Short of the shanks, the “yips” are the worst malady that can befall a golfer. They're like an infection, starting with a single poor putting stroke, then quickly destroying the confidence and stroke of the afflicted golfer.
Deceleration of the putter is the most common cause of missed short putts. That's especially true in golfers who take a long backstroke, which forces them to slow down to keep from crushing the ball.
Here's a drill that can greatly improve your short putting:
1. Starting 2-3 feet from the hole on a flat part of the practice green, place a tee or another ball no more than eight inches behind the ball to be putted.
2. Take the putter back, making sure not to hit the obstacle.
3. Make an accelerating stroke, ideally popping the ball into the back of the hole.
4. Finish with the putter head at least eight inches beyond the address position. In other words, make the follow-through longer than the back-stroke.
Practice this drill often to instill the feeling of driving the ball into the hole, rather than weakly nudging it, hoping it goes in.
Thomas Golf Putters
Traditional, Mid-Length/Belly & Long Putters
Cure the Putting Yips- What are the yips?
The yips are not exclusive to golf. In fact, they aren't exclusive to sports. Whenever a person is unable to start or complete a movement he has practiced many times before, it could be described as a yip. Those who have been afflicted with the yips describe the feeling as a spasm, cramp or having the sensation of being frozen when there should be motion. In golf the movement of the club becomes jerky and tight making the player feel like he/she has no control over the distance of the shot.
The yips are many times associated with putting although they can happen during any stroke or swing. Players that have the yips struggle with both distance control and club face control. Having high expectations is a common problem with those who battle putting yips and they seem to afflict high-level golfers more than the average golfer. Short putts are supposed to be the easiest shot in golf for a good player and developing problems with those shots is where the evolution of the yips begins.
Three foot putts in golf are like lay-ups in basketball. They are routine. Basketball players practice lay-ups so much that they don't consciously think about making them. Picture a college basketball player speeding down the court with no one in sight and instead of gently laying the ball off of the glass, the ball almost appears stuck to his hands like Velcro as he tries desperately to let go of it.
Can you imagine a major-league baseball player fielding the ball and being unable to release it for the short throw over to first base? Or what about a quarterback in football unable to get the ball out of his hands to pitch it to a running back? Now envision yourself setting up for a routine 3-footer and hitting it just 10 inches. And hitting the next one another 10 inches. And then hitting the next one 10 FEET PAST the hole.
Every one of these examples is similar because in each instance the player is unable to complete something that should be automatic within his/her sport.
It's not easy hearing about these types of challenges but just by learning about them it can help you avoid them. Putting yips typically happen while on the course during a round of golf. Some players are able to practice short putts successfully but when encountered with short putts on the golf course the yips magically appear. Why?
Good players know what it feels like to be in a groove. Typical two or three-foot putts do not require a lot of extra time to read. Speed should be fairly easy to ascertain because the ball is so close to the hole. If something feels off with the simplest of procedures a good player will quickly notice. The player could simply be tired and therefore missing details in the pre-shot routine. Once they have a feeling of being “out of whack” then they have increased tension. Tension leads to anxiety and maybe one yipped putt. If the yips continue then a lack of focus or even fear develops.
The story of Tommy Armour and his battle with the yips is fairly well known. What is not as well know is that Armour first encountered the yips one week after winning the U.S. Open. He took a cool 23 on a par 5 in the Shawnee Open. He, in fact, was said to have devised the word “yips” to describe the putting disease that afflicted him so suddenly. He battled the yips for the rest of his successful career.
If you want to cure the yips you will need to make changes. You may have to change your grip, how tall you stand, how you position your arms or even your putter. But first you will need to take a careful look at your symptoms before you attack the problem. Here are some examples of questions you might ask yourself:
1. Are there certain distances you struggle with more? 2. Are some situations more stressful than others? 3. Do you yip more when you are tired? 4. Have you developed the yips in your later years in life? 5. Do you take medication that may cause tremors or spasms? 6. Do your eyes tend to wander while you are putting?
Now that you know what the yips are it is time to explore the causes of the putting yips and some ways you might be able to combat them.
Psychological factors in curing the putting yips
The yips are like the shanks in that no one wants to talk out loud about them. They are spoken of in hushed voices in dark corners with no witnesses. Professional careers have been ruined and lots of money has been made by sports psychologists and instructors attempting to cure professionals of the yips. Yet even those who have experienced the yips have a hard time describing what actually causes them.
It's said that half of all golfers will experience the yips at one time in their career. For those who have the chronic yips just the sight of a two-footer is terrifying. Even if they have had a brief reprieve the memories come back so quickly and vividly that it makes it a chore just trying to get the putter out of the bag. But let's jump back to the beginning. How do the yips begin?
