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The Yip-Proof Grip: Golf’s Holy Grail?

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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.

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Mike Dowd is the author of Lessons from the Golf Guru: Wit, Wisdom, Mind-Tricks & Mysticism for Golf and Life. He has been Head PGA Professional at Oakdale Golf & CC in Oakdale, California since 2001, and is serving his third term on the NCPGA Board of Directors and Chairs the Growth of the Game Committee. Mike has introduced thousands of people to the game and has coached players that have played golf collegiately at the University of Hawaii, San Francisco, U.C. Berkeley, U.C. Davis, University of the Pacific, C.S.U. Sacramento, C.S.U. Stanislaus, C.S.U. Chico, and Missouri Valley State, as men and women on the professional tours. Mike currently lives in Turlock, California with his wife and their two aspiring LPGA stars, where he serves on the Turlock Community Theatre Board, is the past Chairman of the Parks & Recreation Commission and is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock. In his spare time (what's that?) he enjoys playing golf with his girls, writing, music, fishing and following the foibles of the Sacramento Kings, the San Francisco 49ers, the San Francisco Giants, and, of course, the PGA Tour. You can find Mike at mikedowdgolf.com.

20 Comments

20 Comments

  1. Mike Dowd

    Oct 22, 2017 at 12:38 pm

    If even bad publicity is good publicity, then I guess I hit it out of the park here. Unfortunately, I’m not at all surprised by the reaction. Forgive me for being a bit manipulative with the title, but it was a bit of an experiment and the majority of the responses to this piece definitely revealed a couple of things. First, those who came looking for and were upset not to find the cure for the yips both missed the point, and proved my point at the same time. Despite the fact that I even had individuals contacting me to proclaim that they in fact knew or had the cure, there is no singular fix that will cure the yips for everyone. Secondly, the vitriol of some of the responses only confirms how deep this wound is for most that suffer from it. I had hoped to provide hope for all those beset with this affliction, because there are innumerable potential cures out there. You just need to keep looking and eventually you will find the one that works for you. But seeing as how that very positive message was met with near universal negativity since I didn’t provide a specific potential fix, I’ll end this with three.

    1. Look at the hole. (As Jordan Spieth does)
    2. Look at spot about two inches in front of the ball. (As Dave Stockton recommends)
    3. Practice under pressure. (I’ll write a whole follow-up article on this soon)

    These are all incredibly basic, and just a starting point, but for those of you who came looking for hope and couldn’t find it somewhere in what I wrote previously I hope they at least give you a starting point. Hoping you find your Holy Grail! – Mike Dowd

    • DrRob1963

      Oct 26, 2017 at 4:38 am

      I like the “swap sides!” idea, as this is a major brain function/orientation change – going from right handed to left (or vice versa) could make a tremendous difference.
      I know a few yippers who struggle only at short range, but are excellent laggers/putters from longer range. A bulls-eye styled blade allows a player to putt either way, and could be ideal for the good long range putter who may want to try left-handed for short putts only, but stay right-handed for the long putts. [I know an Aussie pro on our domestic tour who had a Bulls-eye so he could putt either side!] Of course, any drastic change like this is going to need plenty of practise to become comfortable, but I reckon it could really help some yippers.

    • Golfgirlrobin

      Nov 1, 2017 at 11:39 pm

      Even this response is 3x too long.

      Brevity.

  2. TommyL

    Oct 20, 2017 at 7:24 pm

    Actually for me the article rises above the usual quick tips and offers something far more valuable – a small investment to read article if you’re afflicted! I’ve battled yips for 30 years and still play off <5.
    Best solution I’ve found has been versions of claw grip – unlearning and resculpting stroke. Hours of practicing conventional stroke becomes counter productive, raises expectations before cracking at wrong times!
    Also keep success measure extremely simple- just ask did I execute clawed tempo stroke on each putt – that’s it – results happen, some go in some don’t!

    • Mike Dowd

      Oct 23, 2017 at 7:57 am

      Glad you got something from the article Tommy and that you’ve found something that works for you. Focus on the process, not the consequence. There’s actually a pretty famous case of the chipping yips being cured (Gene Littler) who followed a very similar route to what you are describing so you’re on a good path. Best of luck!

  3. Tom54

    Oct 20, 2017 at 5:31 pm

    Waste of time article for sure. I’ve found that the claw grip helps me for two reasons. One the club seems to swing freely back and thru. Second my right arm is in a position I liken to shooting pool if you’ve ever shot pool you know what I mean. For those that haven’t tried this method don’t worry so much as to how weird the grip feels but focus on how easily the right arm swings

  4. Doc

    Oct 20, 2017 at 5:11 pm

    A misleading title followed by an article only worthy of skimming.

  5. Tommy

    Oct 20, 2017 at 4:26 pm

    Embrace what’s being said and this article offers enduring value! I’ve tried mega-loads of superficial tips over 30 years – best for ME relate to variants of claw grips. I’ve managed to stay <5 handicap til now and enjoyed the chase. I also learnt that I couldn’t sheer-hours practice my way out putting yips with my original conventional method – it would always crack when I needed it most – now it’s ‘new’ method, execute ….. and only result is did I execute?! and move on.

