Every golfer experiences the ‘yips’ from time to time. It is a mental challenge faced by golfers and is defined as: a state of nervous tension affecting an athlete (such as a golfer) in the performance of a crucial action. (Merriam-Webster) You know, the moments when you standing over an eagle putt to win something and your heart starts racing, palms sweat, your mind races and it is hard to concentrate. Negative thoughts start eroding your confidence to a point were self-doubt starts to rule the moment. The yips are a scary thing and dreaded by all golfers.
The yips are such a dreaded thing, that many golfers refuse to even say the word. Just acknowledging it can negatively affect their game. I am not that superstitious and over the years I have learned to identify and cope with this mental side of golf.
I remember one case of the yips or performance anxiety from back in the mid-90s. I was just starting to develop my game and was still learning how to play under pressure competitive conditions. I was the first to tee off at the Canadian Military Ontario Regional Competition because I was the low player out of my home unit.
As I stood over the ball, with everyone watching, I could not focus or concentrate. Instead of backing off, I swung my club and squibbed my ball about 50 yards down the fairway. Talk about embarrassing! Walking to my ball, I took many deep breaths, talked myself up and prepared for my next shot. Fortunately, I squeezed out a par on the hole after 3 good shots, but that did not chase my yips away.
On the next two holes, I was nervous teeing off! I second guessed all of my club selections, aim points and swing mechanics! I was a complete mess. However, playing well away from the teeing area helped me gain control of my emotions and thoughts…..thank goodness. Starting on the 4th teeing area I was back to normal and went on to shoot a respectable 3 over par 75. It was not the low round of the day, but it was a great score for me considering how I started the round.
The yips can last much longer than 3 holes. It can be around until they are gone and there is no specific time frame in which we can expect things to change. Yips really are a mental challenge that can be difficult to banish. I found this video on the yips and thought it was worth sharing:
David MacKenzie’s advice about breathing and visualization before and during a round is great advice. I have used these for years to control my thinking and improve my mental state of playing. I especially endorse being mindful or staying in the moment when playing. This, above all other techniques, works best for me and my game. This technique does keep my yips at bay and might work for you.
Lastly, I find that relying on what I practice during pressure situations is a stroke saver. I am able to stop thinking and only focus on the mechanics I have engrained for that shot. I find that the less I am thinking (about mechanics and avoiding errors) during a swing, the more consistent and effective I play.
The yips are a real and sometimes scary thing for golfers. They cause mental distress that in turn impacts our swing mechanics. It manifests in many different forms when playing and is something that we try to avoid. I have less yips now that earlier in my career; with my coping techniques the yips are a rare and fleeting thing.
Do you have coping techniques for the yips?
I am a grateful golfer! See you on the links!