A golfer who excels at delivering the clubhead at impact, effectively and consistently, is a golfer who will play the game well and have a lot of fun in the process. To do this is not all that difficult if you apply some key fundamentals and have the time to practice them.
A Rocky Start
I’m a cancer survivor, just getting back to golf after a 14 month hiatus, have lost considerable mileage tee to green, but had a ball playing with my friend Richard the other day in a break from winter rains in northern California. Dispensing with the usual warmup time on the range (in order to save my strength for the round), I started off great with a decent drive down the middle, but flubbed my second shot about 50 yards and (dare I say the word!) shanked my third shot on the par 5, 10th at Oakmont West, half shanked my fourth (I think it was Nick Faldo who recently said the toughest shot in golf is the shot immediately following a shank!), flubbed my chip, and missed the putt for a double. Disaster, right? Ruined the rest of the round, correct? Actually, no. With the help of my friend who is an excellent golfer and a very supportive person–one who understands that the shanks can sometimes appear without prior notice–I was able to put the shanks (I almost wrote sharks!) behind me.
Getting Smoother…and Better
I quickly settled down by self-diagnosing what got me to strike the hosel of my irons, and made some adjustments that got my swing and my sanity back on track. Simply said, I was moving my head on the downswing, a flaw that seeps in with age and less flexibility. The proper golf swing requires a synthesis of various parts of the body and mind. The swing only takes a couple of seconds so if just one aspect of body or mind diverges from the process, maladies like fat, thin, or, yes, shanked shots can result.
Now a steady head during the transition into the downswing is vital, but it’s also important that you don’t stand too close to the ball at address. As straight a left arm as possible throughout the swing is another factor in keeping a measured swing. If you do bend your arm at the top of the backswing, as I now do with age and infirmity, you can compensate by making sure it’s in the same straight position when you approach the impact zone. A visual that might be useful is the image of throwing the clubhead out towards the target as you’re coming into the ball and then beyond. That effectively straightens both arms at impact, increasing your chances of making solid, sweet spot contact.
The Fix, continued
Like my cancer, the fix for a shank requires even more strong medicine in the form of adjustments. Getting a golf swing back into synthesis during a round requires that you’ve already worked on the mechanics of your swing at the range. Otherwise golf’s version of a panic attack can easily take over and, indeed, ruin a round. Now, I have a tendency to loop my hands into an outside/in pattern at the transition from backswing to downswing. That common error often leads to a slice, but it can also result in a shank in its more virulent forms. Instructors also call this aberration “coming over the top.” To counteract this tendency, I remembered a lesson from Jason Schmul, the head pro at nearby Windsor Golf Club. Jason is a fine teaching pro who is also good enough to qualify for occasional pro tournaments, such as the AT&T at Pebble. He encouraged me to slightly redirect my hands at the transition to come from inside the path to outside. In my key downswing move post, I recommend starting the downswing by pulling down with the butt of the left hand, and I still stand by this move. What it does is help prevent swinging over the top which sentences so many amateurs to a slice. Add to this advice by redirecting the hands slightly inside at the transition. Rory and Sergio are proponents of this slight shift of the hands.
Delivering the Clubhead at Impact
Coming from the inside on the downswing keeps your arms closer to your body and encourages your head to stay slightly behind the ball. I also like focusing on the inside back of the ball. That helps insure a right to left draw spin instead of the left to right slice action caused by looping to the outside. I know Trevino once quipped, “You can talk to a fade but a draw just won’t listen,” but I think amateurs are better off with draw spin. It’s more a power move that encourages an inside out path, as Rory and Sergio demonstrate.
But you’ve got to stay well balanced to pull it off properly. Consequently, I wouldn’t advise getting up on your toes at impact as Justin Thomas, Cameron Champ, Bubba Watson, Lexi Thompson, and most of the long drive competitors do. It’s a risky move for handicappers. At impact your weight should be moving forward for drives and even more forward for irons and hybrids. What’s most important is that your head not move forward at the same time. A steady head at impact means more solid and square contact, and such contact means straighter, longer shots.
So at impact, given the speed generated, you’re looking for accuracy and stability. Assuming you’re aligned properly, you want to accurately strike the ball on the ideal spot while maintaining good balance and stability. After a poor shot, the idea is to press delete, let it go, and focus on the proper mechanics needed for the next shot. That’s easier said than done, I know. But with a mindful approach to the game, it can be done.
And that’s what I was able to do. After improving with bogeys on 11 and 12, I then parred the next three holes with solid contact and good putting (just missing a fourth par by a millimeter on a tricky downhill putt, according to Richard’s estimation), without a thought of those nasty shanks at the start.