I Got the Shanks at Pinehurst

A True Story

99% of what I write on here is meant to inform and educate, whether that’s reviews, instruction, or myth busting.  This, however, has no real purpose other than to tell you about a thing that happened to me.  If you can relate and it makes you feel better, that’s great.  If you experience schadenfreude, I’m good with that, too.  Regardless, this is the story of a poorly-timed case of the shanks.

A Highly Anticipated Round

My trip to Pinehurst had been on the calendar for several months.  I was planning to play a couple of courses I hadn’t played before, but the highlight for me was a return to No. 2 [find my review HERE].  It had been about three years since my first round at No. 2, and I was eager to confirm its place in my personal, all-time Top 5 [see them all HERE].

A Strong Start

The trip was laid out perfectly for a strong showing: arriving on Sunday and playing The Cradle, getting a Monday round in at No. 1, then waking up to an early tee time on No. 2.  The first two days went according to plan.  Our round at The Cradle [review HERE] was a blast.  Everything felt good and loose, we hit lots of greens, and we made a couple putts.

Our round on Monday was even better.  No. 1 proved to be a perfect good vibes course.  I built a ton of confidence with my driver on the wide fairways.  On the back nine, my irons heated up, my putter kept pace, and I finished the last seven holes in one under.  I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

A Bad Omen

When I woke up Tuesday morning, it was raining.  This was expected, and the weather report had actually improved overnight, so I wasn’t upset.  It was a light rain, more of a drizzle, and it certainly wasn’t going to keep me from my round.

After the shuttle ride from the Carolina Hotel to the Resort Clubhouse, I got my clubs and went straight to the range to warm up.  Though it was light, the rain had kept all but a handful of players inside.  I started my warm up with a couple half-shots mixed in with some stretching.  Everything was feeling good, and I started to think about my favorite holes on No. 2 and the shots I hoped to hit.

I had a full half hour left before my round, but I felt ready to hit some 3/4 shots.  I drew back my pitching wedge, transitioned gently into the downswing, and…shank.  The Titleist range ball shot forty five degrees right of my intended line and barely exceeded waist height.  I forced an embarrassed smile.  My misses tend to be on the heel, especially with my irons, so I shrugged it off and raked another ball.  I was unfazed until that next ball followed the path of the first one.

Panic

“Two in a row?” I thought, “That’s weird.”  My stomach got a little tight.  I felt myself rush to rake over the next ball, demanded that I slow down, took a breath, and focused on good tempo.  Shank.  The third time was the charm – I was in a full blown panic.

I had never had the shanks before.  Ever.  I’ve hit the ball poorly for stretches, sure, but never consistently on the hosel.  And immediately before I played one of the most testing layouts in golf?  This seemed unreal.

The next ten minutes went by in a blur.  I was hitting balls like the winning lotto numbers were at the bottom of the range bucket.  I kept changing clubs in the belief that maybe one of them wasn’t cursed.

I burned through potential fixes like wildfire.  Stand farther from the ball.  Stand closer to the ball.  Address is on the toe.  Try to strike the toe.  Throw the club over the top.  Swing slower.  Swing faster.  Be athletic.  Be methodical.

The result was always the same: the golf ball shooting hard right, barely getting airborne, traveling nowhere.  I looked around self-consciously.  I was convinced that I was the leper of Maniac Hill.  I prayed someone else was struggling, too, to get that invisible spotlight off me, if only for a moment.

Patching It Together

With less than twenty minutes until my tee time, I stopped myself.  “This rapid fire thing isn’t going to fix it,” I said.  I made peace with the possibility that I was going to hit a lateral shot, or many laterals, on one of my favorite courses.  I accepted that the people I was going to play with might think that I’m a terrible golfer.  I decided that neither of those things could ruin my enjoyment of the day unless I allowed them to.

With the mental and emotional pieces squared away, I got analytical about the swing.  I understood the problem, I knew what I wanted to happen instead, and I figured out how to make that happen.*  The results weren’t great – it felt like a patchwork swing, to be sure – but they were a lot better than what preceded them.  Most importantly, it was a swing that was predictable and could get me around the course.

