Once upon a time I knew a professional who, despite being a prodigious ball-striker, never became well known beyond our little neck of the woods. He hit the ball long and straight, nearly every time. These were towering shots, the kind that made you stop on the range and just watch, and they came with almost Moe Norman-like repetitive ease. Despite his near generational talent, his name never became household, but a breakdown in his machine-like ball-striking wasn’t to blame. It was the smallest, simplest of golf shots that kept that professional from the annals of golfing legends. Short putts, and the affliction known as the yips.
Aaaah, those maddening short putts, and that scourge upon humanity known as the yips. The yips affect golfers of every ability, professional or amateur, in situations ranging from PGA Tour Events to $2 Nassaus at the local muni. And they’re not just a golfer’s affliction, as the term has become ubiquitous with struggles in baseball, basketball, football, tennis, cricket, and even darts. Don’t know what the yips are? Well, then I advise you, no I implore you, to click back to that “What’s in the Bag” article you skipped over or something similarly innocuous until the word, thought, and curiosity passes like a lingering black cloud. If you insist on reading on, however, let me just say up front that, remember, I warned you.
The term “yips” was first coined by Tommy Armour to describe a mental block that resulted in his inexplicable ability to make extremely short putts. We’re talking kick-ins here, the type even your most cutthroat opponent would say, “Pick it up.” Since that time, the term’s notoriety has moved beyond just struggles with short putts to describe mental blocks in nearly any aspect of the game, as well as mental blocks athletes experience in many other sports. The unifying theme when it comes to the yips, across disciplines, has come to be recognized as the sudden inability to execute any athletic act that an athlete has already seemingly mastered; an act that would be considered mostly a formality under normal circumstances, yet which suddenly isn’t when confronted with even the slightest bit of pressure.
Now when it comes to professional golf, Tommy Armour was by no means the first, or an anomaly. The yips have either stunted or de-railed the competitive careers of men like Vardon, Hogan, Snead, Watson, Langer, Baker-Finch, O’Meara, Duval, Els, Garcia and innumerable others, like that professional I once knew, whose names never rose to the public awareness specifically because of them. Even the once-perceived untouchable iron-clad psyche of a certain Mr. Woods is now apparently affected, and whispers that they, not a balking back, are keeping him from competing, have become too loud to ignore.
At the amateur level, the picture may be even bleaker. A quick scan of Mr. Google for yips will give you more than 22 million results, highlighted with potential fixes advertised by everyone from the biggest names in the industry to those who range from the obscure to the bizarre. The yips have become such a deep emotional scar among many average golfers that just using the term in an article’s title could, in web terminology, be fairly described as click-bait (gotcha, didn’t I?). One recent study even claims that more than 25 percent of the people who give up golf each year do so because of some form or another of the yips. If this is true, finding a cure might be the most effective thing the PGA and all our allied associations could do to stem the tide of players leaving the game. But is it possible? With all our combined resources, the advances of modern instruction methods, as well as breakthroughs in both science and psychology, can we not discover a means, a mantra, a method, or an indefatigable set of mechanics to defeat this scourge? There must be a yip-proof grip. Well, just maybe, and this is where I come in.
I’ve studied this creature (what it’s often called in baseball), for a long, long, time. I’ve read everything from the Mayo Clinic studies to the studies of Dr. Debbie Crews of the University of Arizona. I’ve talked to PGA Tour Putting Gurus Dave Stockton and Marius Filmalter, Dr. Tom Hanson (a former New York Yankees mental game coach), and countless others who profess to know more than a bit about the condition than the average bear. I’ve investigated the obscure, the bizarre, and the holistic, as well as cutting-edge therapies that have come about as a result of work being done to help the men and women of our armed forces to combat the demons of PTSD. I’ve talked with hypnotists, scientists, therapists, psychologists, and at least a few other ists that I’m sure I can’t remember what their actual practice was. I’ve listened to Shambhala Warriors, EFT practitioners, NLP experts, and other individuals who might most politely be described as eccentric. I’ve read the stories of those who’ve bested the beast, lived to fight another day, and those unfortunate souls who remain lost in the morass. I’ve heard theories, both scientific and sensationalistic, watched transformations, and seen many come back from the precipice, while seeing others driven right to the brink. I’ve rescued badly abused equipment, that which had only recently been hailed a savior, swiftly and suddenly broken or abandoned like a scorned lover. And I’ve seen equipment talked to, cajoled, reasoned with, and whispered to in ways that would best be reserved for an actual lover.
