Ah, the beautiful game of golf, a game where you can enjoy the great outdoors, play with friends and family and get some fitness and fresh air all at the same time. But golf is not just a walk in the park; it can be a stressful game, especially for club-level golfers.
There are a few words and phrases that put the fear of God into any golfer; phrases such as “out-of-bounds,” “fore,” or “shank” can cause golfers to shake in fear; but there’s one word above all that no golfer ever wants to hear; the “YIPS.”
The yips are feared for many reasons and have even forced professional golfers to retire from the game. Australian golfer Ian Baker-Finch who won the 1991 British Open Major Championship, retired after missing 32 consecutive cuts. It was and still is one of the most tragic and heartbreaking meltdowns of any sport in history.
Although there are numerous theories as to what causes the yips, no one really knows, and it’s this “unknown” factor that strikes fear into any golfer who starts missing a few easy three-footers.
As a professional coach who’s worked with some of the best golfers and tennis players for more than 20 years, I’ve seen my fair share of players struggle with the yips, some worst than others. The good news here is that there are ways to get rid of the yips once and for all.
I hope you never have to face the yips, but if you do or know someone who is, this guide is for you. You’ll learn everything from mental strategies and practice drills to the signs and symptoms. By following the advice in this guide, you’ll be assured you never have to worry about those shaky hands again.
Let’s get into it!
What are the Yips?
- 1 What are the Yips?
- 2 How do golfers get the YIPS?
- 3 5 Strategies to Conquer the YIPS Once and for All
- 4 Full Swing Yips
- 5 Chipping Yips
- 6 The 18th Hole
There is no universal definition when it comes to the yips, which again makes identifying them even tougher. Put simply, though, “the yips are an involuntary or uncontrollable flinch that occurs during the putting stroke or swing.” Most athletes think the yips refers to putting, but in actual fact, the yips are found in many sports, with the two primary being golf and tennis.
In golf, the yips can occur on the putting green, tee box, bunker play, and chipping. Putting and chipping are the two most common areas yips can creep into a player’s game because they require an incredible amount of soft-touch and quiet hands.
Yips on the tee-box are not as bad because the power and kinetic movements of the larger muscles can help “mask” the symptoms; however, on the putting green, there’s nowhere to hide.
- Nine-time PGA Tour winner Kevin Na struggled with the yips on the putting greens for a number of years and would stand over the ball for minutes until he finally pulled the trigger.
- Sergio Garcia, who won the Masters Tournament, also struggled with the yips for years, although his were on the tee box and fairways. At one point, Garcia was taking 20 practice swings before forcing himself to play.
- During the 2002 US Open, Garcia angered the New York crowd by taking as many as 30 “waggles” before he played each shot. As a coach, I remember watching it and feeling extremely sad for Sergio, who was doing his best to keep it together.
This guide will primarily look at the putting yips; however, later in the article, I will also detail the chipping and driving yips. The putting yips are the most frustrating and can wreak havoc with a player’s score and, ultimately, his confidence. Putting is the simplest yet most critical aspect of playing golf; it’s the like serve in tennis; if you cant serve to the start of the point; you cant play.
The yips put fear into golfers because no golfer is immune; no matter how long you’ve played or whether you’re a pro or a beginner, the yips could be one putt away. The yips can ruin your putting stroke and, in some cases, do irreparable damage to your mental game, and as you’ve seen, they’ve even forced some golfers to retire.
Let’s be honest, the fun of playing golf can be quickly taken out of the game if you’re continually worried about embarrassing yourself in front of others on the putting green. This article aims to let that never happen; golf is a game that should be enjoyed for a lifetime, and by following this guide, that can be a reality, not a pipe dream.
How do golfers get the YIPS?
As I’ve said, the worst thing about the yips is no one really knows how you get them, although, in my experience, I firmly believe the mental game is the primary cause.
The famous horror writer, HP Lovecraft, is quoted as saying, “the oldest and most powerful emotion of humankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest type of fear is the fear of the unknown.” This adage perfectly describes and encapsulates the yips; it’s the fear that they could strike at any moment that causes shakey hands while putting.
