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 due to a sudden jerkiness or spasm of the hands during the stroke. 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 the hands or wrists.

The yips can affect any golfer, even famous professionals. Sme of the many pros who've suffered the putting yips in their careers include  Sam Snead, Johnny Miller, Bernhard Langer and Tom Watson. Tiger Woods has had the chipping yips at times, and the driver yips drove Ian Baker-Finch right out of tournament golf.

Who Invented the Term 'Yips'?

The term is believed to have originated with golf legend Tommy Armour who, after his playing days ended, become one of the most prominent (and expensive) golf instructors. Armour once described the yips as "a brain spasm that impairs the short game."

And Armour gave us the most famous quote ever about the yips when he said, "Once you've had 'em, you've got 'em."

What to Do If You Have the Yips

Pray. That is the first step. As Armour's second quote above implies, the yips can be a chronic condition.

But seriously: If you have the putting yips, start with an equipment check. Conventional putters can exacerbate the yips, so if you have 'em and use a conventional putter, take a look at belly putters and long putters. Many pros who've suffered from the putting yips switched to long putters and it prolonged their careers (for example, Beth Daniel and Bernhard Langer). Just remember that anchoring such putters is no longer allowed under the rules.

Another newer option is a counterbalanced putter. Such putters have much heavier clubheads than traditional putters, and those heads are counterbalanced by extra weight placed under the grip end. This weighting configuration helps golfers disengage the muscles of the hands and arms (where the yips originate) and promotes a purer pendulum stroke. (This also the reason why belly putters and long putters may help).

You can also experiment with different styles of gripping the putter, such as left-hand low (aka crosshanded) and the arm-lock method.

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."

For more ideas, search YouTube for "putting yips" and you'll find plenty of videos offering advice and drills that might help.

Using 'Yips' (and Other Forms of the Word) Conversationally

"Yips" is almost always spoken as "the yip,." as in, "I have a bad case of the yips today."

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."