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The Yips: “Once you’ve had em, you’ve got em…”

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Many viewers of Tiger’s return (including his former coach, Hank Haney) observed his difficulty with a few “sticky” chips around the greens at the 2017 Hero World Challenge — it should be noted that other players did also have a similar problem dealing with the tight lies around the Albany greens, most notably Hideki Matsuyama. But Woods, who has had more consistent issues in the last few years, stubbed the ground behind the golf ball on a number of shots this week, and half-skulled a few others while trying to avoid the same result. We can pass it off as “rust,” but we have seen it from him before. So let’s talk about it for a bit.

The “yips,” as they are known, are one of the most frustrating problems that plague golfers, particularly professional golfers. The physical causes of the yips are well known; this is not some esoteric information known only to great players and coaches. We all know the physical reasons, but the yips are not simply a physical problem. In fact, the physical might be a small part of the problem. The biggest part is the mental.

Everyone reading this has yipped a chip, and we all know that the very next time that shot presents itself we are thinking about the yip. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to dismiss that last shot from the mind. And if it happens more than once, or more than few times, it might be permanently on one’s mind. That’s a huge problem if you play the game for a living. Brandel Chamblee, with whom I have publicly disagreed in the past, has a theory on this. He believes no great player has ever really gotten over the condition. I can’t say if that’s true or not, but it may be.

It’s been said, (I have read that Sam Snead might have said it first, but who knows where these things ever really come from) about the yips: “Once you’ve had ’em, you’ve got ’em.” How’s that for a scary thought? Who knows if it’s true, but one thing I do know is this; golf always seems to go for the jugular!

It seems as though every time I have ever stubbed a chip shot, very soon, if not the very next hole, I have to hit another chip from a tight lie. If I’ve just missed a short putt, very soon, if not the next hole, it also seems like I’ll knock it 5 feet past the hole. And what am I thinking about? You guessed it, the last missed short putt. So no amount of mental discipline seems to overcome these evil thoughts.

Hitting the ground behind the ball on a short shot is caused by one or any combinations of the following:

  • The leading edge of the wedge sticking in the ground
  • An early release with a closing face
  • Swaying off the ball
  • A path that is too inside-out (too far from the inside)

But as I noted, every tour player and coach KNOWS this all too well. The same player who once chipped in from behind the 16th green at Augusta with a Green Jacket on the line yipped some sticky chips last week. To me, that is not rust or a mechanical problem; it’s a mental one. I would like some professional psychologist or mind-discipline expert to chime in to advise all of us on how to overcome this problem. It’s easy enough to say: “Forget about it, stay present, play the shot at hand only.” But that seems almost impossible, or at the very least, difficult to do. “Don’t think about yipping this shot” is almost a sure fire way to do just that. It’s a vicious cycle.

If it’s on Tiger’s mind, the rest of us are in big trouble. Let’s hope Chamblee is wrong, but I have to wonder. Remember the down time in golf far exceeds any other game.  We are on the golf course 4+ hours, and in the act of swinging a club a total of only about two minutes. The rest of the time is thinking about swinging the club, and the outcomes. And unfortunately what we usually think about is the WORST shot we have hit in a situation, not the best. And when that shot is a short, chip from a tight-lie, well, that’s when the yips resurface.

The mechanical is correctable, but the mental is long-lasting.

Editor’s Note: “Once you’ve had em, you’ve got em” is attributed to Henry Longhurst (h/t @peterkessler)

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Dennis Clark is a PGA Master Professional. Clark has taught the game of golf for more than 30 years to golfers all across the country, and is recognized as one of the leading teachers in the country by all the major golf publications. He is also is a seven-time PGA award winner who has earned the following distinctions: -- Teacher of the Year, Philadelphia Section PGA -- Teacher of the Year, Golfers Journal -- Top Teacher in Pennsylvania, Golf Magazine -- Top Teacher in Mid Atlantic Region, Golf Digest -- Earned PGA Advanced Specialty certification in Teaching/Coaching Golf -- Achieved Master Professional Status (held by less than 2 percent of PGA members) -- PGA Merchandiser of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Golf Professional of the Year, Tri State Section PGA -- Presidents Plaque Award for Promotion and Growth of the Game of Golf -- Junior Golf Leader, Tri State section PGA -- Served on Tri State PGA Board of Directors. Clark is also former Director of Golf and Instruction at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. He now directs his own school, The Dennis Clark Golf Academy at the JW Marriott Marco Island in Naples, Fla.. He can be reached at dennisclarkgolf@gmail.com

