The "YIPS" in Golf and How to Work Around Them!

Whether it be putting, chipping or the full swing (see Charles Barkley) a bad case of the yips is enough to drive anybody away from the game.  I have had the yips (putting) and once you have them I believe you always have them.

Bernhard Langer

Here is how the yips get started:

  • Poor technique leads to negative results.
  • The excess of negative results creates an overload of negative expectations in the memory bank; 'mental baggage' so to speak! The brain essentially tells the body, "Only bad things can and will happen!"
  • Eventually the brain/nervous system develops an impulse twitch/flinch in response to the impending negative outcome. Once a golfer gets to this stage the trouble begins.

A yip is the brain responding to an adverse event. I believe it is just like a dog that has been beaten; every time anybody lifts a hand to the dog it will flinch and cower in response to the pain it is anticipating, but has not yet felt.  And yips in golf is exactly the same way!  The brain flinches at the expectation of a 'failed' outcome.

No matter what you hear, I firmly believe the yips cannot be cured. Look at Bernhard Langer, I regard him as having one the strongest minds in the game, yet he was not able to conquer the yips, he merely found a way around them.  You cannot overcome them with better technique, lessons, positive thinking or hard work.  In fact the more you work at beating the yips, the more you ingrain the belief that you have them.  A golf instructor once said that the yips should stand for "Yes I'm Putting Super!" Not necessarily the best thing to think when standing over a four footer.

This is excellent information from European teacher Denis Pugh but he does seem to stress better technique as an avenue towards overcoming the yips.  I wish it was different, but I wholeheartedly believe that the yips cannot be overcome.

Here is how to work around the yips, because without brain altering surgery you will never be able to forget you have them (I know this from experience!):

  • Try alternate equipment.  The long and belly putters are great additions to the game and they have allowed many yippers to continue playing golf.  I'm all for that!  I have even got chipping yippers to go to left handed (you will need a lefty PW in the bag!) and even eyes closed.  Hey, they both worked better under the gun!  Leave your pride at the door and try something radically different; your nervous system has no baggage when you try something completely new.
  • Experiment with various grips. From cross-handed, to the claw, to the paintbrush - try them all until you find something that is semi-comfortable and then learn how to play with it.
  • If you have full swing yips (like Sir Charles!) then the only way to go is cross-handed or try to play opposite handed.

Sir Charles Barkley

A note regarding Hank Haney and Charles Barkley: Hank approached Charles' problems as if they were swing based. While I would agree the problem originated as a technical one, it had been left unattended for too long and had now manifested itself as a mental hitch.  No amount of swing upgrade would overcome the flinch Charles exhibited halfway through his downswing. In my opinion the only way Charles will get better is to do something radically different; I would start with cross handed and if there was no success there I would quickly switch him to left handed.

If you happen to have the yips in any area of your golf game I feel your pain.  Work around them by trying something radically different. I believe you will be thankful you made the switch!

Enjoy and please don't beat your dog!