Understanding Putting Yips

putting yips

Are you having trouble with a part of your golf game that once came easy to you? Are you frustrated because you feel you no longer have control over this part of your game? Do you fear you might have the putting yips?

There is nothing worse than stepping up to a makeable shot that you just know you will miss. The yips your confidence and make golf, the game you once loved, a miserable experience.

Many golfers share this same demoralizing experience below:

As you walk towards the ball, a sense of dread starts filling your body. You line up your shot but can’t stop thinking about missing as images of past misses run through your mind like a horror film. You stand over the ball with your heart pounding, palms sweaty and short of breath. You feel the muscles in your shoulders, neck and forearms tighten. You are an utter nervous wreck.

You draw the putter back but your stroke seems unnatural. Just before you strike the ball, your muscles jerk and you slightly turn the face of the putter. You push the ball wide of the whole and now you have to go through this entire ordeal again. Frustrated, angry and resigned, you just want to walk off the golf course.

Though the yips is primarily something that interferes with your putting game, some golfers yip in other shots such as tee shots and chip shots. The yips is that dreaded thing in golf where you tighten up and practically become incapacitated prior to hitting the ball. The yips manifests in jerks, tremors, or flinching just before striking the ball. The yips interfere with your ability to swing relaxed and smooth and play your best golf. The worst part of it… the more you think about the problem, the worse it gets.

Let’s further delve into the mental side of the  golf yips.

3 Psychological Components of the Yips: The thoughts, emotions and focus of a golfer greatly influence the progression of the yips.

Thoughts Experienced by Yip-Affected Golfers

  1. Negative Outcomes – “I’m probably going to 3-putt this hole or, even worse 4-putt” or “My handicap would be so much lower if I could only sink a putt.” You find it next to impossible to image the ball dropping in the hole. You expect the worst even before you approach the ball and it forges a self-fulfilling prophecy.
  2. Thoughts of Missing – “Just don’t miss this shot again” or “Please don’t mess up again.” You try to talk yourself into a positive result but there is a strong voice of doubt in the back of your head that convinces you otherwise. The negative thoughts win out and seem to run uncontrollably through your head. Even though you have demonstrated competency in this part of your game at some point in the past, the thought, “I can’t” dominate your thought process.
  3. Past Yipping“I’ve double-bogeyed almost every hole this Round” or “Every time I putt, I push it wide.” No matter what you try to think about, you can’t seem to shake the hold of past yips. There is no end in sight because you carry the weight of every past miss to the shot you are trying to make.

Feeling Experienced by  Putting Yip-Affected Golfers

  1. Low Confidence – “I have no confidence in my ability to sink a putt.” Once you lose your confidence in a part of your game, you ruin your chances of climbing out of that performance rut.
  2. Fear – “I am petrified from the moment I line up my shot” or “I am afraid to miss again.” Fear creates stress and tension which inhibit the natural flow of your stroke. Fear causes muscles to tight and an inability to relax and focus effectively.
  3. Frustration – “I just wasting four hours because I can’t drop the ball in the hole” or “I get so frustrated on the greens.” When you dedicate so much of your time to playing golf but you feel you are not seeing a return on your time investment, you feel frustrated and almost helpless. Feelings of frustration cause many golfers to give up a bit or not be fully committed.
  4. Anger – “After I miss a string of putts, I get so angry that I just want to launch my putter” or “I play so well in all the other parts of my game that I get infuriated when I can’t putt.” Anger is such an intense emotion that it is hard to regain your composure after you become so worked up. Anger takes you out of your game and ruins the next several shots.


Focus of  Putting Yip-Affected Golfers

  1. Mechanics – When you focus on the details of your swing, you will contribute to those jerky movements or flinching before striking the ball. Over-analyzing causes you to doubt your ability to make a good shot which calls into question your confidence.
  1. Yipping – A focus on the yips and past misses right before putting is a tremendous distraction that fosters negative expectations. Focus on past yips cements your belief that you can’t make shots. The fear of missing may cause you to play putt safely, hitting the ball close to the hole instead of going for your shot.
  1. Ruminating Thoughts – When you can’t get out of your own head, you can no longer immerse yourself in the present moment and just golf. By focusing on negative thoughts, you grow your anxiety to paralyzing levels.
  1. Physical Symptoms of Anxiety – Anxiety generates many physical symptoms such as sweaty palms, tense forearms, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath and tiredness. By focusing on these physical symptoms, you intensify the stress response.
  1. Pressure to Perform – When a golfer is experiencing the yips, every shot is “must-have.” Yipping when you putt places a lot of pressure on other parts of your game. You start trying to hit the “perfect” shot in order to save strokes early in the hole.

It is obvious that the yips is as much a mental issue as it is a physical problem. Golfers trapped in the yips cycle contribute to the problem by negative thinking, runaway emotions and a misplaced focus. When you are immersed in the yips cycle, you may feel may feel overwhelmed, unconfident and lacking control but you can dig yourself out.

By understanding how mental factors contribute to the yips and your overall performance, you can learn the mental skills needed to raise your game to another level. Let me repeat that statement, the yips can actually teach you valuable lessons to improve your mental game and lower your score.

ACTION DRILL: 5 Steps to Overcome the Putting Yips

Images greatly affect our emotions and thinking. If you could focus on the proper images, you can begin to change how you think and how you feel. By practicing purposeful, guided imagery, you can learn to focus on the rights things to optimize your thinking and emotions. Imagery is simply focusing on a successful shot in your mind; the exact opposite of what happens when you experience the yips.

Try this imagery exercise:

  1. Learn how to relax and quiet your mind. Deep belly breathing is one effective way to gain a sense of calm.
  2. Create an image of what you want to happen when putting. See yourself sinking the putt as you flood your mind with the memories of past successful putts.
  3. Speak to yourself with words of confidence  as you approach your shot.
  4. Feel yourself relaxed with a smooth stroke as you hit the ball. See the ball rolling toward the hole and the sound of the ball dropping into the cup.
  5. Imagine all the positive emotions you would experience as you sink your putt.

Now, nothing is magical. There is no cure-all pill or potion that will cure all your golf woes on the very first try. Imagery is a skill and, like every skill, needs repetition and practice. Imagery will never work if you only use it during a tournament. Commit to spending some time to hone your imagery. When you feel comfortable and confident with imagery, you can use a condensed form prior to shots during competitive rounds. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Go ahead… try it!