Tiger Woods – Does he have the yips?

There is a dirty word in golf that is much worse than saying the word “shank”.  That unspoken word is “yip”.  Having the “yips” has ended many a career and forced players of all calibers to quit the game. 

What is a Yip?  My definition is “an involuntary muscle movement that contradicts what the mind has directed”.   The most common form of yips is the putting yips.  A great player in the 1930’s was “Wild Bill” Melhorn.  His ball striking was legendary, but his putting was scary bad.  He once hit a beautiful second shot only one foot from the hole for a birdie.  He then putted the next ball off the green and into a bunker.  Great players have been troubled by the putting yips.  Major championship winning players like Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Bernard Langer, Tom Watson, and Johnny Miller have experienced the putting yips.  There are many others, but they just vanish from public view, because you can’t consistently keep missing short putts and contend in the highly competitive PGA Tour.  Hogan and Miller basically quit.  Snead putted sidesaddle.  Langer and others went to the long putter and various putting grips.  Watson just worked his way through it.  He is so strong willed, he overcame most of it, but his putting is a far cry from his great putting that he showed in the prime of his career.

What Tiger showed in Phoenix was a terrible display of short game problems.  I was very surprised to hear the analysts on Golf Channel say that he was yipping his chips.  That’s a strong statement, because when you have someone say you have the yips, it’s like saying you have a terminal illness.  The chip yips are more common than you think.  There are also yips with other clubs, but generally they happen when the execution needed has to be more precise and the results easy to judge.  The problem with the chip yips is they cannot be overcome with a long putter or a claw grip or split reverse hand positions.  You can hit “safe” shots that go lower, have less spin and don’t require exact contact, but to excel in getting the ball real close, the ball needs to go higher, with more spin, and have exact contact.  What Tiger did in Phoenix, something I have never seen him do, was hit a lot of “safe” shots.  His confidence didn’t allow him to hit the “right” shot, so he went the safe way and still didn’t hit those correctly.  Some of his shots were skulled or hit fat just like a high handicapper.  I’m believe he doesn’t have  the yips, but he definitely has a case of not much confidence with that part of his game.

Where do the Yips come from?  This can be debated endlessly, but once acquired it definitely becomes a mental issue.  There is one theory that it starts with a faulty technique that produces bad results and increasingly puts more pressure on this one shot.  The other is that the mind is over-thinking and desire becomes too great to the point that you don’t perform the correct stroke.  This would be classified as a “choke”, which then gradually manifests itself into an aversion or dread for a particular shot.  Players don’t get the yips in one day; it slowly builds and seeps into your confidence and mind.  For instance you could automatically hit chip after chip wonderfully for years and then one day do the same thing and hit it fat.  You are surprised, but not concerned, because you don’t hit fat wedge shots.  Then you do it again and again, and suddenly you are concerned.  You search for answers, maybe change clubs or technique, and still an occasional fat shot.  Now it’s a problem.  Next time you are standing over that “shot”, you start having different thought patterns and trying NOT to hit it fat.  It only gets worse and you try even harder.  Then something happens and the brain revolts.  It can’t concentrate; can’t swing freely; can’t feel the movement and rhythm.  Now you’ve got “it”.

A true Yip is an involuntary muscle movement when attempting a shot.  There is definitely a “mind disconnect” when people describe their experience with the yips.  Suddenly, at least for this particular type of shot, the world doesn’t make sense.  2 plus 2 was always 4, but now the answer is 5.  The mind can’t cope.  The neural pathways that once worked flawlessly and efficiently to produce routine chip shots are now broken.  It has been said that yips don’t go away.  But with work you can build new neural pathways that will bypass the broken old pathways. 

Tiger may be in the early stages of acquiring the short game yips, but I didn’t see involuntary muscle twitches.  What I saw was someone that had very little confidence in what he was doing.  He states he was between different “patterns” or techniques.  He was the absolute best around the green.  Question? Why change! But that’s where he is.  We will assume he knows what he is doing.  But he doesn’t have the Yips, but he is definitely struggling with technique and confidence.


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