*If anyone is interested in my anti-shank swing, I can write that lesson at a later time.

A Happy Ending

After ingraining the “new” swing as much as I could in the time I had left, I walked to the starters hut on Pinehurst No. 2.  I met my playing partner, a surprisingly likeable Tar Heel named Tom, and proceeded to hit a solid drive off the first.  But of course, the drive wasn’t the concern, it was the approach.  From a clean lie in the waste area, I drew the club back, transitioned down, and struck the ball in the center of the face.

While I didn’t threaten the course record at No. 2, I got through the entire round without a shank.  And I finished in truly memorable fashion, exorcising my demons on #18.  After a beautiful drive, I hit a solid approach that landed on the front right corner of the crowned green and rolled back down to the fairway.  I opted for the Texas Wedge and left myself ten feet for par.  In front of a packed clubhouse patio, I rolled in the putt and received a round of applause from the “gallery.”

Postscript

I played another round after my morning adventure at No. 2.  Though I hit a couple hosel rockets on the range, I didn’t hit any on the course.  The next day at No. 8, I had a clean range session and a round of solid ball striking.

Where did the shanks come from?  No idea.  Will they come back?  I don’t know.  But if you see me on the range sometime trying to hit the very edge of the toe, you’ll know why.

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Matt Saternus

Founder, Editor In Chief at PluggedInGolf.com
Matt is the Founder and Editor in Chief of Plugged In Golf. He's worked in nearly every job in the golf industry from club fitting to instruction to writing and speaking. Matt lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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13 Comments

  1. Christopher Shively

    Matt,
    Yes please, write that lesson. Many of us will benefit from having a go-to anti shank swing when that curse unexpectedly shows up.

    Also, LOL @ the line about you meeting a “surprisingly likeable Tar Heel.” Most of us Tarheels are very likable. Glad you enjoyed Pinehurst.
    Cheers.

    • The most shocking part of this is the surprisingly likeable tarheel. They are rare in captivity, even rarer afield. Less shocking is the immediate defense and attempt dispel the myth from one of the indoctrinated masses.

      Hope you brought a dinner jacket and ventured to the Holly for breakfast.

  2. Martin+Eschbach

    Matt – what a humbling story, thanks for sharing. No Schadenfreude with me (although I’m German) just compassion. I’m not even close to your skill level but same happens to me occasionally on pitch shots. Panic and embarrassment guranteed. Golf is a strange game., still loving it.

    Martin

  3. I got them just before my club championship. Got up early to see if I could fix them. Hitting a bucket of balls and all is going well. The last 10 balls all shanked. Devised a plan to swing down the line. I went on to finish third in my flight, but not at any minute did I forget the potential of a shank. No other feeling like it. Golf is the most humbling game there is. One shot, hey I have it figured out, next shot, is this the first time you played. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Happened to me yesterday on the range but not on the course.

    I tried to get rid of one variable at a time.

    First was tempo as a basis; Second was my trail shoulder releasing as I came down; Third, was I swinging to the left; Fourth, was the upper body connected/

    It does create great anxiety.

  5. Dylan Thaemert

    I feel seen by this, Matt.

  6. Daniel Shepherd

    Love your first-person accounts of rounds and golf trip experiences, Matt. Wish you did more of them! Your Pinehurst piece was priceless. Can’t wait to read how you dealt with the shanks so effectively and in such short time. I laughed out loud reading “a surprisingly likable Tarheel named Tom.” Coming from a Blue Devil, that’s the highest praise possible. Cheers!

  7. What’s a Tarheel? ( I know exactly what a shank is!). Look forward to the anti- shank lesson…

  8. I also got the shanks on Pinehurst No. 2 but DURING the round! Teed off on #10, and after hitting 4 of the first 5 greens went back to back shank-opotamus on 15 and 16 then another on 4 and another on 8.

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