And to what do we see this behavior attributed? The simple act of negotiating a small white ball into an awaiting hole nearly three times its size a mere pace from where we are standing? We’re not talking about putting a square peg in a round hole here; it’s actual child’s play, an act a child would likely find boring after a short while due to its relative simplicity. So what is it about an act that is so simple that it can cause grown men and women to behave in ways more common to nursery school playgrounds, soccer hooligans, and Oakland Raider fans?
Now if you’re reading this, I’m willing to bet a large portion of you are doing so because you’re in danger of becoming one of the 25 percent, and you’re just about to the point where you’re getting irritated because you suspect that I’m teasing you with platitudes and ultimately trying to sell you something. So trust me when I say this; I didn’t bring you here to take advantage of your pain. As someone who’s not only deeply invested in growing this great game, but someone whose also been down that dark and dusty third world road before and found a way back from the wilderness, I wanted to leave the porch lights on for my fellow sufferers so that you can find your way home too. This is where it get’s a bit tricky, though, so stick with me just a moment longer and I promise, as a certain politician did a few years back, to at least give you some directions to that place called hope.
For starters, let me just say that the reality of everything we know appears to be this. There is no pill, no vaccine, no medication, and no magic bullet. We’re not talking about arthritis, diabetes, or high blood-pressure here, disorders with heavily studied and clearly defined and proven treatment strategies. Even the famed Mayo Clinic, who did its level best to categorize the yips as something clinical (Focal Dystonia), ultimately threw their hands up by only going so far as to claim that they may be a form. There is no be-all, end-all, cure-all solution that will end this affliction once and for all for all of us, because there is no singular reason for why you, me, or anyone else ends up in this place. And while that may sound a bit disappointing on the surface, it’s one of the most wonderful aspects of our humanity. We are all very different people. Every golfer’s mind is as different as his or her fingerprints, and histories, backgrounds, genetic make-ups, predispositions, personalities, anxieties, and abilities. Since we are all as varied and individual as the stripes on a Zebra, the paths each of us wanders down to end up having one type of yips or another are innumerable. So are the roads home, because in the end what home looks like, feels like, smells like, and tastes like will be very different at every address.
About a decade ago, Hank Haney (a long-time yips sufferer) wrote a book he titled, “Fix the Yips Forever.” In a follow-up article, he claimed that he had reservations about that title, and while he gave his reasons for those reservations, what he didn’t exactly articulate (but what I sensed in his explanation) was that he wasn’t really so sure there was a forever. Forever is a very long time, and despite the fact that your friend, your neighbor, Bernhard Langer, Sergio Garcia, and even Mr. Woods appear at times to have finally beat them, their Yip-Proof grip on that place is often tenuous at best. Those of you who’ve either dealt with this condition, or know someone who has, likely have heard the saying, “once a yipper, always a yipper” to describe those who’ve found a short-term fix through a grip change, equipment change, or something else, but who have at some point gone back to yipping again once the novelty of the new and improved method has worn off because they, quote, “Haven’t addressed the underlying causes of why they yip in the first place.” And while I believe there is much more truth (and much more to be learned) in that second quote that the first, I also believe that our fixation on finding a fix for the yips is somewhat akin to mankind’s never-ending quest for the Holy Grail. And before you let that discourage you, let me say why that’s actually OK.
No player, of golf or any other sport, has ever found a method, a mind-set, or some form of mechanics that were so fail-safe, so fool-proof, and so indelibly imprinted that it allowed them to go on and dominate their respective sport indefinitely. Even those in golf who’ve appeared to come close — Hogan, Nicklaus, Woods — have suffered more downs than ups and always ultimately came back down to earth at some point after tasting their moments of success. If Ben Hogan really had a “secret,” don’t you think he would have surely used it before his own yips drove him from competition? And if Tiger’s psyche was truly as iron-clad as always claimed, don’t you think he could have used it to win at least one major in the last 9 years despite all his many injuries?
