Amazing how you can cover 400 yards in two shots, then take just as many blows to get the ball in the hole from a couple feet away. No golfer, the world-class player included, is immune to the occasional miss from so-called “gimme” range. But it's one thing to lip out a tap-in from time to time, another to feel completely flustered whenever you stand over a 3-footer.
It doesn't have to be that way. Most short misses are rooted in a few common causes, such as:
- A decelerating stroke.
- Too much wrist action.
- “Peaking” with the head.
- Trying to steer the ball into the cup.
Fortunately, these causes are easily cured. Let's review ways to rid you of the dreaded “yips,” once and for all:
- Deceleration – short, firm stroke: If you tend to pull short putts, you're not accelerating into and through the ball. Here's a great drill to hone a firm, positive stroke.
- Too wristy – flat left hand: Another common cause of pulls is allowing the right hand to overtake the left during the stroke. Prevent this by maintaining the angle formed by the back of your left hand, wrist and forearm going back and through.
- “Peaking” early – listen for the ball to hit the cup: It's human nature to want to see the result of our stroke as quickly as possible. A golfer lacking confidence is especially prone to peaking or looking up, which usually causes a miss to the right. Focus squarely on the ball and listen for the sound of it hitting the bottom of the cup before lifting your head. From short range, it's only a matter of a second or so – surely you can wait that long.
Trying to steer the putt – stay still over the ball: When we lose confidence, we try desperately to “help” or guide the ball into the hole. This creates unwanted movement of the head, shoulders and even the lower body, an absolute stroke wrecker. The stroke should be a simple rocking motion of the arms and shoulders, with the head and lower body still from start to finish.
Causes of Missing Short Putts – AKA The Yips
On the surface, it seems like hitting the long shots should be the hardest part of the game of golf. It isn't difficult to understand why it would be difficult to send the ball hundreds of yards in the air in the proper direction. There is a lot that can go wrong in a full swing, so hitting a bad shot from time to time is perfectly understandable, and even expected. While no golfer likes to hit bad shots, sending the occasional shot off line really isn't that much of a surprise.
The story is different, however, when it comes to short putts. There is nothing at all that looks difficult about a short putt, and you probably feel like you should make each and every one of them that you face. When your ball is resting on the green just a few feet from the hole, it seems as though you should just be able to knock it right in time after time. After all, how hard could it be? Compared to the challenge of sending the ball hundreds of yards through the air in the perfect direction, a short putt seems like an extremely simple challenge.
Obviously, that is not the case. Short putts are deceivingly tricky, and you always need to pay close attention if you want to successfully knock them in the cup. Since they count the same as any other shot on the course, you can't afford to waste strokes by missing short putts – it will simply be impossible to make up for those kinds of mistakes. If you are going to lower your scores and reach your goals in golf, you are going to have to learn how to hole out from inside of five feet on a regular basis.
As you likely understand already, no one is going to succeed on short putts 100% of the time. Even the best putters in the world miss from short range occasionally, whether due to a poor stroke, a lapse in concentration, or simply a bump on the green that sends the ball off target. However, even though perfection is unattainable, you should aim for an extremely high percentage of makes from inside of five feet. To get to that point, you will have to combine two crucial elements – a mechanically-sound stroke, and a confident mind set. If either of those two pieces are missing from the equation, you are likely to fail in your efforts to make your short putts.
The content below is going to look at what happens when you start to miss a large number of your short putts – something known in the golf world as the 'yips'. It is not an exaggeration to say that the yips can ruin your golf game. There is nothing quite as frustrating as hitting a couple of good shots to set up a short putt, only to miss it – and maybe even miss the next one coming back. If you can't hole out from short range, golf will quickly stop being an enjoyable experience. Should you currently find yourself afflicted with the yips, the best thing to do is to boil your approach to putting (both mental and physical) down to the basics and rebuild from there. Fortunately, this process doesn't take as long with the putter as it would with the full swing, so you could find yourself performing better on short putts as soon as your next round.
All of the content below is based on a right handed golfer. If you happen to play left handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.
Classic Signs of the Yips
Many golfers are in denial about the fact that they have the yips. Even if a player is missing a large number of short putts, he or she will often just chalk it up to a bad day (or month) while pretending that nothing is wrong with the stroke or thought process going into the putt. If you want to get your game on track, however, you need to acknowledge the fact that there might be a problem which should be addressed. If you are missing short putts over and over again, it is very likely that you have the yips. Instead of running from the issue, tackle it head on and figure out how to correct your mistakes as quickly as possible.
