The shanks are so feared many golfers won’t even say the word. Indeed, if you’ve ever been cursed with this cruelest of swing ailments, you know there are few more helpless feelings than catching shot after shot on the hosel, your ball rocketing laughably off target.
A “lost and desperate soul” is how fictional golfer Roy McAvoy describes himself when the shanks befall him in Tin Cup. “The shanks are like a virus,” his caddie, Romeo, says. “They just show up.”
Mini-tour pro Zach Potter has an even better analogy.
“It’s like forgetting how to walk,” Potter said this week in a phone interview. “Like, if you’re just walking down the street and tripping over every crack in the sidewalk.”
Potter is a bit of a shanks expert. When he was in high school, he got the shanks so badly he had to reteach himself how to swing, working his way from chips all the way up to full swings. He thought he had them beat. And his results indicated he did, too.
Potter went on to play collegiately at Florida Tech before graduating to a career on the mini tours. He’s a fine player by all metrics, but earlier this week as he was preparing for a pre-qualifier for a PGA Tour event — the Corales Puntacana Championship (March 25-28) — the s-word came back with a vengeance.
On Monday, the day before his pre-qualifier at the PGA National Estate course, in West Palm Beach, Fla., Potter arranged a practice round on the course with some other pros at the club. The stakes were set, teams were picked and the competition heated up. Potter birdied two of the first four holes. He was rolling. Then the horror show began.
“The shanks arrived,” Potter said. “I was shanking every second or third ball. It was a sight to behold.”
By the time Potter arrived on the 15th tee, he was out of balls. He had burned through three sleeves — and there was still golf to be played. With some borrowed balls buoying him through the end of the round, Potter finally, mercifully holed out on 18. He estimates he shot “86-ish.”
It wasn’t the confidence-building tune-up Potter had in mind when he had teed off some four hours earlier.
“I didn’t even want to go to the course the next day,” he said. “I thought about driving home. I would have rather gone home and hugged my kids than go through the same abuse the next day.”
After his round, Potter went to the range to try to solve his woes. The problem persisted.
“I’m starting to wonder if I’m literally ever going to hit a good golf shot again,” he said.
The next morning Potter waffled on whether or not he would even go to the course. Did he really want to confront those same demons again, and in front of a group of his peers?
Potter decided he’d give it a go, but with a caveat: He would carry only three balls in his bag. If he ran out, he was done for the day.
Potter’s warm-up session offered glimmers of hope. He seemed to have shaken the shanks, but his ball-striking still was a long way from pure. Then again, when you’re fighting the shanks, any shot that doesn’t involve the hosel feels like a win.
On the 1st hole — a short par-4 with out of bounds right — Potter usually would have played an iron off the tee. But with the prospect of the shanks ominously lurking, he pulled driver. Thwack. Solid contact. Down the fairway. Relief.
Potter’s second shot, however, required more touch: a smooth sand wedge into the green. He reared back, descended on the ball and … caught nothing but hosel.
No…no…no….here we go again.
He collected himself and escaped with bogey at the 1st, then “scraped it around” the next two holes, making par on both. As he approached the par-4 4th — the No. 1 handicap — Potter spotted his car in the distance. If he didn’t get something going, he was ready to call it quits.
He pumped his drive right down the middle, fired a 9-iron inside 10 feet and sunk the putt for birdie. Game on.
“I was off from there,” he said. “From that point forward, all of the sudden, I just start hitting it good. I was striping it.”
A key swing thought powered his unlikely resurgence — he tried to hit the ball off the toe on each swing. It’s an unconventional swing thought for a pro to play for off-center contact, but it was an effective one nonetheless.
Potter made five more birdies before he came to the final hole, a long par-5 with out of bounds on both sides. Normally, he wouldn’t be nervous in this situation, but considering the swing ailment he was battling, his nerves were owning him. At three under through 17, he also knew he was in excellent position to qualify.
“I’m scared to death,” Potter recalled. “Am I gonna be the guy who makes a 12 on the last hole after playing pretty good all day?”
Typically in this situation, knowing he just needed to make par or better on a par-5, Potter would have hit an iron off the tee. But nothing about this round was typical. Instead, he opted for a less hosel-y club again — driver.
Potter made his best swing of the day, blasting the ball down the heart of the fairway. He followed it with a blessedly shank-free 4-iron and then chipped it close for an easy birdie and a four-under 67. Potter had qualified with a shot to spare.
A round destined to be one he would want to forget amazingly had become one he’ll always remember.
“I’ve played a lot of places in my life,” Potter said. “But that was one of the proudest rounds I’ve ever had.”
Surely anyone who’s had the shanks can relate.