golfer hits the golf ball on the inner portion of the clubface - so far in that the golf ball is contacted by the rounded hosel. And since the hosel is rounded, the ball can shoot off in just about any direction with various spins.

But most commonly, a shank results in a ball that shoots out to the right (for a right-hander) at a severe angle.

Someone who shanks a lot might be said to "have the shanks" or "a case of the shanks" or to be "shanking it" or to have "shanked it."

Everybody Hates a Shank ... Except Those Who Get to Laugh About It

A golfer who shanks a shot is likely to be very embarrassed. And also likely to be laughed at by his or her playing partners.

One of the worst things about hitting a shank is that "the shanks" often arrive without warning. You might be hitting it great and, all of sudden, seemingly out of nowhere - whiz! ping! - your golf ball shoots off the hosel 75-degrees to the right. (Shanks are also called "hosel rockets" in golf slang.)

There's a scene in the movie Tin Cup (buy it on Amazon) in which Roy (the Kevin Costner character) begins hitting a bucket of balls on the driving range. His caddie, Romeo (played by Cheech Marin), watches as Roy shanks the first one ...

then the second one ... the another one.

A panicked Roy screams out for help. "Looks like you have El Hosel, the laterals - you know, the S-word ," Romeo says.

When Roy asks Romeo what is happening, Romeo responds, "The shanks are like a virus. They just show up.”

But every golfer has hit (or will hit) a shank.

Even the greatest golfers on the planet hit shanks. Rarely - but they do it, too. Except, maybe, Ben Hogan. In her book, Mr. Hogan: The Man I Knew (buy it on Amazon), former LPGA pro Kris Tschetter described the incredulous reaction Hogan had when he saw her hit a shank:

The Causes and Cures of a Shank

So what can go so wrong with your setup or swing that you contact the ball on the hosel rather than on the clubface?

The most common causes of a shank, according to instructor Roger Gunn in our Mishits Tip Sheets feature, include:

  • Standing too close to the ball in the setup;
  • Standing too tall over the ball or sitting back on your heels in the setup position;
  • Pushing your arms away from your body in the backswing or downswing;
  • Or leaning your head toward the ball or the target.

Fixing relatively minor setup issues is often enough to cure a case of the shanks. For more on that, see:

  • Improve your setup position to cure the shanks

Usage examples: "I hit a shank off the fourth tee - can't believe it, I haven't shanked it in years." "Look out everyone, Sarah has a case of the shanks so don't stand off to the right."