Shanks for the memories

June 12, 2014

Out of the clear blue, it happens without warning. Like a bee sting when you’re working in the yard, the dreaded shanks have crept into your game. Somehow your swing deserts you and a 10-yard chip goes 30 yards on a 90-degree angle to the rough.

If you saw the movie “Tin Cup,” then you remember when Roy McAvoy (Kevin Costner) came down with a bad case of the shanks and it almost scuttled his game. (Thanks to psychologist Renee Russo, he recovered to play in the U.S. Open.)

The shanks will drive any golfer to flag down the beverage cart girl numerous times. But related to that disease is the yipes. The yipes crawl into your head when you line up a two- to five-foot putt.  As we all know, your body slowly begins to turn to marble and your arms weigh 100 pounds each.

You stand over the putt for what seems like an eternity, then you back off the ball and notice the cart girl looking at her watch as she waits to sell you a beverage to stop the shanks. Nine times out of ten, your ball comes up short, or worse yet goes two feet past the hole. Then the torture starts all over again.

There is a mathematical formula that few amateur golfers know or understand. It relates to distance and time spent standing over a putt. The formula is: TOP+D = Y+18 TB (time over putt + distance = yipes+18 triple bogies. Now I know why I took algebra in high school).

To put this into perspective, your golf game is 90% mental and 10% mental. There will be days when your driver is on fire but your putter is ice-cold; your irons will be crisp, but you top your woods and if you keep your lead arm straight in the take-away, your head comes up.

Now that I have given you a free diagnosis of your mental state and what can go wrong with your swing at any given moment, take heart. It happens to the best of them.

In the 1973 Sea Pines Heritage Classic, Hale Irwin shanked an iron into a greenside gallery and the ball disappeared into the crowd. Irwin was about to declare a lost ball when an embarrassed lady spectator told the officials that the ball was lodged in her bra. The ball had bounced off someone near her and went down the front of her dress, but at first she was too embarrassed to speak up when Irwin was looking for his ball. She retrieved the ball and he was awarded a free drop.

Another pro golfer named Curtis Stifford was playing in the Quad City Open when he shanked an iron into the gallery and his ball ended up on a spectator’s hot dog dropped in the rough. The officials gave him a free drop – after he cleaned off the mustard and ketchup.

The legendary Sam Snead once hit a wayward shot over the green in the Cleveland Open. It went through an open locker room door, rolled into the men’s bathroom and came to rest in the last stall under a toilet. Snead was penalized two strokes and eventually lost the tournament by one stroke.

Pro golfer Brian Barnes takes the medal for the worst case of the yipes during the 1968 French Open. It took him 12 strokes to hole out, while putting from only three feet from the cup. On a par three hole, Barnes was on the green in two with a long putt for par.

After his first put came up short to three feet, Barnes stood over his next putt, fuming about his upcoming bogey. After what seemed like an eternity, he putted and his ball lipped out of the cup.  Now suffering from anger and temporary insanity, he began to rake the ball back toward the hole and missed again. While the gallery stood in amazement, Barnes then hit his next putt hockey-style, while it was still moving. When that didn’t work, he tried a croquet-style putting stroke, adding yet another penalty stroke. When all the regular strokes and penalty strokes were accessed, his final score on the par three was fifteen.

Next time you play, remember golf is 90 percent mental and 10 percent mental.