15 Comments

15 Comments

  1. Happy Golfer

    Dec 11, 2017 at 11:16 am

    One way to cure the Yips is the practice more! And this is the BEST way to improve your short game right here – PerfectShotGolfLoft.com . Anyone who practices with the Golf Loft will see short game improvement after only a couple days, worked for me and it can work for you too!

  2. DrRob1963

    Dec 8, 2017 at 4:10 am

    My wife really helped her chipping with one of those Callaway Xact 37* Chipper clubs. Maybe Tiger needs one of them. The Missus will let him borrow hers if he wants to try it out!

  3. Ken Parker

    Dec 6, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Hi,

    I’ve had the FULL SWING YIPS for over 4 years, every club in the bag, every takeaway was a yip including putter.

    I’m not cured, but I worked out a pre-shot routine that now enables me to hit the ball yip-free and have been able to get my handicap to between 1.9 to 4.9, best I ever did before was 4-7 hcp.

    EVERY SWING NOW FEELS LIKE MY PRACTICE SWING.

    I have an explanation of how I created a pre-shot routine that works but as it’s detailed, will elaborate further if requested.

  4. Billy Bondaruk

    Dec 6, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    I was once involved with the study on the ups and the doctor told us all about how much information our eyes pick up or take in to our brain Yep’s can be directly related to a car accident in fact there was a woman once came out of a coma she was broadsided going through a red light and when she came out of the coma she told the doctors that she could describe the gentleman that hit her she gave a direct description all the way down to his beard on rim glasses yellow polkadot tie she could perhaps one and a half seconds to see him because he had her going 45 to 50 miles an hour The Siri is the Bentley having missed show it to a 3 foot pod or flub the chip out of the nest egg Or tight lie…. your eyes see the movement of the club coming towards the ball and the mind jumps in and sends messages thru proprioceptor‘s to your forearms and hands ….The yips are real and I agree with you that they are 99% mental having been a teaching Pro for many years and played at tour levels…. 2006 PGA teacher of the year northern California I have discovered some ways to free your golf game of the yips…. What I’ve come up with is you have to find a way to use your bigger muscles your body and body rotation to hit these delicate shots but I don’t think that type of movement will ever create the fantastic shots we have experienced Tiger woods hit with the feel of his hands and arms… the technique I speak of will only get you through a round of golf without feeling completely terrible about yourself

  5. Ian Harris

    Dec 6, 2017 at 11:43 am

    Disagree 100%. The yips are not mental they are physical. Focal dystonia.

  6. Christopher Smith

    Dec 6, 2017 at 11:34 am

    Dennis,

    Nice piece, thank you for bringing this important (and highly misunderstood issue) to readers’ view. To your point, vital – like with all in this day and age of info overload by ‘supposed’ experts (let us all “consider the sources,” please) – to better educate ourselves on the topic:

    – Important to note that in fact there are different TYPES of yips. Some more physical, some more psychological; but then again – the mind/body are ONE, after all. Indeed, eventually they have a taste of both. Peruse this re Andre Drummond, and his foul-shooting yips – and how he addressed them: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/21332122/nba-andre-drummond-dramatic-free-throw-improvement-driven-back-basics-approach?ex_cid=espnapi_public

    – YES – ask a TRUE expert. I have had the privilege of working and learning from both Dr. Debbie Crews (multiple studies on the yips at the Mayo Clinic) and Dr. Christian Marquardt (creator of the SAM PuttLab – and the individual who helped Hank Haney with his driver yips back in the day…). You want legit info on the realities, causes and ‘treatments’ of the yips, as opposed to the wandering guesses of the talking heads on the broadcasts? Ask these two, among others.

