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Was this the Yip Heard ‘Round the World? Or not a yip at all…

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The other day while doing research on an article about “the yips,” I happened to watch the replay of the 1970 Open Championship at St. Andrews with Henry Longhurst calling the play-by-play.

This was the tournament in which Doug Sanders missed a short putt on the final hole to win the championship. In his defense, the putt was a downhill left-to-right slider, the most challenging putt for a right-handed player.

David Pelz, NASA scientist turned putting guru, refers to these sidewinders as “facing putts,” meaning that when the player sets up to the ball, they can see the hole in their periapical vision. This is opposed to right-to-left putts, in which the hole is essentially blocked from view by the player’s body.

The tendency with a “facing putt” is for the player to direct the ball at the hole, rather than on a line above the cup, causing the ball to finish on the low side. What happened as Doug Sanders stood over the ball? We’ll come back to that moment shortly. In the meantime, let’s see what events led up to that point.

The Road Hole

The tendency when examining a win or a loss is to focus only on what happened at the end of the contest, ignoring what led up to the penultimate moment. In this case, to put that final putt into its proper context, we need to go back to the 17th tee, which is where Sanders began to unwind.

Sanders and Trevino were playing together in the final group. Trevino had started the day at 8-under par, but he had slipped down the leaderboard to 2-under by the time they’d reached the 17th hole. Sanders was first to play off the 17th tee, but only after a bizarre series of events occurred. As Sanders stood over the ball with the hotel looming to his right, he turned his head back and forth, looking down his target line more than 20 times. Then, when it appeared that he was ready to pull his club away from the ball, he stepped away to wipe the grip of his driver with a towel.

Sanders then returned to the ball and the ritual began again, but this time the number of looks exceeded the first. And finally, when it appeared that he would never hit the ball, he began his swing, hitting the ball weakly down the right side of the fairway. Trevino played his tee shot down the left side, and with that, the two players started walking down the fairway.

Sander’s ball finished a good 20 yards behind Trevino, leaving him a considerable distance away from the green. After talking with his caddie, Sanders chose to play a fairway wood toward the right side of green. Sanders pulled it slightly to the left, and he and his caddie watched as his ball bounded into the left front bunker.

In 1970, the face of the Road Hole Bunker was not as steep as it is today, but it still represented a significant challenge to those who found themselves in it. The pin was tucked just behind the bunker, leaving Sanders only a few feet of green to work with. He dug his feet into the sand and then proceeded to play a brilliant shot, leaving the ball just a few inches away from the hole. He tapped in for a par, preserving his one-shot lead over Nicklaus.

Valley of Sin

On the 18th hole, the two men drove down the left side of the fairway. The pin was located just a few feet behind the “Valley of Sin.” Sanders walked from his ball all the way to the green, and then, taking a long look at the position of the pin, he walked back to his ball. Sanders was the first to play. His wedge shot landed well past the pin, stopping some 25 feet away. Trevino, who at this point nothing to gain or lose, played his wedge shot to roughly 15 feet behind the pin.

After Trevino had played, the two men walked up through the “Valley of Sin” together and made their way toward the back of the green. They each marked their ball and walked forward toward the hole to survey the area around it. The obvious challenge facing Sanders was that he needed to roll the ball to the hole, but at the same time, not run it too far by the cup.

For The Win

Sanders, looking first at the hole and then back again at the ball, proceed to take several glances back and forth before hitting his first putt. It stopped about 2.5 feet from the hole. The championship belonged to Sanders if he could negotiate the next putt. If he were to miss it, he would fall into a tie with Jack Nicklaus, who was already in the clubhouse waiting for him to finish. In the event that the two should tie, it would be broken by an 18-hole playoff the following day.

In preparation to hit what he hoped was his final putt of the tournament, Sanders placed his putter behind the ball. And then, as he had done before, he began to swivel eyes back and forth… to the ball, to the hole, to the ball, to the hole, to the ball, to the hole. And then, perhaps sensing that he had already spent more time than he should over the ball, he appeared to rush the putt once he’d settled over it.

The unthinkable happened.

Sanders missed the putt, letting it slide to the right below the hole. The following day, Nicklaus won the 18-hole playoff, ending Sander’s bid for his first and only major.

