If any of you folks out there are now or once have been golf enthusiasts like myself, then at one time in your golfing career you’ve probably gone through a case of the yips. Picture this…
It’s summertime and it’s probably sometime during the middle of the week. You’ve got your eye on the weekend weather forecast and your local prognosticator is calling for a beautiful weekend with sunny skies and no rain in sight. Taking heed of this information, you start making some phone calls to some of your friends to arrange a foursome and get yourself a tee time at your local golf course .You plan to spend about four hours or so on Saturday afternoon with your buddies doing, what in my opinion, is one of the most enjoyable things to do. Chasing a golf ball against a blue sky and green course.
Saturday dawns and for a change, the weatherman (or weatherperson for you politically correct types) is right on the money. As you suck down your morning coffee, all that is on your mind is how well your going to play that day. The temperature is hovering in the low 80’s, the humidity is nothing to speak of, a few puffy clouds dot the sky here and there and an ever so slight breeze blows just hard enough to provide some respite to cool you from the rays of the sun.
Before you make your commute to your to your local golf course, an equipment check is in order. For me, the commute is about twenty minutes or so. That means about 1 hour to 1 ½ hours before my scheduled tee time., I’m going to check my bag to make sure I have enough balls, tees, an extra glove, pencils, sun screen, hat, towel and maybe give my golf clubs a quick wipe down to remove any remnants of the course from the last time I played. The refreshements have been cooling in the fridge since last night and they are dutifully put in the cooler along with some water and maybe a sandwich or one of your favorite snacks.
You arrive at the course maybe a half hour or so before your tee time. You pay your money, put on your golf shoes, grab your sticks and head off to the practice range to loosen up a bit. After hitting some balls and working any kinks out, you head to the practice green and try to perfect the fine art of putting. You drain a couple from anywhere between 10-15 feet and feel pretty damn good about yourself and about how the day is going to turn out.
Then it’s off to the first tee and it’s your turn to drive one down the middle of the fairway. It’s a kinda short par 4. Maybe doglegs to the left a little bit. You want to lay it out there somewhere between 250-270 yards to leave yourself with a decent second shot. Sure enough, the time spent on the driving range turns out to be well spent as you pure one down the alley. Your approach shot is about as easy (if there’s such a thing in golf!) as it can get. You stand maybe 130-140 yards out and loft an iron straight at the pin. The ball lands on the green as if it had fallen on a pillow and you’re left with about three feet for birdie. After hearing the proverbial “nice shot” from your playing partners, you proudly walk up to the green, putter in hand, mark your ball, and await those less fortunate or less skilled to finish up. You think to yourself, “This has all the makings of a great day!”
You line up your putt. There’s nothing special about it. It’s one you’ve made hundreds or thousands of times either on the course, the practice green or in your head. You take a couple of practice strokes, address the ball and prepare to hear that wonderful sound of the ball dropping in the cup. All is (hopefully) quiet as you take a deep breath to clear your lungs and bring back your putter. Your stroke feels smooth as you bring the club forward. All feels right.
Then that little voice inside of your head suddenly screams “What the fuck was that?” as either your wrist or hand make a sudden twitch when the club is mere inches from the ball. After striking the ball, it rolls inches wide of the cup depending on the direction of your “twitch”. You let out your breath, sag your shoulders, lower your head and silently curse yourself in ways you can’t imagine and tap in for a disappointing par. Your golfing partners, if they have any couth at all, know to remain silent. You remove your ball and depending how pissed off you might be, slam or place your putter back in the bag and head towards the next tee. You also offer up a silent prayer to the golfing gods imploring them to relieve you of your misery. You hope, what started out as a wonderful day, will also end that way.
Depending on how close you’re sticking your irons or chipping up, this scene might be played out on numerous holes as you make your way around the course. If it does, you my friend, have been cursed by the aforementioned golfing gods and have fallen victim to what is known in golfing circles as the “yips”. This insidious little monster seems to strike at random at golfers on every level. From the most seasoned professional to that of a weekend hacker, the “yips” have probably claimed more strokes off your score than any errant drive ever will.
So what are the yips?
You can give credit to a former professional golfer by the name Tommy Armour for popularizing or coining the term “yips”. In fact, his case got so bad that it forced him to retire from professional play and resort to the role of golf instructor.
While most people refer to the act of missing a short putt as merely “choking” under pressure, the “yips” seem to be a combination of two things. One seems to be an involuntary muscle spasm caused by a level of anxiety as you try and sink your putt. Usually, the putt is shorter than five feet or so and often times might be considered a “gimmee”.
Research at such learned institutions at the Mayo Clinic has been undertaken as to why and when a person might be subject to the “yips”. So far, here it what it has yielded.
Most sufferers appear to have faster than average heart rates and tend to grip the putter a little bit tighter than those who don’t suffer from this affliction. Nobody seems able to determine when the “yips” start or when they have run their course. They seem to come more often during tournaments or when the competition is heated. If you fall victim to the “yips” you can expect to add about 4.7 strokes to your average for eighteen holes.
Who gets the “yips”?
Strangely enough, avid golfers who have played more than twenty years seem more likely to contract the “yips”. Researchers are baffled by this and attribute the condition to biochemical changes in your brain that occur as you age.
Preliminary research indicates that more than 25 percent of avid golfers develop the yips at some time in their career. Besides the physical changes that occur, some research indicates that the cause of you blowing your two- footer might be attributable to just pain old bad thinking and bad images that might interrupt your concentration. So much for the “power of positive thinking” I guess.
Then there’s the term “performance anxiety”. It seems to be induced by stress and the fact that you're on stage for all to see. Interviews with golfers who have experienced the “yips” indicate that the “disease” occurs way less frequently in practice when nobody is watching then when your trying to drain that three footer to win a tournament in front of a national television audience.
The “Yips”, they’re just not for golfers anymore…
Further research into the phenomena seems to indicate that golfers are not the only ones to fall under the spell of the “yips”. Ever see a baseball player blow an easy throw to first base? “Yips”. How about a NBA player bricking foul shot after foul shot? “Yips”. Outside of the realm of sports, did you ever hear an accomplished musician hit a clunker during a performance? That’s right “Yips”. How about a professional speaker who suddenly is at a loss for words. "Yips" again. The “disease” seems to be spreading, and it must be stopped!
How can I get rid of ‘em?
From a golfing standpoint, the short answer is that nobody seems to know. You might try changing your grip, going to a longer or shorter putter, changing your stance or trying some mental exercises to rid you of this demon. There are also countless remedies you might see in golfing magazines that “guarantee” a cure for the “yips”. Do yourself a favor and pay them no heed. You’ll only become even more frustrated when you find out that the hard earned money you spent on some kind of gizmo went for naught when you blow that first easy putt.
For my part, a couple of drinks after the round usually go a long ways toward making you forget about them for the time being. The bastards that they are though, the “yips” will reside in your memory for a long time to come. That is, until you sink that pressure packed first three-footer or learn to live with them.
Source: I’ve blown enough short putts in my lifetime to cost me a small fortune and my personal acquaintance with the “yips” has been both a source of amusement and profit for many of my golfing friends. That in itself, speaks volumes.