Confessions of a Yipper
There are a few words and phrases which golfers not only don’t like hearing but don’t like experiencing. The phrase “Still your putt”, the words “Shank” and “Yip” are all part of the golfing vocabulary and when mentioned in a sentence often produce anything from a laugh or a cringe depending on whether you’re witnessing or experiencing one of those terms.
My name is David Williams and I was a yipper.
So, what are the yips exactly? The following definition is taken straight from an online dictionary:
Yips – the Informal (in sport, originally especially golf) nervous twitching or tension that destroys concentration and spoils performance.
Yips – Nervous tension that causes an athlete to fail (especially causes golfers to miss short putts); “to avoid the yips he changed his style of putting” tension, stress, tenseness – (psychology) a state of mental or emotional strain or suspense; “he suffered from fatigue and emotional tension”; “stress is a vasoconstrictor”.
What happened to me?
Growing up, I used a bullseye blade putter and holed everything. No alignment aids, peripheral weighting, special putting stroke… I just had a simple putter and the uninhibited mind that most kids possess when it comes to playing golf.
So what changed? Honestly, I do not know. I’d like to say the deterioration of my putting coincided with the deterioration of my eyesight at the age of 19 which lead to the need to wear prescription glasses, but I simply do not know if there was any correlation. Does it matter how it started? Perhaps it does. In trying to understand what triggered them, perhaps I can assist others in preventing the yips but you only know you are going to get them when you already have them. I think knowing of a possible solution is important.
Do I hold a secret to fixing the yips? No, probably not, sports psychologists may have a better understanding of the causes and solutions, BUT, I have emerged from the other side of having the yips and the following is my experience and what has helped me.
I found one of the main causes, in the beginning, that triggered my case of yips was an alignment issue. The shorter the putting stroke was, the less time I had to correct my misalignment during the swing. I was better at putting from a distance than nearer to the hole. I could feel I had a nervous twitch through impact which would shake the putter face at the time when it should be stable and straight. It was never present in the practice stroke but present most of the time when the ball was there. I tried practicing with my eyes closed, pre shot routines, mantras, different techniques but the yips never really left me.
I was in the first year of my traineeship and was averaging a very high number of fairways and greens hit per round but also a very high number or putts per round as well. It took a moment of calculated madness which helped me at least improve my putting. After playing a 36 hole tournament and finishing even par with 72 putts, I remember thinking to myself, I have been putting badly with this putter for too long now but haven’t done anything about it. I took my putter and walked out of sight of everyone and calmly snapped the shaft over my knee. I certainly didn’t do it in anger but more a frustration that I was persisting with something I was not fixing nor improving. Was it the putters fault? No, but flogging a dead horse wasn’t working either so, minus the putter I was forced into action.
The next day, I set about finding a putter that I could start the road to improving my putting stats and scoring. A pro mate of mine suggested I try the broomstick he had in the boot of his car. I proceeded to drain 5 x 20 foot putts in a row, but what shocked me was there was no nervous twitch at impact. I had a trainee event that afternoon and borrowed the putter. I shot a few under and holed everything less than 6 feet and didn’t have a 3 putt green. I finished second on the day and with my prize money, bought a broomstick putter.
I wondered whether I had sold my soul to the devil by buying that broomstick but I no longer had the yips. I was cured… so I thought. The broomstick had helped me to great heights during my traineeship. I won consecutive Victorian Trainee Championships and won the Australian Order of Merit in my final year. Was I a great putter? No, but I wasn’t a bad one anymore.
After a long lay off through injury, I picked up the short putter the night before leaving for a week long series of pro ams in 2009. It felt good. No nervous twitch and I just applied the pendulum feeling that I had become accustomed too with the broomstick. I went out the next day and while I did miss a couple of short putts with bad strokes, I had holed enough to shoot 3 under par and win the pro am. Amazing considering I hadn’t touched a club in 6 months and had the short putt in my hands for the first time in nearly 7 years.
My expectations were short lived. By the third day I was back to putting with the yips and a nervous twitch. I was not cured of the yips at all; the broomstick had simply given me a way of eliminating my hands from the stroke. Did I run back to my mental savior? I sure did! Back to the broomstick I went thinking that I and the yips were incurable.
The Turning Point
I believe it was a combination of three chance events that happened to help me cure my yips.
In May 2010, my good friend Antonio Gelonesi from Piranha Golf mentioned he was sending me their new prototype putter to try out. My first and only question was “Can you make it 47 inches long?” He said no and sent the putter anyway. The one thing about this putter that has definitely assisted in curing my yips was the putters weight. The head is 450 grams, one of the heavier putters I’ve felt but I doubt it is THE heaviest. I believe the heavier putter has taken some tension out of my hands as I feel it nearly swings itself. It stays on plane easier and I am less inclined to try and hit my putts now. I find myself making a smooth putting stroke and allowing the weight of the putter to swing through. Is this an advertisement for the Piranha Golf Putter? No… I think any heavier putter would have probably assisted my stroke and going some of the way to curing my yips but it is a very very nice putter and Antonio was the one who put it in my hands. If the Piranha putter was as weighted the same as most putters I don’t think I’d be writing this article right now either.
