In order to find your cure for the yips, it’s important to first know exactly what it is and what causes it.
The golf yips come in all shapes and sizes – putting yips, chipping yips and even driving yips.
It can affect any player of any level, but surprisingly it affects more low handicappers than it does high. Even seasoned PGA Tour players, aren’t safe from it. The likes of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Johnny Miller, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson have all suffered from what some golfers refer to as a “disease”.
I’ve worked with literally hundreds of players with the yips, many of whom are very good players close to quitting the game. From tee to green they can have a scratch game and then on and around the green they can look like a beginner.
But what exactly is “The Yips”?
This debate goes on (even among sports psychologists and sports scientists), but from my experience, there are 2 types of Yips. There’s emotional Yips and physical Yips.
The Mayo Clinic defines “The Yips” as a “psycho-neuromuscular problem that often occurs in golf (especially during putting and chipping) when the golfer experiences freezing, jerking, or a tremor prior to initiating a putt or chip.” “Psycho-neuromuscular” simply means that the mind controls the muscles. It is not a disease at all but more likely a phobia that develops and then becomes a habitual state of mind.
In layman’s terms, (emotional) Yips is a manifestation of fear. Fear of hitting a bad shot, fear of embarrassment, fear of scoring a high number and fear of “yipping”. That fear is derived from the feelings associated with past experiences, which are stored in the subconscious mind (where your feelings are triggered). The severity of the yips depends on how deep-rooted in the subconscious that fear is i.e. how many times that feeling has been experienced in the past.
Your body’s natural defenses are designed to keep you away from the things you fear, via a mechanism called the “Fight or Flight Response”. On the golf course, you consciously want to hit the putt or chip shot, but the subconscious mind is telling you not to do it because it could result in that horrible feeling you’ve experienced in the past. There’s an internal fight between your conscious and subconscious mind.
Simply looking at the ball with a putter or wedge in your hand can start the yipping process. Your subconscious is saying “don’t even take the club back” (which is what some players can’t even do with a putter or wedge) and if you can manage to take the club back, your subconscious then says “don’t hit it”, which results in that jerky movement, scoop or leaving the putter face wide open.
Johnny Miller said: “When the putter went off like a firecracker in your hands and you knocked a 10 footer eight feet past the hole or left it four feet short … You lose all sense of how hard to hit the putt. Finally, the putter bolts away from the ball and then forward with an uncontrollable jerk. Your mind leaves your body, as though you’re in a movie watching somebody hold the putter for you.”
The fear of yipping causes a golfer to try and control the shot consciously instead of trusting their stroke. This means that a normally fluid stroke or swing (which is required for good golf) is broken down.
The second type of Yips (and these are certainly not mutually exclusive), is the physical Yips caused by a neurological disorder called Focal Dystonia. In this case, when fine motor movements are practiced over and over again a disorder can develop which causes the muscles to cramp at critical moments. Many musicians have been known to have this type of yips. It’s certainly possible that this form of yips can lead to the emotional type.