Did He Yip It?

And now to the point. Do you think Sanders yipped that final putt? The answer to that question would depend on how you define the yips, so let me help you. There are any number of people who say they have yipped a putt or that they have “the yips.” In fact, they are more likely suffering from poor mechanics that are exacerbated by performance anxiety.

“The True Yips,” as I define the condition, are only present when there is a visible muscular spasm in anticipation of striking the ball. And to the question as to whether Doug Sanders yipped the putt, I’d invite you to watch the replay on the internet. What you will observe as you watch him putt is that there is no visible spasm present at any point in his stroke.

Sanders just made the same mistake as any other golfer might who was playing with his friends on a Saturday morning; he didn’t start the ball on a line high enough above the cup when playing a left-to-right putt.

And so, for the record, Doug Sanders’ miss at the final hole of the 1970 British Open was not a “true yip,” but just a miscalculation of line and speed.

Rod Lidenberg is the author of a new book based on this experience treating students with The Yips. The book is entitled “The Yips: Dancing with the Devil, Rewiring Your System for Success.” The book will be released for publication sometime before the end of the year.

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As a teacher, Rod Lidenberg reached the pinnacle of his career when he was named to GOLF Magazine's "Top 100" Teachers in America. The PGA Master Professional and three-time Minnesota PGA "Teacher of the Year" has over his forty-five year career, worked with a variety of players from beginners to tour professionals. He especially enjoys training elite junior players, many who have gone on to earn scholarships at top colleges around the country, in addition to winning several national amateur championships. Lidenberg maintains an active schedule teaching at Bluff Creek Golf Course Chanhassen, Minnesota, in the summer and The Golf Zone, Chaska, Minnesota, in the winter months. As a player, he competed in two USGA Public Links Championships; the first in Dallas, Texas, and the second in Phoenix, Arizona, where he finished among the top 40. He also entertained thousands of fans playing in a series of three exhibition matches beginning in 1972, at his home course, Edgewood G.C. in Fargo, North Dakota, where he played consecutive years with Doug Sanders, Lee Trevino and Laura Baugh. As an author, he has a number of books in various stages of development, the first of which will be published this fall entitled "I Knew Patty Berg." In Fall 2017, he will be launching a new Phoenix-based instruction business that will feature first-time-ever TREATMENT OF THE YIPS.

11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. David

    Dec 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    That is not a yip

  2. Stan

    Dec 27, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    Not the yips, a misread

    “But was it really a choke? Before Sanders took the putter back, the man who set the pin, Gerald Micklem, told those in the Members Room in the clubhouse that Sanders would miss it because he “won’t see the break because you can’t see the break”.
    Source
    http://www.nydailynews.com/archives/sports/old-st-andrews-article-1.878308

  3. peter

    Dec 27, 2017 at 1:17 am

    Yep, rushed the stroke and pushed it.

  4. Drbopperthp

    Dec 26, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    He choked, plain and simple.

  5. John K

    Dec 26, 2017 at 3:30 pm

    The instant the ball left his putter it appears he tried to guide it. Been there done that! I would call it uncertainty in his decision more then a yip!

  6. Michael

    Dec 26, 2017 at 2:12 pm

    See the guy quite often hitting balls at the range. He is the nicest dude in the world and talks to everyone about the game. I personally find it stupid to call this putt a choke when the hole before he hit one of the greatest bunker shots ever. Sure he might of screwed up moving whatever he saw in his line but it was one hell of an effort to get to that point. The fact is he should of played safer on his approach and played for par.

  7. Hugh

    Dec 26, 2017 at 1:43 pm

    Pretty sure you meant “peripheral vision,” not “periapical” unless he was lining up the putt with his teeth.

  8. Dan Retief

    Dec 26, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    I had always believed that Doug Sanders addressed that short putt then leant forward to sweep a pebble, or something, off his line and then went back into his stance and missed. I might even have read it in Sanders’ entertaining autobiography “Come Swing With Me.” The story went that when Ben Hogan, watching on TV in Texas, saw Sanders move to sweep the line he cried out, “step away!” Sanders didn’t and might have slightly altered his stance and alignment. However this is not shown in the clip you have attached. Did it happen? That little putt on the 18th at St Andrews to this day breaks to the right… wonder if poor old Doug at the last second thought he was lining up too far outside the left of the cup and, like the rest of us, self-corrected his stroke by slightly opening the putter face and pushing it to straight, thus it took the break and missed right. Agree that it was not a yip.

