Yips: Here's What They Are, and You Don't Want Them

Tom Watson and the yips
Tom Watson - here missing a putt that would have won him the 2009 British Open - is one of many great golfers who has suffered from the yips. Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

"Yips" is a term most often applied to a putting problem that afflicts some golfers. The term describes a nervous affliction in which the golfer putting cannot make short putts due to the inability to create a smooth putting stroke.

But the yips can affect other parts of the game, too: driving yips and chipping yips are most common after the putting yips.

Usually, "the yips" take the form of jerking the putt to one side or pushing the putt to the other.

It's usually felt by the golfer as a nerve-tingling experience in which he or she feels unable to be steady over the ball, particularly in his or her hands or wrists.

The term "yips" is believed to have been coined by Tommy Armour, who said of them, "Once you've had 'em, you've got 'em."

If you have the yips, is there anything you can do about it? An option not available to Armour, but one being tried by many modern golfers, is the long putter. The belly putter and broomstick putter both are popular with golfers who suffer from the yips because they help the golfer steady his hands - long putters minimize or eliminate wrist action in the putting stroke, and that can help the yips.

A practice method that golfers with the yips can try is putting with their eyes closed. Golf instructor Michael Lamanna has noted that "Research indicates that players with the yips have rapid eye movements during the stroke.

The eyes transmit the necessary club information to the brain and the rapid eye movement interferes with the brain/muscle control. With the eyes closed, or focused on the hole, the player receives information about the club head, stroke path and putter momentum through the hands instead."

Along with Armour, some of the many pros who've suffered the yips in their careers include Sam Snead, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson.

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Other Forms of the Word: "Yips" is usually spoken as "the yips." A golfer who has the yips might be described as being "yippy," or might describe his own putting by saying something along the lines of "I was a little yippy on that putt." A putt that is missed because of nervous putter is often said to have been "yipped," as in, "I can't believe I yipped that one."

Examples: "The Golf Guide must have the yips - he keeps missing the short ones. Wow, he really yipped that putt."