The Yips

Karl Morris

Bernhard Langer (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)

We often don’t even want to say the word in polite company yet there can be few sporting afflictions as deadly and debilitating as the yips. I have seen many players driven to the point of despair when their mind and body seem to be completely at odds with each other when faced with a simple task of rolling a ball towards a hole.

Careers have been either cut short or ruined by this seemingly strange phenomena.

IF you have never been affected then some of the descriptions of the yips can seem very odd. I have worked with many players over the years who suffer with the problem and at its worse can look as though someone has just been prodded with an electrical charge as they try to move the putter through the ball.


It is not a pleasant sight but so much of the issue is compounded by myth and downright bad information.

The old adage used to be that ‘if you have had em, you have got them!’ meaning that once you had suffered the wrath of the golfing gods and been ‘given’ the yips, there was nothing you could do about it.

I believe this is fundamentally wrong and that you can and will recover if you have been suffering from this problem on the greens.

Here are some of the areas to look at to fix the problem which I personally have found to be really effective.

Changing the action

It is no coincidence that many players such as Bernhard Langer have been able to overcome the yips with a radical change in the way that they hold the club. Grips such as the ‘claw’ and ‘cack handed’ make sense because you are basically recruiting a new set of neurons to perform the task. You are developing in effect a new motion requiring the brain to learn a new skill as opposed to keep trying to operate something of a faulty programme with your old grip.

Separate the hands

Physically separating the hands on the club changes the putting stroke from what is known as a unimanual activity to a bimanual task which is processed differently in the brain. This technique can also be beneficial for chipping and even the full swing. This method can be seen by the brain as a completely different way to start a project; allowing for new patterns to form as if you’re learning a new skill as opposed to repairing something perceived to be broken.

Don’t look at the ball

This may seem totally counterintuitive but it would seem that an over emphasis on ‘look at the ball’ can actually exaggerate the instance of yipping.

When we stare intently at something it can cause a huge increase in muscle tightness, almost as if the system senses a danger activating the ‘fight or flight’ response, neither of which is particularly useful on a putting green. I believe Sergio Garcia employed this strategy to win the Masters.

Focus on the completion of the motion

I remember hearing Pádraig Harrington say with a certainty only he can muster that of all the swing ‘thoughts’ or cues, perhaps the single most effective one he had encountered was to focus on a smooth balanced finish. It would seem that if we have the intention to finish in balance then the brain body system will organise the movement around that intent. All the motion through impact will fall into place in the right sequence if we aim to finish correctly. And so, it seems with the yips.

I have worked with a number of players who made great progress by first of all pre-programming where a good putting stroke would finish. How it would look and feel and then to go ahead and actually make the stroke. Again, this takes away the focus and anticipation of impact and allows the stroke to pass through the ball rather than at the ball. Take your practice stroke and really feel your finish position and then simply step into the ball and aim to repeat the motion.

Thought suppression

Counting backwards, for example, will keep the thinking brain busy and perhaps allow a better motion to occur.

Set yourself the task of starting at a certain number such as 10 and focus your conscious attention on simply counting down to one.

As you are absorbed in this ‘task’ then the motor program is free to swing the putter.

So in the list above you have some ideas that have been tested, proven to be effective and are backed up by a good bit of scientific research. If you are going through the ‘problem’ you CAN solve it with a mindset of possibility and a willingness to explore these options.

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