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Newsletter May 2014

Yips is a word used in sports to describe an affliction in the golf putting/chipping stroke, the balk in baseball, or any other sport where the body produces a nervous involuntary movement opposite to what the athlete intends. Athletes with the yips have an apparent unexplained loss of previous fine motor skills.

The first time I encountered the "yips" was when I was playing a round of golf at Seminole Golf Club, Florida. In my group a +2 handicap golfer jabbed at a one foot putt and missed the hole. From then on, he wasn't able to make any short putts.

I have worked with golfers with putting yips, chipping yips, and one who froze and couldn't get the club back down on his full swing.

Is this a common problem among golfers? 

The yips affects between ¼ to ½ of all mature golfers. Golfers who have played more than 25 years seem to be most affected. Researchers at the Mayo Clinic did a study in 2012 and  found that 33-48% of serious golfers have experienced the yips. The yips ended the pro careers of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead and Lee Trevino. Tour players who have gone to alternative methods of putting have all struggled with the problem. It is a psycho-neuromuscular affliction.

The putting yips have been described as an involuntary movement of the arm, forearm, or wrist. Some golfers experience freezing over the ball with nervous twitches in the wrist causing flinching in their stroke. As the golfer hits the ball uncertainly with too much wrist action, the ball usually goes further past the hole than when it started.

The Neurological Factors

Can this condition in avid golfers be attributed to the overuse of a certain set of muscles?

Gross motor skills involve movement of the larger muscles such as those used in the full golf swing. Fine motor skills are the small movements in the hands, wrists and fingers. It is believed that serious golfers who practice hitting full shots a lot are then not able to make the adjustment to a set of muscles required for the fine motor control of the putting stroke.

PGA Tour pros are seen using a different putting technique or new putters to avoid the overuse of those muscles used in their long game. Sam Snead putted croquet style until it was outlawed, and then he putted side saddle trying to alleviate his tremors. Possible strategies for stroking the putt are:

  • Change how you hold your putter. This works because different muscles are used in the putting stroke. For example, the claw grip takes the wrist action out of the stroke causing the shoulders to create a smoother, more consistent stroke. The goal is to maintain grip pressure for a smooth, even stroke that takes the hit out of the stroke.
  • Use a longer putter. Try different longer putters until you find one that is comfortable and works for you. The longer putter should stabilize your hands and wrists and use more of your shoulders and arms to allow you to roll the ball to the hole instead of hitting at it.

The Psychological Factors

Since stress, anxiety or pressure situations make the problem worse, the change of grip or putter needs to be used in conjunction with changing your mind set.

The yips are about fear. The golfer is consumed with the fear and can't access his learned good technique and confidence. After missing what seem to be impossible-to-miss short putts, the golfer may experience one or more of the following fears.

  • Fear of embarrassment
  • Fear of looking ridiculous
  • Fear of missing a "gimme" length putt
  • Fear of failure
  • Fear of what others will think of him
  • Fear of letting others down
  • Fear of being inadequate

When the golfer mind is in this fear mode, the conscious brain thinks about mechanically trying to correct the stroke and is overly concerned with the result. Thinking too much about technique, the golfer tries to control the putting stroke. The result is that the freedom of the stroke is lost, the putt sabotaged, and the fear reinforced.

The golfer's brain thus perceives short putts as a threat and the fear of missing takes over. In order to create a new neural pathway from the brain to the muscles, a whole new way of thinking has to be learned. The mental techniques of relaxation, affirmations, positive self- talk and visualization can help to reduce the anxiety and replace the fear of yipping.

If you have lost your trust and are experiencing the yips in your putting or chipping strokes, call Joan at 828.696.2547 for a complimentary 15-minute consultation. Also, available on the Positive Mental Imagery website is the compact disc "Confident Putting for Lower Scores."


Play "In the Zone" With Joan

Entrain Your Heart & Mind for Peak Performances


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