If we found the answer, you see, that quest would end, and along with it so would the hopes for finding ways to improve the person or golfer that we are in ways and in places that we may have initially never considered looking and the benefits and growth we would reap from that quest would never be realized. They say there is often far more to be learned from failure than success. Success is transient in anything, and in no way ever guaranteed. That’s what makes it taste as sweet as it does when we finally do get to sample a little bit of it, that, and the fact that while we at times can delude ourselves into believing that we’ve got it all figured out and it will never again leave us, deep down, we know we really don’t.
So just in case you’ve missed my point here, and think I’m dashing the last of your hopes on the hard rocks of reality, I guess the question of whether or not I, or anyone else can really help you work through or get over any kind of performance mental block, whether you want to call it the yips or something else, begs to be answered. The answer is yes, absolutely. The road to working through those problems, however, getting past that mental block or finally ditching those yips once and for freaking all, almost certainly won’t look the same for you as it will someone else. And what you perceive getting over them to look like, how you envision it, what your expectations are, and what you’re willing to accept, will definitely play the largest role not only in how you get there, but once you’ve decided that you actually are. I can’t make you not feel nervous. At 80 years old, Frank Sinatra, one of the greatest performers of all time, said he still got nervous when he walked out on stage. He still wondered if he’d forget his lines, was still afraid he might not be able to hit his notes once he got out there, and yet he still took those steps. And whether you’re a singer, a golfer, or in any other kind of situation where you want to perform in a specific way under the spotlight, I can promise you that, like Frank said, even the most seasoned of us can feel those butterflies, those nerves, that anxiety, or whatever else you’d like to call it once it becomes important to us. And that really is okay.
In the end, I contend, if you’re still walking out on that stage, still searching, still experimenting, still fighting, still looking for help, and still counting yourself among the rest of us who are still swinging, then to a certain extent you’re already there. And as long as you continue to do so, you’ll find your game again, your guru, your grail, or your yip-proof grip. And while it likely won’t last forever, nothing ever does. So stay in the game, enjoy those ups and downs, the maddening inconsistency of it all, and love the fact that when it comes to golf it very likely isn’t the kill, but the thrill of the chase. And while I’m here to help, whether it’s the chunks or the chili-dips, the skulls and shanks, the hooks and slices, or even that wicked case of the yips, and I can help you cure them all. Whether it be for a day, a week, a month, or even a lifetime, I will consider it my biggest accomplishment if I’ve helped you resolve to stay in the game and never stop chasing.
So here’s to the quest, and to hoping that maybe, just maybe, it’s ultimately a new-found perspective, and the dogged determination to keep on keeping on, that just might turn out to be your yip-proof grip.
Prospective NCAA Golfers, are you ready for September 1? Here’s what you should be doing
In June, I reported changes to the NCAA rules, including new legislation that prevented college coaches from contacting a prospective student athlete before September 1 of their Junior Year. With September 1 just around the corner, the question is: are you ready?
If not, don’t worry. As always, I am here to help you understand the college landscape and find the best opportunity to pursue your passion in college! Here’s what you need to know:
Over time, you are going to hear from some coaches. It is important that students are prepared to talk to coaches. Before speaking to a coach, it is important to do research about their institution; what are the grades required for admissions? How many players are on the team? How much of the student population lives on campus? Know the basics before your conversation.
It is also important that you are ready to answer a couple questions. Coaches are very likely to ask, why are you interested in my school? Tell me about your grades or academic interests? Or, tell me about your golf game? Be honest and remember a passion for the game goes a long way.
Coaches are also likely to ask if you have any questions. Having a couple questions written down is important. If you are not sure what to ask, here are some questions I recommend:
- What is your coaching philosophy?
- What is your favourite part of coaching?
- What type of student best fits in at your university?
- What type of athlete best fits in?
- What are the goals for the golf program?