  9. John Grossi

    Dec 26, 2017 at 11:58 am

    Sorry, I cannot watch again that stroke.
    I truly believe he yipped that putt.

  10. Todd

    Dec 26, 2017 at 11:18 am

    Agreed, ball never started left of the hole like it needed.

  11. Pete O'Tube

    Dec 26, 2017 at 10:59 am

    Not quite a yip, but a shove with the right shoulder!

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How often should you actually get “Up-and-Down” based on your handicap?

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‘Up and Downs’ have long been the accepted measure of skill in the short game. The chart below shows average performance in this area for the PGA Tour and an array of handicap levels. How do you fit in?

A few points of definition: The above refers to short game shots around the green, other than from the sand. [Stay tuned: sand shots will be my next article.] I consider the short game to be all shots from within 50 yards of the hole. This distance was a topic of debate 30 years ago when I was developing my golf analysis program. I was fortunate to be working with Golf Digest Golf Schools and some of the top instructors were good enough to embrace the better form of game analysis that I was creating. In particular, I owe a great deal to Chuck Cook, Jack Lumpkin and Hank Johnson. Their help and encouragement in my early stages gave me a much needed boost of momentum. Little did we know that what I then called “Strokes Lost and Saved” would ultimately become the accepted standard of analysis on the PGA Tour — now know as “Strokes Gained.” Anyway, we agreed that 50 yards was the right distance range for the short game for two reasons:

  1. It represented the short game for virtually every handicap level, men and women.
  2. It was a short enough distance that it didn’t need to be sliced even further.

That said, I do NOT believe that “Up and Downs” are an appropriate or accurate measure of short game skill for two reasons:

  1. It represents the combination of two skills: Short Game and Putting.
  2. It ignores the ERRORS or shots that actually miss the green.

In my 30+ years of studying performance at all skill levels, I have found that it is the FREQUENCY and SEVERITY of bad shots (errors) that do more to influence a player’s scoring level than do all the good shots. Accordingly, I built the ability to capture data on the common errors in the game into ShotByShot.com.

The true measure of a player’s short game skill is their Strokes Gained in that facet. BUT, that is simply a number — a positive number is good and a negative number, not so much. But how then to best display the skill that is associated with the Strokes Gained number? I believe the combination of three stats to be the correct way to display short game skill:

  • Average putting distance, when the green is successfully hit.
  • Percent shots hit to within 5 feet of the hole
  • Percent errors, or shots that miss the putting surface.

Where does your game fall in these two important categories?

Note, that the two lines cross at about a 16 handicap. That is actually a better than average golfer yet for every Chip/Pitch shot that they successfully get to within 5 feet of the hole, they are also chunking or sculling one and missing the green altogether. Work to dramatically reduce the errors and that 16 will drop to 12 or 13?

You might ask: How can the PGA Tour make more errors than the scratch golfer? Good question! I have two explanations:

  1. They really are that good! Regardless of the relative difficulty of the shot, Tour players will go for it. They have the confidence that when they miss they will get the next up and down. At the same time, the amateur that has reached the lofty level of Scratch has generally done so thru rigorous consistency and the avoidance of errors. At the low handicap levels, a bogey can be acceptable but a mistake that results in a double is NOT.
  2. The tour Shotlink data considers the fringe of the green to be a miss whereas I recommend that players count the fringe as a green hit and a putting opportunity. Your long game has been efficient enough to get there and should be rewarded with the GIR. At the same time, to count the shot from the fringe as a short game shot will unfairly reward your short game skill for what was actually a putt.

That reminds me again of my very early days when Chuck Cook said to me: “Pete, Tour players don’t make errors in the short game!”  See Chuck, I was right, they do! For a Complete Strokes Gained Analysis of your game, log on to: ShotByShot.com.

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