What Can You Do about Golf Yips?
It’s practically a gimme. Just drop this easy putt, and you’ll have a nice birdie on a tough hole.
Brimming with confidence, you line up your putt.
Not only is it straight, it’s slightly uphill, providing a nice backstop should you hit it a little hard.
You pull back and accelerate through the ball. As the putter head comes through, it feels like something shocked your arms.
Your hands jerk, pushing the ball right of the cup.
Your playing partners groan and shake their heads, muttering, “Better luck next time,” or “Still a nice par,” or worse still, “You’ve got the yips!”
What happened? If you repeatedly miss putts you used to make with no problem, there is a chance your playing partners are right — you might have the yips. Oh, no!
The Cause of the Yips
According to studies at Arizona State University and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the yips is not anxiety or nervousness — it’s a neurological condition.
Your arm or wrist muscles are operating against each other at the same time, resulting in a flubbed shot.
By understanding the nature of the yips — that it is not your fault — you can take steps to overcome it.
It’s important to remember the yips is often involuntary.
But too many golfers aren’t aware of that fact.
They blame it on themselves: “I choked,” they think, starting a debilitating downward spiral of self-image mutilation.
That said, the yips is not always neurological.
Sometimes it’s a temporary case of performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety is based in fear, and can be overcome with a blend of meditation or golf yoga and visualization.
Jack Nicholas, famed for his superior mental game, called visualization “going to the movies,” referring to his practice of mentally visualizing each shot in his mind before executing it.
Tommy Armour Coins the Term
The word “yips” was coined by touring pro and golf instructor Tommy Armour.
Nicknamed The Silver Scott, Armour was born in Scotland, the home of golf.
He won the French Amateur Championship in 1920, then set out for America where he won the 1927 U.S. Open, the PGA Championship in 1930, and the British Open in 1931.
Amazingly, he captured these titles after first experiencing the golf yips in 1927 at the Shawnee Open.
In that match, he first began having problems draining short putts which he previously had no problem holing.
Other famous golfers who have experienced the yips include Sergio Garcia, who famously waggled and re-gripped his club many times before taking a shot in 2002; Ben Hogan, whose problems with the yips forced him out of golf in the 1960s; Tom Watson, who said he lost a major a year for more than 10 years due to his golf yips; David Devol, formerly the number-one ranked golfer in the world, who suddenly disappeared from the leaderboard and has been rarely heard from since; Mark O’Meara, who began experiencing the yips in 2009; Kevin Na, one of the most talented young golfers when he arrived on the scene, began to get full swing golf yips sometime during the 2012 season, and has yet to fully rectify the problem.
The Yips in Other Sports
The yips is not just confined to golf.
It affects athletes in different sports, including baseball.
Batters can’t hit a pitch, infielders make wild throws that have no chance of reaching their intended target, and catchers lose their ability to throw runners out or get the ball to the pitcher.
In 2015, Chicago Cubs pitcher Jon Lester was suspected of having the yips because he was having troubles throwing the ball to first base.
Several times he missed the first baseman by two feet, and one time by the width of a barn.
This is concerning for any player, especially for a pitcher worth $155 million in salary and bonuses.
In the 2000 Major League Baseball playoffs, pitcher Rick Ankiel of the Cardinals suddenly began throwing wild pitches with abandon.
He threw high and wide of the batter’s box, or drilled balls into the ground.
Unfortunately, it was the beginning of the end of his pitching career, as he was never able to put the ball consistently in the strike zone ever again.
In the latter part of the 1990s, Chuck Knoblauch, a star second baseman for the New York Yankees, suddenly lost the ability to accurately zip balls to first base, a critical task for a second baseman.
The yips is so feared that players avoid talking about it, partly fearing other teams might find out and take advantage. While teammates feel bad about you if you get the yips, they will never bring it up.
Don’t worry. There are some solutions to help overcome the dreaded yips.
To overcome fear that inevitably develops when you have a case of the yips, try to focus on something you can control.
This is why it is so important to have a pre-shot routine, not just for shots on the fairway and off the tee, but for chips and putts as well.
The pre-shot routine will become a habit, a familiar feeling that removes fear.
Focus on Breathing
Another way to divert your attention away from possible yips is to focus on breathing.
There are different ways to do it, but, like the pre-shot routine, you want to make it consistent.
Some golfers regulate their breathing by inhaling as they bring the putter back, then exhaling on the follow through.
Others take their cues from the world of shooting, where many expert gun marksmen inhale, then exhale completely until their lungs are empty, holding it until the shot is fired.
Vice versa, consider another shooting method of filling your lungs with air, and then pausing your breathing action until the putt is completed.
A third option is to breathe in fully, let out about half of the air in your lungs, hold it and make the putt.
Try different variations of these methods to find the one that feels the most natural and that you can most easily repeat.
These are not herky-jerky breathing motions.
Concentrate on being smooth and effortless, with a rhythm and timing that fits into your natural putting stroke.
Focusing on your breathing works because you can do it at any time; it produces a natural rhythm; it relaxes the muscles of your body; it pulls in lots of oxygen; and most importantly, it diverts your attention away from possible yips.
Change Your Grip
Among tactics recommended by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota is changing your grip, which introduces different muscles into the stroke.
Many golfers swear by the claw grip for getting rid of the yips.
According to Marius Filmalter of Marius Golf in Dallas, it is common to feel the golf yips in the right hand.
He suggests using the claw grip because the palm of the right hand never faces the target, so it won’t interfere with the stroke.
Change Your Putter
Some golfers like Phil Mickelson are renowned for changing their putters.
But you should consider this strategy as well.
A longer putter, for example, lets you use less of your wrists and hands and more of your shoulders and arms.
There are other putters, some with oversize grips, that will help you keep your hands and wrists steady.
Improve Your Mental Game
Your brain is essentially a soft computer.
You’ll get better results if you learn how to program it with good data.
Feed your brain positive messages. Be your own best friend — we often say much harsher things to ourselves than we ever would to a friend.
Avoid catastrophe thinking where you believe that one missed putt equals a terrible round. Play the shot in front of you, stay relaxed and visualize the results you want while separating your self-image from the outcome.
The yips is a largely neurological problem, sometimes augmented by a poor mental game or health problems.
In the end, you’ll overcome the yips if you worry less about the result of your shots.
Free up your stroke, and “putt like a kid.” When you find your passion for golf again, the yips may melt away like ice in the sun.
Are you interested in a career in golf?
Give us a call at the Keiser University College of Golf, and talk to a member of our admissions staff.
You’ll get a better understanding of the wide variety of careers in golf and how to get started.