    – Pure technique-wise, thank you for bringing up the dangers of the leading edge of the club contacting the ground first. It’s why there is an inverted sole on wedges (bounce), to facilitate the trailing edge striking the ground first. If that trailing edge strikes the grass or ground first, it continues to move forward – instead of sticking/stubbing or digging. Ball back, hands ahead/shaft leaning forward (especially on an uphill lie, like we saw with most gross miss-hits in Albany) and handle-dragging thru impact is a fantastic recipe for miss-hits and yes, eventual yips. Suggestion? practice your short shots off an actual putting green, without taking a divot, while still getting the ball up in the air. It’s what Seve and many of his modern-day disciples did/do.

    Best,
    CS

    – “Forget about it, stay present, play the shot at hand only.” But that seems almost impossible, or at the very least, difficult to do.
    Amen, brother! No, it doesn’t work, does it now? At least, not for very long. This is the preferred ‘shtick’ offered by traditional sports psychologists, who deal only with the CONSCIOUS mind. Unfortunately for the yipper – the issue (like with the motor program that is any golf swing) resides primarily in the UNCONSCIOUS part of the mind/brain/body system. So, this advice, in addition to being temporary – does not address the CAUSE of the yipping issue. Yet another golfing band-aid…

  7. Jack Nash

    Dec 6, 2017 at 11:00 am

    Of course he has the Chyps. Watch how Fowler chipped compared to Woods. Woods could easily solve part of the problem by adding a bit more bounce on his wedge.

  8. justin case

    Dec 6, 2017 at 10:58 am

    This article and others are a little off. First, the lies were not *tight*, they were into the grain. Grainy bermuda is no fun to attempt pitches to firm, fast greens.

    Secondly, I played over 15 PGA tour events in 89-93. While an excellent chipper, my weakness was pitching the golf ball and limited my playing success at the higher level. I later developed full-on pitch yips. After working on some various pressure points of my grip, I now have command of even the toughest pitches. It makes golf so much more fun. Tiger, and anybody else, can figure this stuff out and I think he will.

  9. Jarlaxle

    Dec 5, 2017 at 11:38 am

    Matt Kuchar’s caddie had an excellent take on this, called the chipping conditions this week the hardest he has ever seen in over 20 years on tour. Every article I’ve seen starts with the same premise… “Everyone else had trouble… but Tiger had more than most so something is wrong”.

    The guy is coming off of back surgery and has had a golf club in his hands for maybe about 10 weeks. This was his first tournament back, playing in the hardest possible conditions imaginable… of course he’s going to hit some turds.

    Why don’t we give him a few months of pain free practice/playing and a few tournaments under more typical playing conditions before we conclude that he has an incurable case of the yips.

  10. JM

    Dec 5, 2017 at 6:50 am

    Dennis Clark,

    Let me first say that your articles are well done. I have to disagree with this one though. Sure he hit a few poor chips, from what I saw this doen’t qualify as the yips. After all, how many people who have the chipping yips chip it off the green to tap in range? I think chipping it off of the green is the last thought that enters a players mind if they have the chipping yips.
    I feel he fixed the majority of any chipping issues a few years ago. After he had all the issues in Phoenix, he purposely made his appearance around the chipping green at the Masters hitting various chips, pitches, and flops, all while the Golf Channel’s Live From was being filmed. They all marveled how much better it was.
    I’m not saying it was as good as he once was around the greens but I think maybe yips is a little harsh.

  11. RBImGuy

    Dec 5, 2017 at 6:15 am

    This is the Sean Foley failed teachings showing up in Tigers game

  12. Nat

    Dec 5, 2017 at 1:24 am

    Tiger’s skulled chip shots are due to his over-developed arms and popeye forearms from all those muscle building curls. He’s lost his ‘touch’ that he had when he was normal and not all juiced up on hgh and protein shakes.
    All that pumping iron is the root cause of his messed up swing. Now that he’s aging and starting to look like his father with a paunch, he’s going to get fat as his muscles turn to lard, and before our very eyes…. believe it….

  13. Acemandrake

    Dec 4, 2017 at 6:43 pm

    Be decisive & content with your shot choice.

    Don’t decelerate!

