Many viewers of Tiger’s return (including his former coach, Hank Haney) observed his difficulty with a few “sticky” chips around the greens at the 2017 Hero World Challenge — it should be noted that other players did also have a similar problem dealing with the tight lies around the Albany greens, most notably Hideki Matsuyama. But Woods, who has had more consistent issues in the last few years, stubbed the ground behind the golf ball on a number of shots this week, and half-skulled a few others while trying to avoid the same result. We can pass it off as “rust,” but we have seen it from him before. So let’s talk about it for a bit.
The “yips,” as they are known, are one of the most frustrating problems that plague golfers, particularly professional golfers. The physical causes of the yips are well known; this is not some esoteric information known only to great players and coaches. We all know the physicalreasons, but the yips are not simply a physical problem. In fact, the physical might be a small part of the problem. The biggest part is the mental.
Everyone reading this has yipped a chip, and we all know that the very next time that shot presents itself we are thinking about the yip. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to dismiss that last shot from the mind. And if it happens more than once, or more than few times, it might be permanently on one’s mind. That’s a huge problem if you play the game for a living. Brandel Chamblee, with whom I have publicly disagreed in the past, has a theory on this. He believes no great player has ever really gotten over the condition. I can’t say if that’s true or not, but it may be.
It’s been said, (I have read that Sam Snead might have said it first, but who knows where these things ever really come from) about the yips: “Once you’ve had ’em, you’ve got ’em.” How’s that for a scary thought? Who knows if it’s true, but one thing I do know is this; golf always seems to go for the jugular!
It seems as though every time I have ever stubbed a chip shot, very soon, if not the very next hole, I have to hit another chip from a tight lie. If I’ve just missed a short putt, very soon, if not the next hole, it also seems like I’ll knock it 5 feet past the hole. And what am I thinking about? You guessed it, the last missed short putt. So no amount of mental discipline seems to overcome these evil thoughts.
Hitting the ground behind the ball on a short shot is caused by one or any combinations of the following:
The leading edge of the wedge sticking in the ground
An early release with a closing face
Swaying off the ball
A path that is too inside-out (too far from the inside)
But as I noted, every tour player and coach KNOWS this all too well. The same player who once chipped in from behind the 16th green at Augusta with a Green Jacket on the line yipped some sticky chips last week. To me, that is not rust or a mechanical problem; it’s a mental one. I would like some professional psychologist or mind-discipline expert to chime in to advise all of us on how to overcome this problem. It’s easy enough to say: “Forget about it, stay present, play the shot at hand only.” But that seems almost impossible, or at the very least, difficult to do. “Don’t think about yipping this shot” is almost a sure fire way to do just that. It’s a vicious cycle.
If it’s on Tiger’s mind, the rest of us are in big trouble. Let’s hope Chamblee is wrong, but I have to wonder. Remember the down time in golf far exceeds any other game. We are on the golf course 4+ hours, and in the act of swinging a club a total of only about two minutes. The rest of the time is thinking about swinging the club, and the outcomes. And unfortunately what we usually think about is the WORST shot we have hit in a situation, not the best. And when that shot is a short, chip from a tight-lie, well, that’s when the yips resurface.
The mechanical is correctable, but the mental is long-lasting.