As a coach, I can tell you this; it’s much easier to fix your putting stroke or golf swing than fix your mental game. Time and time again, I’ve seen golfers with perfect techniques which should see them succeed at the pro level, only for their success to be thwarted by those inner mental demons.
The one emotion that I’ve seen ruin many athletes’ careers is fear. The fear of missing or losing can grip a player so tight that they literally lose the ability to perform under pressure. Fear of losing can snowball out of control quickly; it’s like digging yourself a hole so deep that, at some point, you cant get out of it.
Remember, we all miss putts, so the first thing you can do is start by giving yourself a break. Next time you miss a putt, tell yourself you’re only human, and you’ll make the next one; then smile and walk to the next hole.
5 Strategies to Conquer the YIPS Once and for All
The first thing to understand is that the yips are not caused by anything you’ve done intentionally wrong; in short, the yips are not your fault. Golfers of all levels have struggled with the yips, but players can overcome them with some easy-to-implement steps.
However, these five strategies are not “silver bullets” and require you to put in the time and effort; as with most things in life, you get back what you put in, and beating the yips is no different.
So, with that being said, let’s get you on the road to beating those yips once and for all.
1. Don’t Worry be Happy
Like Bobby McFerrin sung in his 80s classic song, “don’t worry; be happy,” and when it comes to conquering the yips, this simple yet effective strategy could be the answer. I know it seems almost too good to be true but think about it, golf, more than anything, is a mental game, and keeping yourself relaxed gives you the best chance to swing and putt freely.
It’s hard to tell golfers that their yips are all in their head, especially when it manifests itself through the putting stroke; because of this, it’s understandable to see why most golfers think they’re caused by a technical issue rather than a mental one. Next time you’re standing over an important putt, remind yourself that you’ve worked hard on your putting game, and even if you miss, it’s not the end of the world.
Putting things into perspective is another excellent way to help you relax before stepping up to a three-footer. Think about your kids or loved ones and how lucky you are to be out in nature playing a game you love. Thinking like this helps relax the muscles and lets you swing and putt freely.
Taking deep breaths is another good strategy to relieve stress and tension from the body before putting; again, it’s not rocket science. You don’t need a complicated breathing routine developed by a yoga guru. Just a few simple deep breaths are all that’s required.
2. It Might be Time for a New Putter
Now, I’m going to be honest, I had to think long and hard about whether or not to put this strategy on the list. As the old saying goes, “a poor carpenter is quick to blame his tools.” but in some extreme cases, changing your putter might be the best way to overcome your yips.
I know it seems funny, but throwing away your old putter can also serve as a symbol of throwing away your disappointment and frustrations. The same as the struggling tennis player can look to change their racquet, the struggling golfer can look to do the same, and a new putter might just do the trick.
When it comes to choosing your new putter, look for one that is radically different from the one you’ve been using. For example, if you’ve been using a mallet-style putter, you can change to a blade style. Try switching brands, too, as many brands use different materials and have completely different feels when compared to each other.
Remember, the aim here is not to start tinkering with your stroke; rather, to start fresh with a new putter in your hand. Give it a try; who knows; a fresh start might be all you need.
3. Change your Putting Technique or Make a Grip Change
You might find this surprising, but changing putter grip or style is the most common way pro golfers try to fix their yips.
I’m sure if you watched golf on TV, you’ve seen some pretty weird and funky putting styles, but at the end of the day, it’s function over form, and if a funky grip gets it done, that’s what you go with. Although inner demons primarily cause the yips, there are occasions when “twitching” or “involuntary” flinching can be to blame. In this case, changing grip or putting style may help mitigate unwanted twitching.
Examples of some of the more “extreme” grips are the “claw,” the “saw,” and the “cross-handed” style. The claw requires you to grip the putter as you normally would with your right hand; however, your left hand “sits” on the grip instead of “wrapping” around it. For lefties, just reverse the process.
The main goal when changing grips is for the brain to learn a new motor skill. By doing this, your brain is forced to modify its muscle memory and learn something new. This strategy can work, but it does take time. When changing muscle memory, you have to remember that you’ve probably been putting with that style for years or your entire life, so it’s no easy fix.
