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How To Deal With Yips On the Golf Course

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How To Deal With Yips On the Golf Course

Let’s face it, how to deal with yips on the golf course can be daunting and few things in golf are scarier than the following scenario: You have a simple chip shot from the fringe, about thirty feet from the hole, and if you get it up-and-down, you’ll beat your buddies. You take a practice stroke, then two, and they feel smooth as silk. You step into your shot, take one last look at the hole, and pull the trigger…

What Happens?

Only, for some reason, your stroke is less smooth and more jerky, and instead of a crisp chip shot, the leading edge digs half an inch behind the ball, moving it maybe a few inches, and sending an embarrassing flush of blood through your veins.

The next shot is the exact opposite, with your body pulling up a hair to ensure you don’t hit it fat, and now the leading edge catches the equator of the ball flush, sending your ball screaming to the other side of the green, and just like that, your chances of winning are sunk. 

You decide to putt it from three feet off the green, leaving yourself a two footer to only lose by one. The stroke, which had been fine all day, and several weeks before, is now jerky too, missing the hole entirely and leaving you to just pick up your ball and think about tennis or bowling as a leisure activity.

The Yips

This is called the yips, they are no fun, and any golfer who has experienced them can tell you how difficult they can be to overcome. It always seems to come out of nowhere, and getting rid of them can often seem like an impossible task. 

As hard as you try, as much as you try to just close your eyes and make a solid stroke or swing, they show up again, causing you to seriously contemplate putting it from 30 feet off the green and even from the rough.

The key to overcoming a bout with the yips is understanding your tendencies, and then slowly working through them. Depending on how dedicated you are, they can be solved in as little as a week, but it could be longer.

First thing to understand is there are two basic types of yips: mental and physical. Since the mental yips are most common and discussed, we’ll start with those.

Mental Blocks

Everyone who has felt pressure, especially in sport, knows how debilitating it can feel when you have something seemingly easy to execute, but also realizing how easy it would be to mess up. This occurs most common with chipping and putting, particularly short putts. Before getting into how to work your way out of the yips, it’s important to understand some of the reasons they happen.

In most instances of yips, the mind and body, when presented with an important scenario, tend to go into a “freeze, flight or fight” state, which makes executing a simple stroke more difficult. Typically, with a full swing, there are so many dynamics involved, unless you are terrified of the upcoming shot, for any severe yips to take place. 

Shorter shots, on the other hand, require more feel and a shorter motion. While easy shots require a shorter range of motion, they also require more emphasis on letting your bigger muscles swing the club. When the big muscles freeze, the smaller, fast-twitch muscles, take over, which requires near-perfect precision to execute a solid shot.

More often than not, the club jerks through the ball, which can cause the ball to go anywhere. This also applies to short putts; if the shoulders stop rocking, and your hands take over, some nasty misses can happen.

How to Overcome Them

When you do encounter a bout of the yips, the biggest keys to overcome them are repetition and patience. If you’re struggling with pitch or long chip shots, it’s best to start with a basic bump-and-run (maybe 15 feet from the hole), then slowly work your way into longer bump-and-runs and then into pitches. The more comfortable you feel going through practice, the easier it will be to transition that comfort onto the golf course, and then in competition.

If you are able to practice on the golf course, this is highly preferable to just hitting hundreds of putts and wedges at the short game area. Also, if you can turn your practice into a game that will allow you to test your mental strength, even better. This can be accomplished either by yourself or with a friend. 

With chipping, a closer-to-the-hole contest with a friend is a great, low-stakes way to find out how well you’re progressing. Play a match of 18 holes, closest to the hole wins. If you want to add a putting test, and play a pitch and putt game, that works well too.

If you struggle with putting yips, find a short putt and set a few putts in a row to make before you quit for the day. Doesn’t matter how many: five, ten, twenty, one-hundred, all that really matters is coming up with a number and trying to execute and make them all without missing. Anyone who has done this drill knows that it’s always the last two or three putts where you are tested the most.

NOTE: If you feel awkward or silly practicing super short putts, don’t sweat it. Arnold Palmer used to make twenty tap-ins in a row before a tournament round, just to feel the sensation of hearing and seeing the ball go into the hole. If legends aren’t afraid to practice in unconventional ways, you shouldn’t be either.

Create an Incentivise 

As much as playing for bragging rights can be fun, it’s better to play for something of value. Even a dollar or a quarter a hole gives you something to aim for, and having to hand something to a competitor is never fun, but it will test your skills under pressure.

The amount of time it will take to improve your mental strength will vary depending on your dedication, focus, and how quickly you’re able to take your practice onto the golf course. The key is to stay diligent: no two golfers are alike, but if you stick to it, you’ll see results.

Physical Blocks

Aside from the mental hindrances, physical hindrances can  also create bad habits, which may or may not develop into the yips. This is especially true if you’ve been injured or developed severe tension in your neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, or hamstrings. Any tension or injury in these areas can make even a simple putting stroke or chip shot difficult to execute consistently; it’s similar to what happens when tension is created from a mental block. 

The big muscles are unable to move freely, forcing the little muscles in your hands and arms to compensate, which will be next to impossible if your hips aren’t turning.

How to Overcome Them

If you ever feel pain, strain, or discomfort when attempting a short shot, it is best to step away and consult a medical professional or physical therapist before going through all the motions of overcoming mental yips.

Chances are, if it’s a physical problem, no amount of practice will make the “yips” go away. If anything, it will only compound the bad habits and frustration, which is the last thing any golfer wants to endure. Once you feel physically capable of swinging the club freely, you’ll be amazed at the difference.

The Final Word

Yes, the yips can be a scary predicament for any golfer. However, with a little work and loads of patience, the yips can be tamed, helping you shoot lower scores and making the game enjoyable again.

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Ryan S

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