There are countless potential causes for the yips, and players will miss their short putts in many various ways. However, there are a few signs that you can look for in your own game as a warning that you might be dealing with the yips. Obviously, missing a large number of short putts is the most important sign, but watch out for the points below as well.
- Sneaking them in the edge. Even if you are still making most of your short putts, you should know something is going wrong when you are barely curling them in the edges of the cup. You should be able to make most of your short putts right in the center – especially those without much break. However, if you are pulling or pushing your putts to the point where they are barely hanging on to fall in, there is a good chance that you are developing some degree of the yips. Unfortunately, it may not be long before those putts start to miss the edge and you are left with too many misses to overcome.
- Hitting putts too hard. Speed control is not something that you usually have to think about when putting from short range. Most players will just be able to walk up to the ball, take their stance, and roll it an appropriate speed for the length of the putt they face (this part of putting gets significantly harder from farther away). If you lose that ability when putting from five feet and it, the yips may be settling in to your stroke. As you get nervous over your short putts, it is common to hit them unnecessarily hard in an effort to 'force' the ball into the cup. Of course, this is not how you want to go about making your putts, so regaining a reasonable amount of control over your speed is important.
- Anxiety prior to the stroke. On some level, even if you don't want to admit it, you know where there is something wrong with your putting stroke. As such, you might find that you start to get anxious as you stand over your short putts before the club even starts in motion. This is a sure sign that you are developing – or have already developed – the yips. If you are facing a flat three-footer, for instance, there really isn't anything to be afraid of, unless you know your stroke is broken at the moment. The yips are as much mental as they are physical, so take this anxiety as an indication that you need to do some work in order to get your putting straightened out.
It isn't easy to acknowledge that you have the yips, but that is exactly what you need to do if you want to get your stroke back on track in short order. The yips can easily cost you several strokes in a single round, and there is just no way to make up for all of those mistakes with other parts of your game. Watch for the signs above – along with the obvious sign of missing a lot of short putts – and dedicate yourself to solving this problem once you do decide that you are fighting a case of the yips.
The Physical Causes
As was mentioned above, there is both a physical and mental component to the yips. In this section, we are going to look at the common physical mistakes that can lead a player to miss short putts regularly. Later, we will look at the mental side of this picture. Be sure to take each half of the equation seriously, as your case of the yips is very likely a combination of mental and physical errors.
Three of the commonly seen physical mistakes that lead to missed short putts are as follows -
- Head movement. By far, this is the leading physical cause of missed short putts. If you allow your head to move while the putter is swinging through the hitting area, there is a good chance you will miss the putt. Typically, as the head moves up and out of the stroke, the blade of the putter will stay open and the putt will miss to the right. Making this mistake simply comes down to a lack of discipline. You need to have the discipline in your stroke to keep your head down until the ball is well on its way. Looking up early to see if the putt is going in won't help you make a good stroke, so just keep your head down and trust your technique to get the job done.
- Overactive right hand. Your hands should be quiet throughout the putting stroke. It is a simple rocking of the shoulders that should move the putter back and through – any additional movement beyond your shoulders rocking is only going to lead to trouble. Keep your hands relaxed on the grip of the putter and allow them to just guide the blade through the ball while your shoulders do the work of providing speed to the stroke. If you find that you are having trouble keeping your right hand out of the equation, work on hitting some practice short putts with just one hand until you learn how to rely on your shoulders alone to hit the ball.
- Swaying side to side. This is a bigger problem on long putts, but it can become an issue on short putts as well. As you make your stroke, your lower body should remain stable and steady while the putter rocks back and forth. To make sure this is the case, monitor the position of your knees while the stroke is in motion. If your knees are swaying from side to side, the rest of your body will be swaying as well. Even a slight sway can lead the face of the putter to be out of position as impact, so this is a mistake that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. During your stroke, focus on the position of your right knee – as long as it isn't moving, you can be confident that the rest of your body is holding steady.
A good putting stroke is a simple putting stroke. It takes very little effort to roll the ball a few feet across the green, so you don't need to use any complicated mechanics or techniques to generate speed when putting. Isolate your shoulders as the only moving part in the stroke, and just rock them back and through to send the ball directly to the bottom of the cup. If your mechanics are starting to feel complicated and hard to repeat, boil everything down to the basic components and make your stroke as simple as possible.