  14. Hawkeye77

    Dec 4, 2017 at 5:42 pm

    Watched quite a bit of the coverage, didn’t see the multiple “half skulled” chips that are being suggested, but maybe there were. Saw a couple sticky ones for sure and wonder about his technique given he doesn’t seem to “release” and be as bounce friendly as some others – is there a technique issue? Foley sure seemed to change his chipping technique to making the leading edge more of an issue.

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Gear Dive: Legendary club builder Larry Bobka speaks on Tiger’s old Titleist irons

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Legendary club builder Larry Bobka joins us in the first episode of our new podcast called “Gear Dive,” hosted by Johnny Wunder, GolfWRX’s Director of Original Content. Gear Dive is a deep look into the world of golf equipment, and Wunder will be interviewing the craftsman, the reps and the players behind the tools that make up the bags of the best golfers in the world.

Bobka, our first guest, is a former Tour rep and club builder involved in some of the most important clubs of the past 25 years. From his days at Wilson Golf working with legends such as Payne Stewart, Hale Irwin and Bernhard Langer, he transitioned into the Golden Age of Titleist/Acushnet building clubs for Tiger Woods, Davis Love, David Duval and Brad Faxon. He currently runs Argolf where he builds and fits handmade putters for Tour players and amateurs alike. He’s one of the Godfather’s of modern golf equipment.

Skip to 45:30 for the discussion about Tiger’s Titleist irons.

Check out our podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

What do you think of the new podcast? Leave your feedback in the comments below!

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Gary Player joins our 19th Hole podcast, talks past and future of golf

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Hall-of-Famer and career Grand Slam winner Gary Player joins host Michael Williams for an exclusive one-on-one interview at the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf tournament and Big Cedar Lodge in Branson, Missouri. Player talks about the past and future of the game, including his take on everything from reigning in the golf ball and golf courses, to advocating for more testing for performance enhancing drugs on the Tour. Steve Friedlander of Big Cedar Lodge also appears.

Listen to the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Let’s Retire Old Man Par: A Modest Proposal

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In 1729, Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay entitled “A modest proposal,” in which he suggested that the Irish eat their own children. As might be expected, the piece drew a great deal of discussion and controversy. He was of course not serious, but simply attempting to make a point. As you will read this piece contains “A Modest Proposal” as well, but it is not intended to be satirical. I am for the record dead serious.

The golf industry is wringing its hands, trying to find a way to bring new players into the game, while at the same time keeping those that are in the game from leaving. They have initiated any number of programs designed for this purpose. How successful have they been? I would venture that they have barely moved the needle.

Barriers to the game

What we do know is that today there are three major barriers that confront the industry. They are first, the time required to play the game; second the costs associated with playing the game; and third the difficulty of the game.

There are among those adults that start the game, three distinct different groups:

  1. Those who would like to start playing golf but for any number of reasons decided not to take up the game.
  2. Those who once played more frequently but have reduced the number of rounds that they play.
  3. Those who started to play the game but then after a short period decided to leave it.

Those who leave the game

Those in the golf industry, the hand-wringers, have developed any number of programs to bring new players to the game. I would ask the question, “What is the point, when almost an equal number of players that start playing the game each year, decide to give it up within a span of a few months.

Does it make any sense to continue to put water into a bucket when there is a hole in the bottom? Of course not, but that is effectively what is being done. The first question to be ask, why do these new players quit the playing after a short time? In my opinion, the number No. 1 reason is the method of scoring being used.

Were an exit poll to be conducted asking these people why they quit playing, I seriously doubt they would answer truthfully. Who would want to admit that they were discouraged by their inability to succeed at any endeavor? The two answers that would be given the most often would be 1) that golf is too expensive to play; or 2) that they simply didn’t have time.  In this case both answers serve to preserve the individual’s dignity. And who could blame them?

The concept of par

Why did these individuals find the game difficult? The short answer is that while golf is a hard game to learn, there  is a more compelling reason.  I would venture, that the underlying reason they quit the game is that it ceased to be fun because of how they viewed their performance. And for one central reason… the concept of par. The idea that an amateur golfer, especially a beginner, should measure their level of success against an imaginary set of numbers that represents what an expert player would score on each hole is on the surface ridiculous.

