If you’re an avid golfer, there’s a few words you don’t utter on the golf course (or even off the golf course). One of those words is “Shank” and the other is “Yips.”
Golfers, like a lot of athletes, are very superstitious and believe that even speaking these terms might make them happen during your next round. If you’re playing with a fellow golfer and they suffer from one of these painful shots, it’s hard to get it out of your memory.
I’ve actually played in a group where I saw multiple players hit back to back shanks, despite being single digit handicap. Proving once again that golf is more of a mental game than anything else.
The “S” word (aka shanks) is part mechanics and part mental but I would argue it’s more mechanics than anything else. The “Y” word (aka the yips) on the other hand, is much more mental than mechanical.
If you’ve ever suffered from this condition, hopefully this post will help you find solutions and vanish them from your game.
Yips 101 – Top Questions Answered
The yips are every player’s nightmare. The yips are hard to understand, embarassing, and frustrating as any shot out there.
Here’s the technical definition from the Mayo Clinic (yes, there’s even a real definition for the yips):
“The yips are involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers are trying to putt. However, the yips can also affect people who play other sports — such as cricket, darts and baseball.
It was once thought that the yips were always associated with performance anxiety.
However, it now appears that some people have the yips due to a neurological condition affecting specific muscles (focal dystonia).Changing the way you perform the affected task might help you find relief from the yips. For example, a right-handed golfer might try putting left-handed.”
1. What Are The Yips?
The “Y” word as I like to call them is a condition in which golfers seemingly forget how to make simple shots. Usually, the yips happen on short putts (putter yips) and easy chips (chipping yips) but can happen with the full swing as well.
Putting yips are more common and tend to happen with short range putts. While chipping and golf pitching yips happen as well but usually less common with golfers.
Finally, full swing ones happen too. The “Kevin Na yips” happened in the 2012 Players Championship when he couldn’t seemingly pull the trigger to start his swing. Or, Sergio Garcia had a form of them in the U.S. Open at Bethpage Black with the “waggle” yips.
The yips aren’t just in this sport either. Baseball yips also exist (just ask Chuck Knoblauch) and in other hand-eye sports. But for this article, we’ll stick to golf!
2. What is the History of Yips?
According to multiple sources, the “Y” word was coined by the great Tommy Armour. He once said that they were “A brain spasm that impairs the short game.”
Tommy Armour suffered putting yips in the 1927 Shawhnee Open where he made a 23 on the hole. Seriously a case of the yips made him card a 23! Don’t feel so bad about the next time things go bad and you make a snowman.
Some of the greats like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson and others have suffered with this issue as well. It’s been so bad that some golfers have lost their status on the PGA Tour and even quit the game for good.
Other common names for this issue include: the jerks, the staggers, the waggles, freezing up, whiskey fingers, and more. In today’s world, most golfers know them as the “Y” word.
3. Are The Golf Yips Curable?
While a lot of golfers think the yips as cancer to your game, think of them as the benign kind of tumor. Yes, you read that right… the yips ARE curable.
While it’s easy to think they will infect all other areas of your game like a malignant tumor, it’s not true. As long as you have the right attitude and use the steps that are outlined below, you can cure them.
If you’re reading this and feel like you’ll never overcome them, just remember you 100% can! Keep reading to learn the exact strategies to overcome the yips.
4. Do Pros Get The Golf Yips?
Yes, no golfer is immune to the yips!
Sometimes is technical issues, other times its performance anxiety, and other times it’s 100% mental.
Guys like Bernhard Langer, Ben Hogan, Tom Watson, Sam Snead, Kevin Na, and other great players have suffered from one or several types. But with help from golf instructors and the techniques below, they rid themselves of the golfers yips.
How to Cure the Yips in Golf
Now that you know more than you ever wanted to about the “Y” word, let’s get to the important part: how to eliminate them once and for all!
Step 1: Forgive Yourself
Seriously, I know this sounds corny but golfers love to personalize things. It’s easy to hit a few drives and say things like “I am a bad driver.” Repeated enough, this will get into your subconscious mind and start to manifest itself on the course.
The same goes from acquiring the yips. Remember, you aren’t the first golfer and you definitely aren’t the last one to have to deal with this issue. Stressing about the issue isn’t going to help anything.
If you keep beating yourself up about them and feel shame or embarrassment, they are going to be a lot more difficult to fix it. Laugh it off, take a few days off of golf, and remember that it’s happened to much more talented golfers than you (even in big events like the U.S. Open).
But the yips are fixable if you have the right attitude to beat them.
Step 2: Diagnose the Issue
Once you’re in the right headspace to fix the issue, the next step is to act like a doctor and diagnose the issue at hand. As much as it might pain you to relive the memory, it’s important to do it so you can get to the bottom of it and find the right cure.
Ask yourself questions like:
- Does it only happen with certain clubs?