- How do you determine who play play in your top 5 at tournaments?
- Do you ever take more than 5 players to a tournament?
- What access does the team have to golf courses?
- Is it expected to have your own vehicle?
- Do you do any technical swing work with the players?
- What is your greatest strength as a coach?
- Do you offer academic support, such as tutors for students?
- What percent of teachers have terminal degrees?
- How does my major (X) impact golf? Can I do it and golf?
- Do you support graduates in getting jobs?
- What success do people have getting jobs?
- What success do people have getting into grad schools?
Know the Numbers
With only a couple weeks before September 1, I would recommend you take time and see where you (or your son and daughter) stands on websites such as Junior Golf Scoreboard or Rolex AJGA Rankings. Now that you know the number, consider in several previous articles I have presented how rankings related to college signings. My analysis of the numbers demonstrates that, for boys, the average Division I player is ranked approximately 300 in Junior Golf Scoreboard in their class with a scoring differential of about .5. The average Division II player is ranked about 550 in their class. For girls, it appears that ranking is less important, but there is a strong relationship between scoring differential and college signings. Girls that sign at schools within the top 50 have scoring differentials of at least -3 or better, while the average for any Division I player is approximately 5.
Keep in mind that when you search on Junior Golf Scoreboard for yourself, it will show your ranking overall. This number is going to be much lower for your ranking in your class. Without a subscription, you will not be able to find your exact rank, but I would generally say you can cut the number by about 50 percent to give yourself a fair gauge. So if you are 3750 overall, you are likely close to 1875 in your class.
For many members of the junior class reading this article, they may see that their ranking might be significantly higher than these numbers. Don’t panic; the rankings are over a 1-year period. After a year, old scores drop off and new scores can be counted. Also, on Junior Golf Scoreboard, your worst 25 percent of rounds are not counted. So, you have time to continue to work on your game, improve your ranking and get the attention of coaches!
Do your research
Now that you have an idea about your ranking, start researching. Where did players of similar rank sign last year? What is the rank of that school? What schools are ranked about the same? Answering these questions will require some time and two resources; Junior Golf Scoreboard and Golfstat.com. To find out where similar players signed from last year, go to njgs.com, then under the tab “rankings & honors,” the bottom option is college signees. Click there, and then you can order the signees based on class rank by clicking on “scoreboard class ranking as of signing date.” You will notice that last year, players ranked about 1800 in their class signed at such schools as Kenyon, Glenville, Southern Nazarene, Central Alabama Community college and Allegany college. Pretty good considering these schools have produced a president of the United States (Hayes, Kenyon), and a 5-time Major Championship participant (Nathan Smith, Allegany).
Now that you have a list of schools where similar students have signed, look up the golf rankings of these schools on golfstat.com. The rankings of schools are under the “rankings” tab on the home page and segmented by NCAA, NAIA and NJCAA.
First find out where the school is ranked and then consider schools ranked 5-10 spots ahead and behind that school. Are any of these of interest? Any where you think might sound interesting? Take time and build a list, then send an email to those schools introducing yourself, along with a swing video.
Have a Plan
Regardless if you are a Junior in High School or a Senior in High School, come September 1, remember that there is still time and regardless of what people say, coaches are always looking. For High School Juniors, it is likely that next summer will have a critical impact on your opportunities in college golf, so what can you do over the next 9 months? Where are you missing out on the most shots? Take time, talk to people and develop a plan to give yourself the best chance to succeed in the future. And then, put in the time!
For Seniors, although many might be in your ear saying it’s too late, don’t listen to them. You still have some time. Take a careful look at how you can use the next 2-3 months to improve and prepare for events such as the AJGA Senior Showcase in Las Vegas. Remember that data suggests that up to one-third of players sign in the late period (for all levels) and up to 60 percent of players who compete in the AJGA Senior Showcase in December in Las Vegas, go on to get offers.
As always, if you have any feedback on this article or a story idea, please feel free to reach out to me! I always love hearing from people and helping them connect with schools that meet their academic, athletic, social and financial needs! Best of luck to you, or your son/daughter.