The Mental Causes
When your stroke goes wrong from a physical perspective, it is relatively easy to fix. You should be able to figure out what you are doing wrong, either by watching a video of your stroke or just by feeling your mechanics while hitting some putts. Once the physical mistake is located, you can make the necessary corrections and move forward. Given the choice between physical and mental problems on the putting green, you would want to choose the physical issues every single time.
With that said, there is hope for your short game even if you are currently fighting some mental 'demons'. Just as with the physical half of this picture, you need to identify the mental mistakes that you are making in order to correct them. Most golfers don't understand how important it is to think clearly and properly on the golf course – so those who do think the right way hold a significant advantage. Following are three common mental mistakes which can lead to the yips on your short range putts -
- Expecting failure. It might seem obvious to say, but you have to expect that you are going to make your short putts. Walking up to a short putt with the expectation of a miss can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. When you don't believe that the ball is going to fall into the cup, you will start to subconsciously look for ways to miss. Pretty soon, you will have no confidence left at all and you will miss putt after putt from inside of five feet. To make these putts regularly, you have to have full belief in your mind that they are going to fall in. When that belief lacks on the course, you need to move back to the practice green to reconstruct your confidence. With nothing on the line during a normal practice session, you can see yourself make some short putts – which will build belief in your ability prior to your next round.
- Ignoring the break. Even short putts often have a significant degree of left to right or right to left break. If you try to ignore the break in your short putts, you will wind up paying the price in the form of plenty of misses. You need to read all of your putts, even if they are only a couple of feet in length. Of course, you don't have to account for as much break from three feet as you would from ten feet away on the same line, but you still might have to aim at the edge of the cup (for example). During your next round, make it a goal to have a specific target line picked out for each and every putt that you hit. The simple attention to detail will give you a better chance of knocking the short ones.
- Lack of focus. Speaking of attention to detail, some golfers fail to make their short putts simply because they don't give them the attention they deserve. It is easy to take a short putt for granted when compared to a long drive or challenge approach shot, but all shots during your round deserve the same amount of effort. Just walking up and hitting your short putts with little preparation or thought will never be a winning strategy. Some golfers try to hit their short putts this way just to avoid the pressure. By putting quickly, they try to prevent their mind from 'getting in the way'. However, this is really just hiding from your problems instead of meeting them head-on. The better way to deal with the pressure of a short putt is to accept it, process it, and hit a great putt anyway.
Your mind needs to be 'in the right place' if you are going to make the majority of your short putts. If there is any lack of confidence, focus, or both, you are going to struggle – even if you are capable of making a beautiful stroke on the practice green. During your practice sessions, work through the entire process of hitting a putt, from reading the break all the way through the finish position, to make sure your mind understands everything that is involved. By training yourself to take care of the entire process, and not just the physical stroke, your mind should be better prepared to hold up even under pressure.
There is no magic cure for the yips. Making one little change to your stroke or your mindset isn't going to suddenly allow you to sink all of your putts from five feet and in. Getting over this issue is going to be a process, but it can be done. You need to be committed to improving your short putting, and you have to be willing to put in some time on the practice green to finally kick this problem aside once and for all.
To start with, you will want to address any mechanical issues that are present in your swing. That should be the first priority because you aren't going to get anywhere with faulty technique. Take the time necessary on the practice range to fix your mechanics – even take some time off of playing rounds of golf, if necessary, until your technique is corrected. This should actually be the quicker half of the process, as you will just need to simplify your stroke until it is a consistent, repeatable action.
Once you are happy with the mechanics of the stroke you are using, the next step will be to address your mental game issues. This is going to be the harder part of the process, since you can really only test your mental game out on the course. During practice, there is no pressure, so your nerves shouldn't get in the way at all. Your mind will only start to play tricks on you when there is something on the line, so you are going to need to put yourself out on the course as often as possible to get over this last hurdle. Remember to take your time before each short putt, focus on your read, and convince yourself that you are going to make each one you attempt. Over time, your mindset should improve and the yips should become a thing of the past.
There is nothing fun about dealing with the yips, but you can beat them with a good attitude and sound plan. Rather than pretending you don't have a problem with short putts, or thinking that the problem will just resolve itself eventually, it is best to address the issue with some quality practice time. Work on your physical technique, as well as your mental approach, and suddenly short putts won't look nearly so intimidating. With the yips in your rear-view mirror, you can get back to the business of lowering your scores and reaching your goals.