- What was I thinking before I hit the specific shot?
- Has this happened before? If so, how frequently?
- How was your mood before and during the round?
- What was I saying to myself before, during, and after?
- Does it only happen during certain situations (ex. Tournament golf)?
By asking yourself these questions and others, you can get clarity about what’s going on. Maybe it’s a specific shot, a specific lie, or certain scenario that causes them.
Like a doctor diagnosing a medicial condition, once you know what it is and why it’s happening, you can create an action plan.
Step 3: Take Action to Beat the Yips
Finally, once you diagnose your main issue, it’s time to get to work. The worst thing you can do is simply avoid the issue and hope they somehow fix themsleves. While ignorning them might work, it’s not a great strategy.
Bernhard Langer, a legendary golfer, battled putting yips most of his career. But he kept switching grips, putters, and never gave up. Heck, he even won the Masters twice!
To improve in golf (or any sport), you have to put in the work. Hoping and wishing aren’t strategies for success. Use one or all of the steps below to find a cure.
Curing The Yips in Putting
Here are our best ways to learn how to get rid of the yips in putting.
1. Focus on Your Breathing
Let me ask, how is your breathing while you’re out on the golf course? While most golfers always try to think with swing fixes, your breath plays a huge role.
If you’re not taking big, deep breaths during your round, you are likely holding in extra air in your body. This manifests into being very tight and tense, especially with the putter.
Instead, focus on letting go with teach breath. With each breath, let all the bad energy go and make a conscious effort to do so throughout the round.
Before changing your stroke or any of the other methods, go the putting green and work on your breathing. If you’re feeling loose and tension free, I bet you’ll find that you make better swings and hit much better putts.
Here’s a good practice putting routine to help you eliminate nerves:
- Read the putt as normal by picking your line and spot.
- Before setting your ball down to replace your mark, take a big deep breath.
- As you’re standing over the ball, focus only on the target you chose.
- Keep looking at the target (not the ball) while you make a few practice strokes.
- Finally, take one final look at the putter, take a deep breath and make your stroke.
By focusing on your breath and the target, you’ll likely make a much more relaxed and fluid stroke. Not one that is stabby and jabby!
2. Invest in a New Putter
I know this sounds too easy to cure putting yips but it’s true.
As a golfer, sometimes you just need to look down at a new weapon to help you make more putts. As I mentioned, some golfers are superstitious and might feel there are some “demons” in the old putter.
By switching to a new putter, you can get back to making a smooth stroke and roll the rock with confidence. Ideally, you don’t want to switch styles (ex. Going from a mallet to a blade) as it can mess up your stroke even more.
For example, blade putters work best with an arc stroke where you open the putter and close the putter. Thanks to the toe hang of blade putters, it’s easy to shut it and square the face at impact.
On the other hand, mallet putters work better for golfers who prefer a straight back, straight through putting. If you switch from one style to another, it might feel very awkward, especially if you’ve been playing for a long time.
But sometimes, that’s what it takes to get rid of this issue. If you don’t want to get rid of your flat stick, try one of these strategies:
- Add a new putter grip.
- Try out step number six.
- Change the putter weights.
- If your putter doesn’t have interchange weights, add led tape to make your putter heavier.
3. Focus on Phil’s Rule
While most of us know Phil for his aggressive antics on the course and hitting “bombs” on Instagram, he has one putting tip that can help the yips. In an older video series about his short game, Phil talks about how he approaches short putts.
He says that most golfers, especially amateurs, tend to decelerate on short putts. Add in the pressure of a $5 Nassau bet and it’s even more true. To overcome this, work on accelerating through the putt.
His mentality is to go 25% back and 75% of the way through. This 25/75 ratio ensures that you are always accelerating through the putt and not taking too big of a backstroke.
4. Putting Drills
I read a story recently about Rory McIlroy struggling with his flatstick and sought the help of putting legend Brad Faxon. When they went to the putting green, Rory instinctively grabbed his putter to roll some puts.
But Brad had him leave it in the bag and instead grab a sand wedge, mid iron, and fairway wood. Rory rolled putts with each club and started making them more than he had with his putter. Brad made him realize that his putting stroke itself wasn’t the issue, it was his mind getting in the way.
The same goes for you as well.
Unless you’re shooting 120+, chances are you know how to putt. The motion itself isn’t hard (especially from short range), it’s usually your mind that makes it 100% more difficult.
On the putting green, work on hitting putts without your putter to remind yourself that you know what you’re doing. Try out wedges, irons, hybrids, and woods just to prove a point to your mind. Then, grab your flat stick and get back to draining putts like you know you can.
To help you overcome this issue, I suggest practicing a ton from short range. Try to make 10 three footers in a row. Then 20, 30, 40, etc and make it a game to see how high you can go.