You might imagine a beginning player scoring an eight on a par-four hole after hitting six good shots and then two putting for an eight. In the context of their ability, they should be ecstatic — but of course they are not (because as their playing partner reminds them) they were four-over par on that hole. The time has come for Old Man Par to retire. And retire permanently. He is killing the game.

Perceived failure

In another scenario, the beginning player scores sixty for nine holes, which is an excellent score given the short amount of time they might have spent playing the game. And yet their nine-hole score was 24-over par. How would that make you feel? Would you be encouraged or discouraged? You might imagine yourself back in school and regardless of the amount of work that you put into a given class you always receive an “F.” At some point, would you give up?

Why should every golfer be judged by the same standard when there is such inequality in their ability? The equivalent would be placing a high school freshman in a graduate-level college course, expecting that they could perform at the same level as the other graduate students. The disparity in knowledge, based on age and experience, is precisely the reason why there are different grades in school. The same disparity exists among golfers. In this case, the difference being the ability to perform on the golf course as opposed to the classroom.

What about the second group of players that now plays less than they did in the past? Could it be that they are no longer having fun playing the game?And then there is the third group, those that consider playing the game but abandon it for another sport. Could it be that they are intimidated by the scoring system, knowing that as a beginner par is an absolute impossibility?

Old man par 

The legendary Bobby Jones was the first to coin, perhaps with the help of his friend O.B. Keillor, the phrase “Old Man Par.” Jones was, of course, the greatest amateur to have ever played the game. He won the Grand Slam in 1930, retiring then at the age of 28.

The time has come to retire “Old Man Par” and devise a new system for measuring a golfer’s progress in the game. I know that those in the USGA. would reject the concept immediately for fear of, and here is a $10 word used primarily by attorneys, “bifurcate” the game. What that word essentially means in this context in having more than one standard. The USGA is responsible for preserving the nature of the game, but at the same time it should be equally concerned with preserving the future of the game.

Personal par

What I would suggest is a system based on the principle of what might be termed “personal par.” This was essentially the system that was used to groom a young Tiger Woods. As a young child, he was not capable of reaching the longer holes in regulation, making par a virtual impossibility. Consequently, his coach wisely devised a system in which par was adjusted upward based on his ability at a given point in time. This served to keep the young child feeling good about his performance and subsequent progress.

This is the type of system that needs to be devised for the health of the game. The system would begin at a nine-hole level using a par of thirty-six as a basis. The actual numbers are not as important as the basic concept. There would be within the nine-hole and the eighteen-hole groups five different levels as follows with assigned par for each hole and eighteen holes roughly equal with the player’s ability.

As players improved, they would graduate from one level to another based on their total score. The handicap system would work in similar fashion as it does now with a single modification. The strokes give from one player to another would depend on the level in which they fall and the par assigned to that level.

The personal par handicap system would not be as exacting as it is presently used, but it would be sufficient to allow players to be reasonable competitive without any significant sacrifice. There would then be two scoring systems then, allowing players to choose which one they wanted to use. Or a recommendation might be given that until they reach a given scoring threshold that they use the personal par scoring system.

There would, of course, be the usual concern with something new being injected into the system, but the proposed change would be no greater than when the system of equitable scoring was introduced or when courses were first assigned a course rating number.

A few years ago, when life-long teacher and educator Dr. Gary Wiren was inducted into the Golf Teacher’s Hall of Fame, he wanted to pass along a single piece of advice to those teachers in the room. “Gentleman,” he started and then paused for emphasis. “We must find a way to make the game more fun for our students.”

I’m in full agreement with Dr. Wiren. The question is, “What is the best way to accomplish that goal?” I believe that that the first step in that direction is to change the scoring system so that golfers experience more satisfaction and accomplishment. That is what makes learning fun.

And so, I would have you consider “The Modest Proposal” that I have put forward. And rather than attempting to find reasons why a revised scoring system couldn’t never work, for the benefit of the game, look for the same number of reason why it could work. The time has come for Old Man Par, as we know him, to retire. He has served us well, but he has become an anarchism. He is as obsolete as the horse and buggy. Let’s hand him his gold watch and let him enjoy his golden years in peace.

And at the same time, let’s welcome the “new kid on the block” who will pave the way for the next generation of golfers pioneering a scoring system that promises to make the game more “fun.”

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