Play Better Golf

Dealing with Putting Yips

Putting yips can break a game, so you might want to get insights on how to cure this. If you have only had early double figures as your highest 1-hole score during your professional stint, then you are still far from making it on top. Even the great golf player, Tommy Armour racked up a shocking 23 blows in the Shawnee Open, just a month after he bagged the US Open trophy. Starting that day, the term “the yips” was coined, which was used to call this potentially debilitating affliction. Ever since, “the yips” has haunted golfers, newbies and pros alike. Even Ben Hogan experienced this unfortunate case. As he was nearing the end of his career, Hogan’s ball-striking was of a master’s, but putting sometimes made him helpless on the greens.

Sam Snead, currently the all-time highest PGA Tour tournament winner, even managed to avoid putting as he tried to fight his own yipping issues. Hank Haney, former coach of Tiger Woods, even wrote “Fix Your Yips Forever”, a book about his 20-year battle with yips. Ian Baker Finch suffered from similar problem as he missed 31 consecutive cuts and shot a devastating 92 in 1997. That was shortly after being one of the world’s best golfers and an Open Champion.

So, what really causes the yips? What is this problem and how do we fix them? Is it really just psychological?

There is an ongoing neuroscience and psychological research suggesting that yips are not just “all in the mind”.

Potentially, there are three possible causes of the dreaded yips. One of these is more of a physical issue rather than a mental one. However, the three probable causes can be interlinked since the physical can become mental. Let’s explore each and see what we can do to fix them.

Focal Dystonia

A neurological condition, Focal Dystonia affects a certain muscle or a muscle group in a specific part of the body. This condition causes involuntary contractions of the muscles. For instance, the fingers either extend outward or curl inward without control in case of focal hand dystonia. High-level musicians may also suffer from this condition, which is called musician’s dystonia. We call it yips in golf.

It is not precisely known what the cause of dystonia is. Experts think that a problem in sensorimotor cortex neurons is the culprit. In a normal movement, the brain sends signal to a particular muscle or group of muscles, telling it to contract and at the same time silencing muscles that oppose any intended movement. In case of dystonia, it looks like this ability of the brain is impaired, resulting in loss of feel and control. Some studies suggest that this condition may worsen with overuse of the particular muscle. This theory makes sense because some golfers claim that the more they spend time practicing, the worse their yips get. It seems that too much practice, especially doing the same movements over and over, can make the mind-body connection impaired instead of fix the problem. It is like training with an injured knee. It makes sense with focal dystonia that the cure can be changing a grip completely or making a totally different action. Doing this can cause a new set of neurons to do the task and utilize a motor programme that is not impaired due to overuse. There was a very bad case of the yips with an around 60-year old man who experience unbelievable twitching when rolling the ball even for a few feet. He yipped chips and putts like mad even in a non-pressure situation. As this occurred we explored different options in fixing this and became clear that he could putt with his left hand really well, but terribly yips with his right hand. What helped him rebuild his confidence is a lot of single-arm shots using his left hand. He used his right hand merely as a resting guide. Doing this made him function effectively once more and let him still play a game he truly loves.

Performance Anxiety

Yips may be caused by extreme anxiety, resulting in excessive self-awareness and consciousness to the action itself, this is according to a study conducted at the Mayo Sports Medical Centre in Minnesota. Sometimes, a physical movement will be more efficient if you do not focus your attention on how the movement is performed. The yips can occur when you are under pressure, very conscious, and when you try to control the movement excessively. In the early 1970,s a book was written by Tim Gallwey, which had the suggestion that golfers should not focus very much on hinging the wrists and turning the hips. Tiger Woods describes it as “body just takes over and I get out of my own way”.

Sam Snead was said to play a tune in his head when playing. The humming helped him with the swing rhythm and at the same time (unknowingly) distracted his conscious mind from excessive interference. For years, many golfers who thought and felt they had the yips have made enormous positive changes by focusing their attention on other things, such as breathing. When swinging back, you focus on the inhale and as you swing through, you exhale. Doing this may help fix the yips because when you focus on your breathing, you take your attention away from the action itself, and at the same time help reduce your tension, which is one of the major contributors to the yipping. Hence, distraction is one way to stop the yips.

Significant Emotional Event or SEE

Significant emotional events, such as when you are putting to win a tournament you are aiming for for years, can give you the yips. You suddenly feel tight in the arms and hands with your breathing pattern becoming shallower. As you backswing, you lurch into impact and the club hit the ground two inches short from the ball. Three putts after, you walk off the course shattered because the glory has already slipped from your grasp.

What do you think would be the effect of this scenario to someone’s spirit? Regardless if it is just an ordinary club championship or a highly-prestigious one, you have just experienced a significant emotional event. Studies suggest that the build-up or accumulation of highly negative events can affect us in a certain way over a time period and can create a sort of emotional block, manifesting itself into a physical form of negativity, the yips, that is.

Curing the Putting Yips

Hopefully, all is not lost even if you have a very bad yips case. You may be having yips even if there is no pressure involved. If this is the case, maybe you have a focal dystonia and you may want to consult your doctor about it. You may also seek the help of a pro and consider altering your method or way of playing certain putting shots.

No matter what you do, it is important to refrain from practicing the same movement over and over. This will only result in wiring of the motion deeper into your system, thus causing the yips to become more frequent rather than lesser. If you yip when under pressure, it is time to consider thinking “outside” your performance. Your yips may be caused by focusing on the action too much instead of executing the motion. If you can remember some past incidents which hugely affected you in any way, you may want to consider looking for an EFT treatment. Moreover, a poor technique can make a situation where you experience mental block from continuous failed results. Please seek the help of a PGA pro and let him or her see what is going on with you.

Probably the worst thing that you can do with your yips is to pretend it is not there and just suffer in silence. We all know (at least we, players) that golf is a wonderful activity and you must not let go of it, regardless of the yips. There are lots of people who had yips in the past but they were able to overcome them and play golf again. It is a wonderful achievement when you look the devil right in the face and conquer it. Bernhard Langer suffered from yips for many times but had fought it by altering the way he holds the club and at the same time imposing mental toughness in every game. Keep in mind: You’ll need iron will in presence of the yips.