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It’s the ‘Y’ word that no golfer can bring themselves to say aloud.
Reckoned to impact between 25% and 50% of all avid golfers, the condition has afflicted professionals and amateurs alike for generations.
But what exactly are the yips, can they be cured, and who are some of the most notable sufferers?
What are the yips?
In layman’s terms, the yips is a movement disorder that most commonly impacts a player’s ability to putt but which has been known to affect their chipping and, in some cases, their full swing.
The yips typically take the form of twiches, staggers, jitters and / or jerks and are reckoned to have affected between 25% and 50% of all adult golfers.
In 2004, researchers at the Mayo Clinic – a non-profit American academic health centre – found that 33% to 48% of all serious golfers have experienced the yips at some point in their playing careers, with golfers who have played for more than 25 years seemingly most prone to the condition.
What causes the yips?
Although the exact cause has never been determined, one theory is that the yips are caused by biochemical changes in the brain linked to aging. Focal dystonia, a neurological condition that affects a muscle or group of muscles in a specific part of the body during specific activities, has also been suggested as a cause.
Are the yips exclusive to golfers?
Not at all. Many cricketers, baseball players and snooker players have also been afflicted by the condition.
Following his loss to Mark Williams at the 2010 UK Championship, seven-time world snooker champion Stephen Hendry revealed that he had been suffering from them for a decade, impacting his ability to cue through the ball.
Gymnasts have also been known to suffer from a variation of the yips, called the ‘twisties’. US gymnast Simone Biles famously suffered from them during the most recent Olympic Games in Tokyo, causing her to withdraw after the women’s team all-around final.
Which golfers have suffered from the yips?
It’s a pretty exhaustive list but here are five of the most high-profile…
The German first developed the yips when he was just 18-years-old and has previously admitted it got so bad that he contemplated quitting golf altogether. “At one point I was yipping so badly that I four-putted from three feet and actually hit the ball twice,” he said. “Those were extremely difficult times.” Switching to a broom-handled putter proved to be his salvation.
The two-time major champion developed the yips later in his career. At the 2004 Bay Hill Invitational, he was quoted as saying: “If you told me to go around the corner and stand on my head for five minutes and then come over and putt, I would have tried it. I was desperate.” His subsequent switch to the ‘saw grip’ finally saved his career.
Together with Tiger Woods, Snead holds the record for most victories on the PGA Tour (82) but his haul could have been so much greater had it not been for the yips. By his own estimation, he battled the affliction for over half a century and in an interview with Golf Digest admitted: “You get to the point where your mind can’t figure out how hard to hit the ball.”
Towards the end of his career, the great man struggled to pull trigger and would routinely stand over the ball, seemingly frozen. “Putting,” he later said, “is just like 18 trips to the blood bank in a day. Don’t you think I’m embarrassed? Don’t you think it’s embarrassing to hear all those people say, ‘Why don’t he just hit the damn thing?’”
The ‘Big Easy’ suffered one of the most high-profile – and uncomfortable – cases of the yips at the 2016 Masters. He carded a ten on the very first hole of the tournament after having a horrible SEVEN-putt. I couldn’t get the putter back,” he admitted afterwards “I’ve made thousands of 3-footers, and I just stood there, and I couldn’t take it back. What do you do? I don’t know. Maybe a brain transplant.”
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