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Yips (Golf Yips)

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What is “The Yips”?

Tommy Armour, a Scottish-born professional golfer who is famous for coining the term, said that the yips were “a brain spasm that impairs the short game.”

Armour was describing what later became known as the golf yips, specific to the sport. The broader definition of ‘the yips’ is an involuntary spasm that occurs most commonly when athletes are trying to focus deeply.

Some people have the yips due to a neurological condition affecting specific muscles (focal dystonia).

Studies at Arizona State University have attempted to show that the yips is not anxiety or nervousness — it’s a neurological condition where your arm or wrist muscles are operating against each other at the same time, resulting in a flubbed (golf) shot.

While the technical definition of the yips is referring to a neurological condition, it is commonly accepted among most golfers that ‘golf yips’ can also refer to severe performance anxiety affecting a players game.

While the golf yips can impact all types of golf shots, it is normally associated with the short game. Shots that require more finesse in the fingers, hands, wrists and arms tend to be the worst impacted by the yips. So primarily pitch shots, chip shots, and putts.

On the golf course, this usually translates into previously competent players seemingly forgetting how to make simple shots. Mentioning the term ‘yips’ is generally considered to be bad practice while on the green with other players.

“The Yips” Symptoms

The symptoms associated with the yips are involuntary movements that happen during a live swing at a live ball. This is very different from other types of anxiety like glossophobia (fear of public speaking).

A typical scenario might be where a golfer performs one or two practice swings perfectly fine, only to see the live swing failing to reproduce the movements involved prior.

These symptoms during a short putt might be where a practice swing shows a smooth back and forth motion, but the live putt would see a jerky motion with the wrists flicking. The consequence is often a closing or opening of the club face and/or seeing the ball rolling off quite a distance past the flag.