It's the hardest shot in golf and only the pros can pull it off

The Scoop

There's nothing quite as soul-destroying as shanking one from the fairway. But it's the next shot that tells you what you're made of, writes Mark Townsend

Justin Thomas hitting a screaming shank one from the middle of the 9th fairway while leading at Riviera was pretty much my favourite moment of the golfing year so far.

This follows a morbid fascination with this particular shot rather than anything personal about Thomas who I think is incredible on and off the course.

Here’s why I particularly enjoyed his work..

  1. First and foremost if Thomas can do it then all of us can, and the more people like he can do it on the big stage then the more acceptable this type of behaviour is.
  2. There’s no obvious reason for it like a hanging lie or he’s playing badly. He’s 15-under after 44 holes at Riviera. Again, more kudos to the rest of us.
  3. His reaction, the club drop and “Haven’t done that in a while” comment is world class. This is without doubt the single most gut-wrenching feeling of planet, the moment hosel meets dimple, in life, not just golf, and he basically shrugs it off.
  4. And for the finale? He pitches one up, shares a joke with the players coming down the 10th and knocks her in. Par 4, nothing to see here.
  5. He then birdied the next two and signed for a 65.

Now imagine what you and I would have done in a similar situation. In our favour we wouldn’t have had to hit the precise same shot, which is often the case following a power pipe, instead we’d have that nervy little pitch from a different fairway.

This is helpful in that it’s a world away from the mid-iron that you’ve just very nearly snapped over your thigh, then again we’re playing off some tightly-mown turf again, from a fairway with some foot traffic coming from the other direction and we’d much rather at least a bit of fluff around the ball.

Find the hosel again and we’d probably be heading straight to the clubhouse up the hill. More likely is that we produce a shot of no feel and miss the green, most likely through the back.

I have a checkered history in terms of the shanks. One of my darkest and lowest ebbs came in a schools national finals when I hit half a dozen of them, all with my pitching wedge, as I posted a sizzling 91 in an all-three-to-count format at Kenilworth. By the end of the round I was so timid in the kill zone that I was almost going backwards.

But even this wasn’t as low as things have got. Once upon a time the Ladies Scottish Open was a pro-am format and, on the eve of the tournament at Archerfield, I joined the arms going up and down on the range, strangely parking myself between Laura not-yet-a-Dame Davies and Mel Reid.

Before too long there was the familiar trill sound of the clubface playing no part in the shot and the ball shot across the vast terrain in the wrong direction.

Then it happened again, and again. And again.

Heads were now beginning to turn, I was beginning to hyperventilate and I was having to time my shots so not to co-ordinate them with cars arriving on the property at least 80 yards to my right.

I got the driver out in an attempt to instil some positive mental imagery of seeing my ball go forward before returning, with now a huge degree of suspicion, to my irons which sadly made up 10 of my 14 weapons.

Cue more pipes, more huffing and puffing, more head munching, more swing aids, a headcover joining my play area, and now most of the people anywhere near me and my curse making an earlier-than-expected departure from the driving range.

Before the big finish and absolute nadir of my 40-year golfing existence when, with a hybrid, I had resorted to practising my 10-yard chip-and-runs to an imaginary target.

Straight right, four yards straight right. I left the range.

Thankfully I had arranged some lunch with Andrew Coltart, who refused to shake my hand when I explained what had just happened for fear of passing on the disease, and Gary Nicol and they were both good enough to pass on some well-chosen advice.

And, in the blink of an eye, they were gone.

But they’re always there, we all know that. I consider myself quite lightly raced in the torment that the shanks can bring but, when they do scream into my psyche, as sure as night follows day, my next shot will be a big heave left or, more of the same, another hosel rocket.

Forget the 300-yard drive or the 1-iron stinger or the two-bounce bring-to-a-halt skidding chip or the high draw or the double-breaking putt that goes in dead centre, dead weight nothing fascinates me more than a shank.

Not so much the technicalities of why they happened but the effect they have on both the player and anyone unfortunate enough to witness such an event.

I can barely bring myself to speak when a playing partner has an episode but, by the time the club has gone behind the ball again, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. It’s like Russian Roulette with one bullet left in the cylinder, at some point it’s going to happen.

Take the Prince of the Pipe, Ian Poulter. If anything typifies quite what a superstar he is and how strong his mind is then it’s his ability to get on with his job and immediately right the wrong.

I sat down with him a few years ago, the morning after he had nearly won The Open at Muirfield, and I couldn’t get the shank question out quick enough.

“It doesn’t bother me. It is irrelevant. It is so close to the sweet spot that you shouldn’t change what you are already doing. Most people try and compensate and they hit another one. Their process after the first one isn’t good.”

I reminded him of the time he once hit a couple in a round at the Masters…

“It didn’t, it’s gone, it’s irrelevant. I had one at the 4th off the tee and one with my approach to the 15th where I was way out to the right and then still nearly made birdie.”

And here he is doing what he does worst and then, quickly, best.

Like Thomas, quite remarkable…

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