The yips are a nasty ailment. They — along with the shanks — can appear out of nowhere and absolutely derail a golfer’s otherwise solid game. And worst of all, no one is safe from their wrath.
There are several cases of top-tier players contracting the yips, yet no two cases are the same. They all but ended the careers of some of the all-time greats such as Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, and the bugaboo followed Tom Watson through most of his career. The yips were long thought to be an “old-man ailment,” but when Bernhard Langer contracted them in his late teens, pundits were stumped.
The yips can come on at any time and without reason. They do not discriminate in who they afflict, and once they come on it is a lifelong battle to cure them. Renowned putting coach Phil Kenyon tutors some of the game’s best on the greens, yet the yips stump even him.
“I don’t know what the root cause of the yip is,” Kenyon said on this week’s episode of Off the Course with Claude Harmon. “Generally what I have to deal with is symptoms. I try and manage symptoms.”
Kenyon does not know if the cause of the ailment is psychological or if it’s physical. How much does a cognitive element play a role? Is it simply a breakdown in technique? Many have attempted to answer this question, but few have come up with definitive answers. Because of the mystery, Kenyon’s course of treatment is to come at the yips from every angle possible.
He said although he doesn’t know the root cause of the yips, there are certain ways of treating the symptoms that can induce positive results. Some players need a tweak in their technique so that they don’t have to rely so much on hand-eye coordination when the pressure is on during competition.
“You can address things technically to take some stress off the hand-eye coordination so it’s a bit more robust when you’re on the golf course and your nervous system is in a different place,” he said. “You improve those aspects — how they generate speed and how they control the face — and you can actually get rid of the yip.”
Other players need a bit more coaching on the mental side of things. Their technique is fine overall, but when their minds get clouded, the yips creep up and bungle the process. There’s not tried-and-true cure, and many times it comes down to experimentation.
“There is a little bit of trial and error on from my part,” Kenyon said. “You’ll chuck a few things at it to work through and try to find a solution for that player. It’s an interesting topic, but there are plenty of players who have overcome it over the years.”
There may not be one method that is proven to cure all cases, but as Kenyon said, it is possible to defeat the yips.
“You’ve got to be patient,” he said. “There’s an element of trial and error to find the right solution for you.”
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