Keep working on your game off the course so you can trust it on the course. If you need some inspiration, click here to read our best putting drills now.
5. Go Unconscious
A lot of golfers who suffer from putting issues tend to get to technical and overthink things.
Here’s the thing, you will never play your best if you’re actively thinking about swing thoughts. Whenever you hear from great players like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus, they always talk about being in the zone.
The only way they “got in the zone” is because they went unconscious. They focused on the shot at hand, the target, and their routine — that’s it, no swing thoughts at all. When they were winning majors with ease, these guys were in the zone!
You can do the same by eliminating all swing thoughts on the golf course. To go unconscious, simply focus on your pre-shot routine, your target, and go!
If you have some putting woes, try to speed up your putting routine so you’re not standing over the ball for what feels like eons. Simply pick your spot, take a practice stroke (if you want), and go.
By speeding up your routine, you won’t have time to let any negative thoughts creep in.
Keep it simple, roll the ball at the target!
6. Try Out a New Putting Style
Another way to help you with this issue is to try out a new putting style.
For example, if you putt with a traditional grip, try going cross handed. Or, try out different grips like the claw or interlocked fingers. You could also test out a longer putter like Bryson DeChambeau uses.
If you’ve tried all these ideas and still nothing is working, try putting with your other hand. By going from right to left or left to right, it might be the fresh start you need.
If your issue is terrible and you’re about ready to sell your clubs and quit, don’t forget about other putting yips cure like hypnosis. I’ve personally used it for curing performance anxiety in tournaments and in other areas of my life.
While a lot of people think of hypnotherapy as “odd,” sometimes you have to think outside the box to get different results. The reason that hypnotherapy is so effective is because it helps you reprogram your unconscious mind which runs 95% of your life.
In a near sleep hypnotic state, your mind is incredibly impressionable. During this time, it will help you access parts to your mind that usually aren’t accessible during waking hours.
Once in a lowered brainwave state, you can have the hypnotherapist help you overcome your issues and grow your confidence. Listening to them before you play golf or go practice can help you think and act differently.
Curing Chipping Yips (and Pitching Yips)
If your putter is working great but chipping around the greens is the issue, we got you covered too. Like the putting yips, these are curable as well.
Chipping yips definition: A jab or weak effort to try and hit the chip shot. Usually from guiding instead of hitting through the shot.
First, don’t beat yourself up!
Don’t forget that Tiger Woods, arguably one of the best short game players ever, had this issue a few years ago. That’s right, the same guy who made the epic chip in birdie in the 2005 Masters tournament also suffered this issue.
So how do you fix chipping yips?
A few of the putting fixes can also help with chipping like short game drills, hypnotherapy, and improving your breathing. If these aren’t working, use these three strategies to learn how to cure chipping yips in golf.
1. Try Out a New Club
While buying a new wedge could help, I’m not talking about buying new equipment. Instead, try out different clubs around the green to mix it up.
For example, if you normally use a lob wedge for everything but lately it feels cursed, try a gap or pitching wedge. These clubs have less loft and will usually require a smaller swing similar to putting. The lower you can keep the ball, the easier it is to get it rolling like a putt.
Make sure to focus on speed just like you should with short putts. If you’re accelerating through the chip, you will overcome them quickly!
2. Focus on Your Pre-Shot Routine
One of the best ways to calm nerves and cure your chipping yips is to master your pre-shot routine. This is so helpful because a good routine will help control your mind and go unconscious.
Technical swing thoughts aren’t part of any good players routine! Instead, pick a spot on the green where you want the ball to land. Then, pick the necessary club and focus only on the spot.
After a few chipping practice strokes, take a final look at the target, exhale, and go.
If you make your exhalation the start of your chip, you won’t have time to let any negative thoughts enter your mind. Extra breaths can help eliminate performance anxiety and help you minimize swing thoughts.
3. Practice Your Short Game
Finally, don’t forget to make sure that your short game fundamentals are strong.
At the end of the day, you need to have the right technique so you can pull off the shot at hand. Head to the short game area at your local golf course and work on the specific shot that is bothering you.
Also, work on your pre-shot routine in practice too, not just during your round. You want to practice it so much that it is automatic when you’re on the golf course.
Final Thoughts on Golfing Yips
As you can tell, golf swing yips are a pain to deal with but can be fixed. If guys like Tiger Woods, Ernie Els, and other great players can move past them, you can too.
Let me say it again, the yips are curable!
If you’re currently experiencing the yips, make sure you have the right mindset and attitude to get it fixed ASAP. Then, use one or all of the strategies to overcome them.
While it likely won’t happen overnight (but it could), just keep working on it. That’s what guys like Tom Watson, Ernie Els, and others did to overcome them and win the Masters, U.S. Open and other big events.
Have fun, shake it off, and don’t let a few bad shots define your ability as a golfer.