A lot of times the yips begin when a golfer is playing well. The game seems easy and the results are so good that you begin to expect great shots and low scores. Then one day you hit a towering drive and an approach shot within 3 feet of the hole. Two long, perfect shots and now all you need to do is hit a putt three feet into the hole. It's a no-brainer…until you start to think about how stupid you would feel if you missed the putt and wasted two great shots. That small doubt turns your smooth stroke into a stutter step and the club doesn't seem to want to do what you ask it to anymore.
One badly missed 3-footer creates a lack of focus and although you are still striking the ball well, you aren't really looking forward to the short putts. Tension builds and maybe you start gripping the putter a little bit tighter and breathing faster. Perhaps you start over-thinking the mechanics of a 3-footer. Maybe the anxiety you feel makes you move your eyes back and through with the club to make sure that it keeps going and doesn't stop.
Pretty soon, a 3-foot putt might as well be 30-foot putt because the hole looks so small. It's a little bit like the golf version of motion sickness. Close your eyes and everything stops. Open your eyes and it's all moving too fast. You can't get your bearings and you can't do anything to make it better. You have the yips.
Fear is the next level of interference. Anxiety will always be present but fear can put into motion psychological interferences that effect not just your putting, but your entire game. Maybe you start rushing your pre-putt routine. You might start getting careless with your stroke resulting in stroking it like a “hit and hope” putt rather than a confident one. By skipping steps in your pre-shot, by quickening your pace and by attempting a “hit and hope” putt you are giving yourself an excuse for missing the putt. You can rush your routine and dis-own your putting stroke but the yips are relentless and as long as you have them you have to own up to them.
Denial runs deep however, and the final stop in what will now become a case of the yips from hell, you will start to judge yourself. You will become consumed. Your life will revolve around your battle and your affliction.
Telling yourself you are worthless because you cannot beat the yips is exceptionally counterproductive. When you feel your life has been demeaned because you struggle with making a short putt then the yips have won. Curing the putting yips is not your biggest problem once you get to this point. Getting back your self-esteem is.
Yes, there have been professional careers ruined because of players not being able to get over the putting yips. It IS inconvenient for a professional golfer, or for any golfer playing for a prize, to have to yield to the yips and accept only what it gives them. However, many players have and do make adjustments to conquer the yips and you can too.
The problem of having the yips has to be put into a realistic context and that means that if your life is being effected by having the yips, your world is too small. With a little clarity you will be in a better position to take on the yips.
Are the yips a medical issue?
The consequences of age can qualify as a medical issue. So can fatigue. Medicines that cause tremors or spasms can also be considered a medical problem. Golfers are notoriously hard on themselves. So much so that it's possible for them to overlook logical potential causes for the yips. The putting yips are a blow to the ego and perhaps players that have the yips are so focused on that they tend to not look outside their box.
If the yips were a neurological issue, would they feel better about having them? There is a neurological disorder called focal dystonia. The disorder is associated with repetitive fine motor muscle movements. Pianists and violinists are regular victims as well as guitarists. Writers used to get something that we know as “writer's cramp.” Athlete's problems can range from putting yips to free throw yips.
Focal dystonia can start at any age but many times starts in the 40's and 50's. It seems to be related to only certain movements; ones that are repetitive. It can be treated, just like other neurological disorders. Botox injections have been known to work as have medications and other surgical and non-surgical procedures.
The symptoms of focal dystonia range from cramps, spasms and freezing of the muscles. With hand dystonia, the hand can jerk or spasm causing the fingers to curl towards the palm or away from the palm. Putting requires a smooth, steady stroke. When the hand jerks as it moves forward to hit the ball it has a tremendous effect on the outcome of the putt.
For players that are diagnosed with focal dystonia and do have the yips it is imperative that stress and anxiety be kept to a minimum. Both will add fuel to the problem. Think of it this way; if you have a bum knee and it prevents you from transferring your weight, you don't get stressed about it. You can't change it, so you change your swing.
It's the same thing with the yips and focal dystonia. Don't focus on trying to change something you cannot. Instead, modify your putting stance or your stroke. Change something that will force your fine motor muscles to move differently. Some players move to left-hand low grips or longer putters. Maybe a claw or saw grip will work for you. For a long time Bernhard Langer used the left hand low clamp grip, using his right hand to clamp the left forearm against the shaft.
If you feel that focal dystonia is a real possibility as being the problem with your yips then talk to your doctor. Even if there is no treatment to be given you can give yourself a little bit of a break. A mental mistake is a tough pill to swallow but a physical mistake can be corrected.
Can the putting yips be cured?
If you want to cure the putting yips you will need to make changes. You may have to change your grip, how tall you stand, how you position your arms or maybe even your putter. But first you will need to take a careful look at your symptoms before you attack the problem. Are there certain distances you struggle with more than others? Are some situations more stressful than others? Do you yip more when you are tired? Have you developed the yips in your later years in life? Do you take medication that may cause tremors or spasms?