  6. Markus Rehnström

    Oct 20, 2017 at 11:57 am

    There is only one cure for YIPS, start putting lefty! (right if you´re a lefty)

  7. Tommy

    Oct 20, 2017 at 9:30 am

    Waste of time. The other day, I hit a shag bag full of ball from 40 yards to 10′, sinking a good number of them. I KNOW how to hit that shot, from every lie. Later on the course, coincidentally, I had four of those very shots….and I dead chunked every one of them. I do the same thing in the sand. Unbelievable…

  8. Steve K

    Oct 19, 2017 at 2:47 pm

    There is no cure for the ‘yips’ because the neuro-muscular system is geared for a full blooded golf swing and the signal from the brain are surging into the arms and hands even while putting. Trying to suppress the brain signals for a piddling putter stroke fails because there is no way to constrain the neural signals.
    Medically, the yips seem to vanish when one of the hands is held at the height of the heart…. ergo the long shafted putter may be the solution.

  9. Milo

    Oct 18, 2017 at 11:58 pm

    I didn’t make it till the end, the yips got me

  10. etc.

    Oct 18, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    Focal Dystonia (aka ‘yips’) = Stage Fright (crouching over a ball on the green)
    Remedy?
    Bravery + a $550 Bettinardi Antidote putter…. believe it suckah !!!!

    • Milo

      Oct 18, 2017 at 11:55 pm

      You know your gonna have the model 2 in your bag

      • etc.

        Oct 19, 2017 at 2:51 pm

        Nope…. I love standing on the green and putting with my Bullseye putter …. while all the losers are buying the newest putters in the futile hope the putter will put the ball in, or even near the hole.
        If you hit the ball consistently on the sweet spot and have correctly read the green you don’t need all those Rube Goldberg contraption putters…. just a piece of brass on the end of a stick.

  11. Double Mocha Man

    Oct 18, 2017 at 9:35 pm

    Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. What a tease. I know, I know, there’s wisdom in the article. But alas, I still have the yips, and 7 fewer minutes in my life.

    • Anthony

      Oct 19, 2017 at 5:14 pm

      You read that in 7 minutes? Your good!!! I fell asleep after 10 lol…

  12. M. Vegas

    Oct 18, 2017 at 6:36 pm

    TF?

  13. Vinnie

    Oct 18, 2017 at 1:41 pm

    Wow……….. a lot of words for nothing useful. You must be getting money per word or something.

  14. MB

    Oct 18, 2017 at 1:13 pm

    This post is worthless without pics and diagrammes.

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Opinion & Analysis

Inside the Ropes: 5 things you didn’t know about playing on the PGA Tour

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Golf finds a way to take a hold on you… whether you become entranced by the skill of the world’s best professionals, fall in love with the feeling and beauty of a well-executed shot, or simply enjoy getting outside and having fun — the game is addictive.

I started playing at the age of 4 and began watching the pros on TV dreaming what it would be like to play golf on the PGA Tour. When I earned my PGA Tour status for the 2014 season, that dream became a reality. And like anything, it’s not until I actually experienced that life did I have any idea what it entailed.

For those of you who are curious what it’s like to be on the PGA Tour, here are 5 things to describe it.

1) The Culture

Traveling the world to various cities can be fun, and it’s an underrated part of the Tour lifestyle; you get to see new landscapes and taste the cuisines that define different regions across the country and the world. Unlike some other professional sports, where players stay in one place for maybe a night or two, we get to stay in places for a week or more, which allows for plenty of time away from the course to see the sights and get a feel for what the cities and their cultures offer.

2) The Show

The setup and time that goes into planning an event — the grandstands, concession stands, volunteers, and the whole network that makes these tournaments run — is beyond impressive. We see the finished product at the event in the epicenter of it all, but the planning goes on behind the scenes all year. When it’s game time and the golf ball gets teed up, it’s time for us players to block all of that out, but we certainly appreciate all of the hard work that goes into putting on an event. It may feel like being in a circus at times, but performing in the show is a thrill.

3) The People

The game of golf in general brings people together, but especially so on the Tour. Thousands and thousands of fans come to watch the golf action and enjoy the festivities. The Pro-Ams are a great way for the fans to get an up-close look at what goes on at a Tour event, and they’re also a great way for us pros to interact with fans and maybe provide some helpful swing tips, too. In my opinion, one of the best events of the year is the Pebble Beach Pro-Am — a gathering of pro golfers, athletes, musicians, actors and other celebrities. It’s a testament to how the game can bring people together from different walks of life.

4) Inside the Ropes

The Tour is almost like a private school of sorts. It’s a select group of a couple hundred guys traveling around playing these events. The jocks, the nerds, the geeks, the loners; you see a little of everything. As much as there’s a sociable aspect to traveling on Tour and getting to know these people, it’s a dog-eat-dog world where everyone is playing for their livelihood and playing privileges.

5) The “Pressure”

A season-long race can come down to a single shot making the difference — for some it’s between winning and losing a tournament, and others it’s between keeping and losing your card. The cameras, the grandstands, the noise… it can all be quite distracting. The idea is to block all of that out and pretend you’re playing like a kid, focusing with pure imagination for the shot. All the extra attention can help heighten the focus further, adding inspiration to “give the people what they want” and hit even better golf shots.

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Paul Wood, VP of Engineering at Ping, joins our 19th Hole to discuss the new G400 Max driver, which the company calls the “straightest driver ever.” Also, listen for a special discount code on a new laser rangefinder.

Listen to this episode on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes.

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WATCH: How to Pull a Shaft from a Composite Club Head

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Composite club heads are increasing in popularity with golfers thanks to their technological and material advantages. For that reason, it’s important to know how to pull shafts from composite club heads without damaging them. This video is a quick step-by-step guide that explains how to safely pull a shaft from a composite club head.

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