TG2: Would you rather have Brooks or DJ’s career? 30+ more AMA-style Instagram questions
Brooks Koepka vs. Dustin Johnson? All-time favorite driver? Poker chips as ball markers? Editor Andrew Tursky and Equipment Expert Brian Knudson answer 30+ questions from the @tg2wrx Instagram. They also discuss Joe LaCava (Tiger’s caddie) paying off a heckler to go away.
Enjoy the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!
Fantasy Preview: 2018 Wyndham Championship
After one of the most exciting Sunday’s of the golfing year, attention now turns towards the race for the FedEx Cup playoffs, and the quest to attain a captain’s pick for the Ryder Cup. For the former, this week’s Wyndham Championship is the final opportunity for players to work their way into the top-125 in the FedEx Cup standings and earn a spot in the opening event of the playoffs. Despite many of the world’s elite understandably taking this week off, there are some big names in action here in Greensboro, with Hideki Matsuyama, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia and Webb Simpson all setting their sights on winning at Sedgefield Country Club this week.
Sedgefield CC is a relatively short par-70 golf course. It measures just over 7,100 yards, and it’s a golf course that doesn’t particularly favour the longer hitters. The rough is playable in Greensboro this week, and like most years at the Wyndham Championship, expect players who have their wedge game dialled in to thrive here at this event.
Last year, Henrik Stenson put on a ball striking clinic, posting 22-under par to win the title by one stroke over Ollie Schniederjans.
Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)
- Webb Simpson 12/1
- Hideki Matsuyama 16/1
- Henrik Stenson 18/1
- Rafa Cabrera Bello 22/1
- Brandt Snedeker 22/1
- Shane Lowry 25/1
- Billy Horschel 28/1
It’s been a bit of a disappointing year for Daniel Berger (35/1, DK Price $9,300), but the Floridian showed some very promising signs at last week’s PGA Championship. After opening his PGA Championship with a very poor round of 73, Berger then shined over the next three days. The American posted three consecutive rounds under par, two of which were 66 or better. It was enough to give Berger a T12 finish and plenty of momentum heading to Greensboro this week.
In St. Louis last week, Berger lead the field for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, gaining an impressive 8.5 strokes over the field. It was the second best performance with his irons in his career, and at Sedgefield, Berger is going to have hole after hole where he can attack pins with his precise iron game. The two-time winner on the PGA Tour has had a quiet year, but in a weakened field, with plenty of question marks surrounding those at the top of the market, he has a superb opportunity for win number three here in Greensboro.
A T31 finish at the PGA Championship last week means that Chris Kirk (80/1, DK Price $7,500) has now made the cut in his last ten events. From these ten events, four have resulted in top-25 finishes, and Kirk has been hitting the ball particularly well as of late. Over his previous 12 rounds, Kirk ranks fifth in the field this week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, 10th in ball striking and eight in Strokes Gained-Total.
Kirk will cost you just $7,500 on DraftKings, and looking at some of the players that are more expensive this week, he appears to be a bargain. Kirk is three for three in cuts made at the Wyndham Championship in his last three visits, and the four-time PGA Tour champion looks in excellent shape to mount his best challenge yet in Greensboro. Over his last 12 rounds, Kirk leads this week’s field for proximity to the hole, and on a golf course where flushing short irons to close range is going to be key, the American looks to offer some of the best value around this week.
With 17 out of 19 made cuts this year, and arriving off the back of a T12 finish in his last outing, Rory Sabbatini (75/1, DK Price $7,100) looks undervalued once again on DraftKings this week. Over his previous 12 rounds, Sabbatini ranks 24th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green and 10th in Strokes Gained-Total. What’s more, is that Sabbatini is coming to a golf course that he has played very well in the past. In his last two visits to Sedgefield CC, the American has finished in the top-10 twice, with his best result coming last year when he finished T4. Coming off a strong showing in Canada, and with his proficiency in making cuts and excellent course history, Sabbatini looks a great DraftKings option here this week.
- Daniel Berger 35/1, DK Price $9,300
- Chris Kirk 80/1, DK Price $7,500
- Rory Sabbatini 75/1, DK Price $7,100
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