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Understanding - and talking about - the dreaded yips

Kristen By Kristen "Golf Chick" Williams,
Contributor
Glen Dornoch Golf Club, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
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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.

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.

 
Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Full swing yips

    Kim Mackay wrote on: Oct 12, 2010

    Not sure how people have progressed. I have suffered progressively the full swing yips for the past 12 months. One day my pro suggested simply trying to commence my backswing by initially swinging the clubhead forward first about six inches then back.If you watch most people take a practice swing this is actually how they commence their swing anyway, a little forward movement, then back. This works remarkably well for a number of reasons. Firstly it takes all tension out of commencing the backswing. Secondly it starts the backswing on a nice even tempo. Once I got over the habit of actually watching the clubhead it works exceptionally well to the point I doubt I would go back to a conventional takeaway. I play off 3 and recently shot 73 in the Monthly Medal so something is working. The game is enjoyable again. It's worth trying.

    Reply

  • yips

    Karen Fanjoy wrote on: Mar 11, 2009

    Believe it or not, the yips can be eliminated when you work on your mental game. It is a stress response and once the aspects creating the yips have been addressed, the yips disappear.
    Check it out... http://MasterYourMentalGame.com
    Take care,
    Karen

    Reply

  • Putting

    Brian Kelly wrote on: Feb 14, 2008

    Hello
    I live in the UK and was just trawling through the internet looking for web site that might help me with my problem. I have developed a situation where I freeze over the ball and either grip the putter extremely hard or push it into the ground. Eventually I release the putter with no feeling for the distance. Any tips from anybody would be grateful.I am close to packing the game in after 20 years. Brian Kelly

    Reply

  • Update to this story

    Kristen wrote on: Oct 3, 2007

    I posted an update on Neil including a video of him putting on my site:
    http://www.thegolfchick.com/2007/10/03/how-to-live-with-the-putting-yips-video/

    Reply

      • RE: Update to this story

        allan weisberg wrote on: Nov 26, 2007

        reat article and just to aad that the yips are not just located in the puttong stroke I have had the full swing yips for about 4 years, it coimes and goes, mostly comes and makes playing very difficult, when i bring the club back it is difficult to bring it foward, it almost that i am locked up. If you have ever seen Charles barkely play golf you can see what is happening, it is very embarassing and i only play late in the day when i can play alone, it has taken the fun out of golf, Allan

        Reply

          • RE: RE: Update to this story

            allan wrote on: Apr 25, 2008

            Brian, so nice of you to respond to my message, I will look up the European tour and also hope that more research will find an answer. I still try plugging away and trying to get rid of them. the silver lining is that you learn things about yourself and put this thing in its proper perspective, afterall the yips wont kill you. Thanaks again for responding, Allan

            Reply

              • RE: RE: RE: Update to this story

                Alistair wrote on: May 16, 2008

                Hi. I too was looking around the internet on the yips and came across this article. I have been playing off 5 for many years and last year starting getting the yips in my putting. It soon spread to my chipping and now to my horror, my irons including driver. Its a complete nightmare and thought I was the only one - its also the sort of thing you dont publisise. Its sort of nice to know I'm not, but know the pain you are going through. I am thinking of giving up as its so frustrating and don't enjoy it anymore.

                Reply

          • RE: RE: Update to this story

            Brian Walker wrote on: Apr 19, 2008

            Allan
            You have my utmost sympathy. Most people imagine the yips as a putting condition but, like you, mine has progressed throughout my game. I have 'cured' the original yips by putting left-handed and to some extent the chipping yips similarly. However, the last progression of the disease was to my long game and since I am not willing to, learn to play left handed after 50 years I appear to be stuck with them. This has been a long process and I have gone from low single figure handicap to often not able to break ninety. There are a variety of cures offered through the internet, etc. However, I would be cynical about most of these. The most promising is offered by a psychologist who has cured several European Tour players and I am sure that you could get her name from an e-mail to the European Tour. However, the course is residential and so obviously involves a significant outlay and I am still deciding whether I can go on it without the wife finding out!

            Reply

  • the yips

    patricia wrote on: May 3, 2007

    A most interesting post. I would think less intense golfers would be far less susceptible...if not immune, however we have an ultra easy-going friend who's afflicted. He's a great player otherwise and doesn't seem to let it bother him...it hasn't become devastating to his game... but it persists, which indicates the neurological aspect. Strange.
    Hope it's not contagious ;o)

    Reply

  • Mayo Clinic and Yips

    Geoff Mangum wrote on: Apr 30, 2007

    Dear Kristen,
    The Mayo Clinic "sports science" team in Rochester MN initially studied the yips and got the issue all confused, claiming it was mostly psychological and not neurological. After this article directed the Rochester team to their own neurologist in Scottsdale AZ, they changed their tune in a second study consistent with this article, now claiming that the yips are neurological: "The Neurophysiology of Golf Putting: The Mayo Clinic takes a "Stab" at the Yips." See http://www.puttingzone.com/Science/sciresneuroscience2.html#YIPS, where a number of yips-related studies are collected. The Mayo Clinic neurologist is now engaged in a third study focusing on the muscles of the hand and arm, which is not at all likely to tell us much about the brain neurology that is the real problem.
    Cheers!
    Geoff Mangum
    PuttingZone.com

    Reply

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