4. Ever Thought of Changing Hands?
This strategy is undoubtedly one of the most drastic and quite frankly controversial amongst golf pros and coaches, but sometimes extreme problems call for drastic changes.
Although changing hands to putt is a physical movement, the reality is its targets your cognitive patterns. Unlearning muscle memory is no easy feat, but it can be done, and in extreme cases, changing hands might be the last resort. Not much instruction is needed here; it’s as simple as a left-handed player learning to putt right-handed, or vice-versa.
Changing hands is actually an effective way to beat the yips, but let me tell you, if you’re looking for a quick solution, this ain’t it. Basketball players often shoot with their non-preferred hand, and footballers regularly dedicate training sessions to kicking with their non-preferred foot; so it can be done but requires your total commitment.
5. Get Away from the Game for a While
Taking time away from the game you love can be tough, but it can also be one of the best things you can do to refresh your mental game and get some perspective.
I have seen this strategy work wonders for players of all levels, and more often than not, they return with a greater appreciation for just how awesome the game of golf is, and many times their yips are miraculously gone. How long you decide to step away from the game is up to you, but I’d suggest at least getting away for a month or so.
Don’t pick a club, don’t watch golf on tv, don’t read about golf, and don’t think about golf. Spend some time with the people you love and find a new hobby. Remember, you love the game of golf, and that’s why you’re forcing yourself to take some time off; ultimately, It’s for the betterment of your game.
It’s not easy, but trust me on this one; you’ll come back with a rejuvenated enthusiasm for the game and a fresh outlook and perspective. Next time you’re standing over that three-footer, you’ll know that it’s not the end of the world if you miss it.
Full Swing Yips
As we’ve seen, the yips are generally associated with putting, but the yips are also known to cause stress and anxiety when playing the driver or long irons.
In my twenty years of coaching, I have seen the yips wreak havoc on golfers’ long games, and although they can be overcome, it’s not a walk in the park. The tee shot specifically is the one-shot that generally plays on the minds of club golfers; whether it be caused by the fear of embarrassment, lack of practice, or fear of playing a poor shot, the yips are a genuine concern.
As mentioned earlier, Ian Baker-Finch was forced to retire from the game due to the yips, but another even more famous golfer also fell victim. Former World No 1 David Duval stepped away from the game after being unable to overcome the yips with his driver. According to Tiger Woods’s long-time coach Hank Haney, Tiger also struggled throughout his career with the “driver-yips,” although the way he dominated the game, you would never know it.
The yips with the driver are believed by many experts to be caused by the intention to continually hit the middle of the fairway, and anything less is unacceptable; it’s basically due to placing excessive stress on striking the perfect tee shot each and every time.
- Different ball flights on every tee shot
- Hitting the driver toward the heel of the club
- Hitting shots that are either fat or thin
If you find that these symptoms rarely show themselves while on the practice tee, you’ve almost certainly got the driver yips. Many golfers struggle with the fear of embarrassment, especially on the first tee, where there are generally many groups waiting to tee off.
Yep, even your short game is not immune from falling victim to the yips, and in actual fact, it can be the most complex area of your game to get them under control. Chipping requires deft touch around the greens and a steely mental resolve, so you can see why any involuntary or uncontrollable flinching could be disastrous.
Chipping yips are generally caused by the fear of “flubbing” or “thining” the ball 100 yards back down the fairway. Greens are also typically littered with water hards and bunkers, further adding to the pressure of chipping.
- Continually misjudging the chip, either going 20 feet beyond or 20 feet short
- Hitting one chip shot fat than the next thin
- Struggling to play out of tough lies
- Chipping good on the practice green but poor during competition
The most challenging aspect of chipping is that the margin for error is extremely low. This means that if you slightly misjudge your chip, you can end up in the water hazard, further compounding the pressure. From there, it can be a vicious cycle if the cause of the problem is not attended to.
The 18th Hole
The golfing yips seldom last forever, and in most cases, once the root cause of the problem has been diagnosed and corrected, the yips rarely return.
Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the legendary Bobby Jones, “Golf is a game, played on a five-inch course; the distance between your ears.”
Happy golfing, and keep smiling!