YIPS (associated with-but is not exclusively confined to-our efforts on the green)

By Dr. Gary Wiren, PGA Master Professional, Sr. Director of Instruction for all Trump Golf Properties & Chairman of Golf Around the World, garywiren.com


While Playing the Japan PGA Sr. Tour, I spent a lot of time trying to find a workable putting style. It prompted me to think about a psychological phenomenon that is most frequently associated with-but is not exclusively confined to-our efforts on the green. I speak of the YIPS. Out of curiosity I looked up the word in the dictionary. According to Webster, YIPS apparently don’t exist. Webster most certainly did not play golf.

Dr. Gary Wiren, PGAGary Wiren on the 14th tee at Trump International Golf Club

It mentions under yip the “sharp barking of a dog, or yelp.” Sorry, that’s not it. I’ve heard people yelp when they yip, but they are two different things. No, Mr. Webster, all of us who have played enough golf to have experienced tracing our attempts at par through the early morning dew, or have requested that the car lights be turned on to finish our final strokes for the day have most assuredly seen the yips, and some of us have experienced them. The yips I’m talking about didn’t come from dogs. Not four-legged ones anyhow.

What is a yip? It’s a twitch or spasm, sometimes violent, centered in a dominant hand and forearm, which causes a golfer to lose control of his natural stroking or swinging motion. It is primarily associated with short strokes like putting, chipping or pitching, with putting being the most common.

To some people it is surprising that the yips strike good players far more than bad ones; not to me it isn’t. Expectation levels run higher in better performers. To a competitor like a Ben Hogan, the thought of missing what “should easily be made,” is unnerving. In his case it got so bad that his limbs literally froze in the face of a potential miss, and he couldn’t draw the putter back.

The strange part of the yip syndrome is that it doesn’t happen on longer putts. Because when you are farther from the hole, you are not expected to make it; therefore the pressure to perform is reduced. The yip-shot, if it can be called that, is a psychosomatically induced bad shot. But if we expose this malady to the scrutiny of common sense, it should-logically-never happen. Here is what I mean.

A yipped putt comes from fear; the fear of missing. Imagine you are facing a three-foot putt. Now let me ask you a question: what if you miss? What’s the worst thing that can happen? Your wife will still love you when you get home. The dog won’t bite you. You’ll have a good dinner to eat, a comfortable bed in which to sleep, and a sunrise to greet you. If you miss that putt, 800-million Chinese will never know.

We live on a small planet in a medium-sized galaxy in an immense, expanding universe. Whether you make or miss the-three-footer has little chance of affecting the course of history in that universe. Quite honestly, your putt is of insignificant consequence and NOBODY REALLY CARES except you and your opponent. Your opponent will be happy if you miss, so even the miss isn’t totally bad. It just depends on the perspective. You may say, “I’ll lose a dollar, a ten, or one hundred dollars.” So what? When compared to the conditions of survival that people face everyday in Beirut or Ethiopia or Bangladesh, is such a loss really of any consequence? Put it in perspective! This isn’t life or death; it’s a game being played in beautiful surroundings, on a grand day, surrounded by friends enjoying a pastime they love. The worst thing that can happen to you, should you miss that three foot putt, is that you’ll have to putt again.

Don’t allow yourself to envision the consequences of a make or a miss to be so large that it prevents you from doing what you are fully capable of doing-which is making a smooth stroke. After all, once you’ve read the green, that’s all there is to do.

So the next time you start getting nervous over a short one, put it in perspective. Step back, smile, remember where you are and what you’re doing, go up to it and roll it in with the confident, relaxed stroke of someone who no longer has the fear of missing. For, what if…?

For more enjoyable golf experiences,
Gary Wiren, PhD
PGA Hall of Fame
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