Monday, February 2, 2015

Confessions of a Yipper

His name is Doug and he admittedly suffers from the chipping yips. Doug would not have guessed that he would ever be mentioned in the same sentence with Tiger Woods. But, he is now. After his latest display of chipping at the Phoenix Open it’s obvious Woods suffers from these chipping yips.

Bill Harmon, brother of Butch who taught Tiger in his heyday, told me this, “He (Tiger) DOES have the chipping yips. I also think he has the yips with the driver. Fear will make anyone ordinary. When a golfer is unsure of and fears impact around the greens it’s a totally different game.”

Harmon would know. He is recognized as one of the game’s top teachers whose stable of students includes Bill Haas. There is no more respected family of golf instructors in America than Bill, Butch and Craig Harmon all schooled by their legendary father, Claude.

“There are very few pros who don’t think that Tiger has the yips around the greens. The first step in solving the problem is admitting that you have a problem. That is not a weakness, but a strength,” said Harmon. 

“I don’t buy all of this release stuff. In the last two events that he has played in he had the two worst cases of yips I’ve ever seen from a tour pro and this coming from arguably the greatest short game player ever. I’ve had (and sometimes still do) the yips pitching. I know what it is when I see it. It will be interesting to see where he goes with it because as he said, he’s doing it in a public forum,” concluded Harmon.

Woods has never been public about anything. We won’t hear an admission that he is battling the yips in any form. It will be about perfecting his technique and changing his swing. Any admission of the yips by Woods would be a humanizing consolation from a player who has made a career from intimidation. An admission would be a weakness.

Enter Doug, the average golfer who suffers from the same disease. We can gain insight from him. Doug and Tiger share the same mental demons. When Doug first encountered the yips it was on the putting green. He was a two handicapper at the time. The yips soon crept into his chipping.

“There was no doubt that it started with the putter and then moved to the chipping within two years. It was gradual. I ‘chili dipped’ a few chips. I moved the ball back in my stance and then started hitting it everywhere,” recalls Doug. “The feeling I have is that my right hand fires way too soon which causes me to lose control of the club.”

Doug talks openly about the anxiety associated with the yips. There is a paranoia that takes over the body and the brain. Yippers know the results before the shot has ever been hit. He tried changing clubs and using different techniques. Doug found a longer stroke with a higher lofted wedge to be better.   

“I try to be positive. When I get over the ball bad thoughts creep into my mind,” says Doug. “My brain sends me a signal and says don’t embarrass yourself. After a while it becomes almost humorous. You do things like putt from 20 yards off the green. It puts more pressure on the rest of my game. I can’t miss greens and if I short-side myself it’s over.

“I know how to chip. It’s the mental lockup where the brain is anticipating something bad. It can happen with any club. I am willing to try anything. Most people don’t want to talk about it. My buddies will look away at times like they think it’s contagious,” admitted Doug.   

Most long-time golfers have experienced the yips of some form in their careers. I had a bout with the putting yips ten years ago. In two tournaments I missed four putts inside 18-inches. I will never forget the feeling that I had standing over those short putts. I literally could not feel my hands and arms below the elbows.

I sought the help of another teaching instructor who recommended that I position the trademark facing the sky and the number left, or forward, for a right handed putter. He told me to never take my eyes off the number through the stroke which promotes acceleration. It took so much concentration to do that, I couldn’t think of anything else- including the negative thoughts. It worked for me and today I consider putting the strength of my game.    

When the USGA proposed the ban of the anchored stroke, Rule 14-1b, the focus was on putting. To the credit of the USGA those presentations also addressed chipping and the fear that players would also start using devices or instruments to combat chipping woes. The publicity centered on putting, but chipping was in the discussion. I never bought into that, but I do now given the fact that the most high profile player in the game now has the chipping yips.   

Said a respected USGA source, “Yes, we were very much focused on chipping at the time. Our concern was that the challenge of the game is to control the club during the stroke and that the use of an anchor in any stroke changed that challenge. We were concerned that the traditional stroke could be displaced in both putting and chipping. The concern related not merely to the putter, but also to use hybrid clubs from off the green. Hence, the new Rule was purposefully made part of Rule 14 and not part of Rule 16.”

When asked what advice Doug, now a 6-handicapper, would give Tiger he said, “I watched the highlights from Phoenix and it looked like the chipping yips to me. Far be it from me to offer advice to best ever. But, hopefully he doesn’t have the yips because practice won’t cure it. The anxiety creeps in when I play with my buddies or in club events.

“It’s when it really means something that the yips take over. Maybe Tiger will beat it. If he does it would be helpful if he would bear his soul and tell all of us how he did it. Hey, you know Jones, Hogan and Snead all had the yips in some form. Tiger shouldn’t be embarrassed to say it.”
His name is Doug. He suffers from the yips and he is not afraid to admit it. 

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