At the very same time that my putter arrived I was invited to become a co-host of the ‘In The Swing’ segment on TalkinGolf Radio show with Rod Morri. My first assignment with Rod was to interview the short game gurus “The Stockton’s”. Dave, Dave Jnr and Ron have worked with some of the leading tour professionals of the world; Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott, Annika Sorenstam to name drop but a few. During the interview they revealed some of the things they work on with their students to achieve results. I now do two things which I learned in the interview which have improved MY putting.
Pick a target on my intended line to roll the ball over and the mantra to help me focus is “roll the ball into the hole”.
I have replaced my usual; “hit the putt straight”, “hit it hard enough to get to the hole”, “Don’t miss it”, “Wouldn’t it be nice to holiday in paradise somewhere instead of having this 6 foot putt” (WTF??).
For me, the phrase “Roll the ball into the hole” instills calmness before I putt and I find myself focusing more on trying to do just as the phrase suggests rather than worrying about the process and possible outcome before it even happens. If I think back I guess it was similar to my approach when I was growing up and holing putts all the time. Pick the line and try and hole it.
The last event that has assisted me was a chance meeting with Dean Marks who introduced me to the Dream54 Putting Trainer. He was kind enough to drive an hour to where I work and give me a demonstration of this training aid. It promotes a different stroke to what I had been taught growing up and what I had been teaching my students. Keeping the putter on plane but also keeping the face pointing towards the target by moving the shoulders like a pendulum. This is promoted for short putts and had an immediate impact on my putting. It also suits the centre shaft, face balanced Piranha Putter that I was now using.
Yes I was skeptical at first as it went against what I had grown up knowing and believing in but I had to take note of something I always say to my students. There is no ONE way or THE way to play golf, there are MANY different ways. It is just a matter of knowing and learning which way is best for the individual.
So I practiced with the putting trainer, I included picking something to roll the ball over and the phrase “roll the ball into the hole” into my pre-shot routine and was using the heavier putter given to me by Piranha.
The Real Test
I wanted to put my putting under some pressure now to see if I would wilt and become a nervous wreck over a simple 3 foot putt. I played a few games in the local club competitions with the members and had very positive results. Not one nervous twitch or any hint of succumbing to the perceived pressures of putting.
Playing around the local course in a club competition isn’t a real test but it was a promising start. I had played a few rounds of golf and felt like I had approached every putt I had with 100% conviction. I was happy with how it felt and the results I had achieved. Even though I was holing more putts, I was even happier with the putts I missed. I was putting positively and giving them a chance of going in. It is frustrating when you have 14 birdie opportunities in a round of golf and the majority isn’t even a chance because of doubt and a negative approach.
This week I played in my first professional tournament since February. I returned to Numurkah to try and defend what I had managed to win last year. I failed miserably at trying to defend it, finishing 8 shots behind the leader in fact, but I walked off extremely happy with one aspect of my game. I hadn’t missed a putt less than 5 foot in length and had hit every putt positively and with 100% conviction. I did not hit 1 putt poorly or negatively. The fact was, in the month leading up to the tournament, I had focused solely on my putting and it paid off, but at the expense of my long game and wedge play. I hit 4 fairways for the day and missed a few greens short or long from inside 100 metres and didn’t chip it close enough.
The following day I played in the Mooroopna Pro Am and was hopeful I could find some fairways and greens. If I thought the first day was the worst I could drive the ball I was wrong, I hit 3 fairways on the second day and was scrambling all day. I shot 7 over total for two rounds of golf. It is the worst I have scored in as long as I remember and the worst I have struck the ball off the tee in years but, it should have been a lot worse. The fact I had to hole every putt inside 5 feet and a couple of longer putts to shoot 7 over says it all. Had I won a tournament? Yes, I had won my own tournament, against the fiercest competitor I have come up against, my own brain.
This is my story and how I overcame the yips. It’s a terrible mental condition that affects golfers everywhere and seems to be indiscriminate. Will I have the yips in the future? I’d love to say definitely not and I am 100% cured but the fact is I don’t know. What I do know right now is that I used to believe that I couldn’t be cured and that I’d never be able to putt confidently with the short putter again. I definitely never thought I’d be writing an article like this one on how I have overcome it.
Cardinia Beaconhills Golf Links
Upper Beaconsfield, Victoria
This article has been published in the Inside Golf Newspaper. Click HERE to view