Christopherson - For a couple of shots, the dark cloud over my golf game lifts

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    It’s said that athletes develop a sort of “muscle memory” after spending so much time performing similar actions and movements, such as swinging a bat, dribbling a basketball…or swinging a golf club.

    But, make no mistake, the brain is always in charge, the mind is always running the show. Those muscles aren’t acting on their own accord, ever.

    A couple of times during each golfing season, my brain and my muscles join forces to mess with me. It results in me, for a relatively brief yet tremendously torturous amount of time, wilting under the black hole-sucking pressure every time I’m presented with a golf shot that requires me to hit an iron.

    I get the shanks. If you’re clueless right now, consider yourself lucky, or at least blissfully ignorant.

    To shank an iron is to plan to hit a towering, majestic shot at the flag, but instead you hit a line drive far to the right. When I shank one iron, there are likely more shanks to come.

    I guess I should be happy, or at least relieved, because years ago when I was afflicted out of the blue with a case of the shanks, it would destroy my golf psyche, and, in turn, inflate the numbers scribbled on my scorecard, for a couple of weeks. When I’d be golfing with my dad one Saturday or Sunday morning in Fertile and I’d shank an iron on the par-five first hole or on the par-four third hole – the mind remembers previous occurrences and locations of shanks, you see – it was like a dark cloud instantly formed over our entire round. My dad never came out and said it, but I knew what he was thinking: Oh, no. Mike has the shanks again.

    These days, though, for whatever reason, I recover more quickly from the shanks. But that trend doesn’t make a bout of the shanks any less debilitating and soul-crushing for a person like me who loves to swing the clubs.

    After playing, for me, high-quality golf to start the 2021 season – lots of bogeys, but many pars and a couple of birdies sprinkled in – I came down with not one but two separate cases of the shanks over the past couple of weeks. But instead of my dad, our youngest son was my playing partner, and I could sense the dread that overcame him when, on the first hole at Minakwa both times I was afflicted, I sprayed a wedge way off to the right.

    When I have the shanks at a super-tight course like Minakwa, where you’re so often hitting toward other golfers, it’s especially debilitating. I’ve had to yell “FORE!” upon shanking an iron on hole three into the hole four tee box more than once over the years.

    Several years ago, PGA golfer Webb Simpson at a tournament shanked an iron on a par-three and his ball flew into a hazard. Suddenly, Webb and I were brethren. NBC’s Johnny Miller was commentating and said Simpson had simply shanked the ball. Knowing how a single shank can mess with the mind, Miller added that Simpson – who had to re-tee and hit another ball, his third shot after penalty – immediately had to do his best to put the shank out of his mind and hit a quality ball. And Simpson did, sticking it around six feet from the cup.

    Had I been in Webb’s shoes, I’d still be out there today, lying 47,356 and still trying to hit a straight ball off the tee.

    But, like I said, I’m getting better. A few days ago at Minakwa, amid another battle royale with the shanks, I was in the worst possible place to be: Staring down my second shot on hole three, a nine-iron from the middle of the fairway, while two guys in front of my son and I were teeing off on hole four, off to the right. The kill zone.

    As I commenced with my back-swing, my typical swing thoughts echoed off the walls of my skull: Don’t shank!Don’tshank!Don’tshank! I’m convinced that when golfers are struck with the shanks, their biggest problem becomes keeping their eye on the ball. They’re so afraid of where it’s going to go that they peek early in desperation. At least that’s the hypothesis I’m floating as of this writing.

    So I tried my best not to peek, and I hit a solid shot about 10 feet to the left of the flag. I glanced over at my son, and he was grinning, albeit cautiously, as it appeared the guys on the next tee were going to let us play through, and he knew what ominous things that could entail. A few moments later, as the other twosome sipped from their beers and looked on, I teed up as the bushes and trees on the right gleefully beckoned, waiting to swallow yet another ball at one of my most prolific shanking spots. But I slowed down my swing, kept my eye on the ball, and hit an eight-iron to the left fringe. I looked toward my son, and he was beaming.

    The shanks had been vanquished once again! Until the next time, old foe...

Mike Christopherson