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|Strangely enough, the yips rarely show up on the practice green. (Tim McDonald/GolfPublisher.com)|
Although golfers don't have the market cornered on superstition, there are certain things in the game that simply aren't done in many circles. You don't talk about it when someone's having a great round, you don't jinx a birdie putt, and you never talk about or even acknowledge that "the yips" exist. This is your warning to stop reading now if the topic makes you uncomfortable.
I have been a golfer for less than three years, but ever since the beginning, I have devoured all the information I can find that I think might improve my game. In that time, I've heard mention of the yips a couple times from acquaintances or on TV and read exactly one article on the subject. I came to understand that what I originally thought was a nicer name for choking under pressure was probably a real and serious affliction. I also learned that the subject is practically taboo to discuss. Few people actually know that much about it or are willing to talk about it if they do. I recently learned that even people who have the yips might not really understand what's going on.
Just last week, a friend confessed to me that he has been suffering from the yips for about 20 years. My curiosity got the better of me and after a cautious approach I discovered he wasn't afraid to talk about it. Perhaps more surprising was that my superstitious self wasn't afraid to, either. I was simply too intrigued. We had never played golf together before, so I hadn't witnessed it. He agreed to play a round with me so we could remedy that and I could learn more.
On the practice green, I noticed an unusual stroke, but he was making smooth, confident putts that were finding the hole. When we got to the green on the first hole, everything changed. That unusual stroke I saw became more pronounced. Rather than moving the putter straight back and swinging like a pendulum, he pulled it almost directly towards his back heel and when he struck the ball it almost snapped back to being in line, but it was like a spasm. The stroke on his longer putts, while not pretty, was more effective, but the closer he got to the hole, the more dramatic the spasms became. It was bizarre. When he got to within 3 feet (what others might call "gimmes" and he calls the "throw-up zone"), he would often turn around and putt left handed because that's how he has learned to somewhat overcome the problem.
Throughout the round and in a long discussion after, he impressed upon me how painful it can be and how his long time golfing buddy is correct when he tells him, "it's a good thing you love the game." He was able to pinpoint when and why it all started, and the more we talked, the more I was convinced that the uncontrollable movements called yips are a psychological problem.
Then I searched for and found several articles including a Mayo Clinic study on the yips and discovered the neurological aspects of it. How it actually might start as a physical problem and become devastating because of its psychological effects. How it's likened to dystonia that is often seen in artists, musicians and writers. How it typically occurs in golfers who have been playing a long time and usually have a single digit handicap. How over 25% of avid golfers will experience the yips at some point. How it can be managed by changing putters or grips or putting from your opposite hand.
Not only do I have a lot of information I can pass along to my friend that might help, I'm also reassured that I won't "catch" the yips just from talking or writing about it.
My friend, who I'll call Neil (because that's his name), is now an even better friend as so often happens when golf is involved. We're going to be playing together a lot more.
April 30, 2007
A woman relatively new to golf and known for her wit and dedication to her rapidly improving game, Kristen "Golf Chick" Williams has won fans for her blog and WorldGolf.com golf course reviews. She pens her golf articles from her home in Southern California.
Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.
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