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Attitude And The Yips

There is no skill in golf where lack of confidence demonstrates itself so dramatically as in putting.  Good putting starts with a good attitude, and that attitude is – I CAN PUTT!


Although the reader may not believe in psychokinesis (the ability of the mind to move an object without using physical means), it almost appears possible in putting at times.  Any golfer who has experienced the special feeling that a particular putt was going to drop, even before he hit it, and then makes it happen, gets the sensation that one can literally “will the ball into the hole.”  What’s happening, of course, is that a positive attitude is allowing the player to make his best stroke which markedly increases the chance for success.


On the other end of the spectrum is the feeling that “there is no way I’ going to make this putt.”  Such an attitude can cause dire consequences, especially on short putts.


The spasmatic reflex action that is produced in the hands when one is faced with a short shot on or around the green is called “the yips.”  Its cause – fear of missing.  Since this psychosomatic condition (a body response caused by one’s thoughts) is most prevalent in putting, that is the context in which it will be discussed.


Players seldom “yip” long putts because they are not expected to make them.  A higher expectation level is experienced as the putt becomes shorter and the “yipper” feels greater leves of self-imposed pressure.  It is this pressure to “not fail,” which, when it gets out of hand, expresses itself in many of the classic symptoms of acute fear – tremors in the hands, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, perspiration, shaking knees, hollow feeling in the stomach, difficulty swallowing and arms of lead.  The fear of missing putts comes from having missed putts and remembering the misses.  Theoretically, every experience a person ever has in life is stored in the brain.  Most experiences are, for all intents and purposes, lost because they made no particular impression and no attempt was made by repetition or reinforcement to store them in the active recall memory.  But a traumatic missed putt or a series of missed putts in competition which caused a player to lose a title or a check can make a vivid impression that is easy to recall.  In fact the player may frequently and unwittingly recall and refer to it.  The mental recall of the negative experience causes a physiological response:  the player “yips.”  Here are some suggestions to help a student who develops this problem:


1.                   Employ a selective memory.  Forget the bad experiences and shots, focus on the good ones.


2.                   Get things in perspective.  Making or missing a putt has little influence on mankind or the course of history.  A miss will not cause the player to lose his life, health, family, home or anything of real value, so what’s to fear?


3.                   Change putting styles, for example: (a) left-handed; (b) cross-handed; (c) place the right hand in a bent wrist locked “piston-like” position, gripping the left wrist or holding the grip against the forearm; (d) overlap three fingers of the right hand over the left to reduce the right hand’s involvement; (c) look at the hole rather than the ball or, just as the stroke is being made, look backward away from the cup; (f) close the eyes; (g) or watch a widely split-hand position stroke short putts with one hand; or (h) squeeze the grip tighter with both hands.


4.                   Change putters.  A new putter may give hope which leads to success, building confidence and destroying the yips.  Heavier, thicker-gripped putters or the long putters that require a split-hand grip are now in vogue.


5.                   Develop a routine that totally occupies the mind so that the act of putting short ones becomes very mechanical.  Using a number counting system can help where the player hits the ball on, say, six – 1) see the line, 2) rehearse the distance, 3) square the blade, 4) set the feet, 5) exhale, and 6) stroke the ball.


6.                   Look into psychological counseling geared toward restoring confidence and self-esteem in the player as a putter.  Post-hypnotic programming has been demonstrated to be effective with golfers in curing competitive problems like “the yips”.


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