The putting yips can occur at any time in a player's career. It is not unusual for a superior golfer to have a more difficult time with the putting yips than a less accomplished player. A more experienced player has made many more short putts in his career than a less experienced golfer. He expects to make them and that raises questions as to whether high expectations might be a cause for the yips. If so, it would stand to reason that the player would need to go back to the basics and pay attention to detail, just as he did before putting came much easier to him.
High expectations are something that goes along with the outlook you have on your own game. Evaluate your game and then evaluate your expectations. Chances are that you will find one or more areas of your game that at present can't possibly reach your expectations. Flexibility and openness are important elements to have when assessing your own game.
If the yips is indeed caused by a medical problem then you should team up with your doctor to discuss a course of action that will help you get back on track. Golf is not always just about golf. It's about people and people are vulnerable to many outside variables. Those variables effect each one of us in different ways and only you and your doctor can sort out those type of irregularities.
If there is a sure-fire cure for the yips then it has yet to be advertised. The yips has been a popular subject for sports psychologists for years and they have yet to learn a way to cure them. Research has been conducted and parallels have been drawn from the medical world to the sports world, but still there is no conclusive evidence as to what really causes them. Without knowing the cause it is very difficult to dispense a prescription.
To cure the yips you would need to know the root cause of your problem. You could improve them by improving your outlook and limiting anxiety but those problems could only be an accelerant and not the cause. It might take some time and resourcefulness on your part but you know yourself best. If you allow yourself to be honest you may find that the root cause of your problem is lying more towards the surface than you think.
Exercises for curing the putting yips
Left-hand low clamp putting grip
This is the idea that helped save Hall of Famer Bernhard Langer in the middle of his career. He took the approach of keeping the left arm and putter shaft as one straight unit. He gripped the club with the left hand low, almost to the end of the standard putter length grip.
Then he made sure the putter grip was resting against the inside of his left forearm. Next he put the right hand on the putter near the top of the grip and set it so the club was in his lifeline. From there he locked his right thumb around his left forearm and clamped his grip.
The putter and left arm should now be a straight line. He used a rocking motion of the shoulders to power his stroke. The hands, wrists, fingers, were totally out of the stroke. Even if the player did feel tension, it was all in the shoulders, and he couldn't yip like he did using the smaller muscles of the hands. The left-hand low clamp grip can enable anyone to play without the results of small muscle twinges.
Putting with your eyes closed or while looking at the hole.
Players who move their eyes back and forth while they putt tend to be worse putters than those who don't. It seems like a logical statement, but is more to it than just the obvious.
Your eyes feed you all kinds of information every day that you take for granted. Walking, driving and even eating is difficult to do if you are used to using your eyes and suddenly cannot. Your eyes feed your brain information and then your brain sends out orders to other parts of your body to react.
It would make sense that if your eyes are kept level and steady they would send more calming messages to the brain. If your eyes are flittering back and forth quickly then not only would the information being sent to the brain be less specific, it could seem downright alarming. If you are struggling against the yips closing your eyes while putting or looking at the hole can give your brain calming signals and better information.
Take a practice stroke next to the ball while looking at the hole. Concentrate on trying to feel the speed and length of stroke you need for that putt. Once you feel that you have made the stroke that will get the ball into the hole, go through your normal set up process. Now look at the hole and try to repeat the last practice stroke you took.
If you choose to close your eyes instead of looking at the hole, go through the same routine as you would if you were going to look at the hole. The key is to have confidence in your set up. If you do have confidence then your other senses will take over.
Another tested way to eliminate the yips is to make a radical change in the thought process. It will take some visualization. Many golfers have been taught to keep the elbows in close when taking a putting stance. Try this alternative. Allow your arms to get away from your body. Keep your elbows out away from the body, so that both of your forearms are almost parallel to the target line. Now pretend your putter shaft is made of glass that is as thin as the diameter of a pencil tip.
Now visualize a heavy putter head at the bottom of the glass shaft. You must feel the weight of the putter head in your shoulders. You now must move the glass shaft back ever so slowly so as to not break it. Your large shoulder muscles will take control. The shoulders will be in control the entire stroke because any jerky motion allows the hands or wrists to move, thus breaking the shaft. Your confidence will return quickly and you may start looking forward to making three-foot putts again.
Bring the putter back to address position
This is a continuation drill that can work for any type of yip. If forces the player to extend the amount of motion needed to complete the stroke, interrupting the normal putting sequence.
The drill is pretty straightforward; take a normal stroke but instead of finishing the stroke on the follow through, bring the putter back to where it began. It's important that the stroke is continuous from beginning through to the end of the putt and then back to where you started.
It's apparent that there is no quick cure for the yips. But it is conceivable that if you find the root cause of your problem, you can address it and improve your chances of overcoming this very real and very emotional challenge. Break down the sequence of your pre-putt routine and look for irregularities. Try these drills to see if they help you gain back some confidence. More than anything, commit to make a change and then see it through to help you cure the putting yips.