The yips are horrible. So much so that golfers don’t like to even say the word. Those of us who have never suffered just can’t appreciate how debilitating they are.
Real yips are a neurological condition, they’re a form of occupational focal dystonia, characterised by involuntary muscle contractions that selectively interfere with the execution of more delicate golf shots, such as putts or finesse shots around the green.
Unfortunately, there’s very little you can do about them, except perhaps for medical treatment or changing something – perhaps trying a long putter or a radically different grip.
The good news, however, is that more than 9 out of every 10 golfers who think they suffer from the yips actually don’t! They just suffer from performance anxiety. This can be just as debilitating, but it’s easily fixed – remove the anxiety, and no more “yips”.
Golfers get anxious because they focus on outcome – on getting the ball in the hole, or on striking the ball well.
Outcome focus is characterised by thoughts like “don’t miss”, “don’t duff it”, “I need this for a birdie”, or “I can’t afford to mess this up”.
To fix this, and to play better golf whether you are anxious or not, you must focus on process, not outcome. You can change this focus easily by changing your definition of success.
Start by “softening” your focus on the ball. With every golf shot, long or short, imagine that the ball is a soap bubble, a ghost. Don’t strike at it, swing through it.
When you use the Quiet Eye technique, you’re focussing your eyes on a point on or near the ball, not the ball object itself, and then letting that focus soften. Never focus your mind on the ball.
Focus on reaching your finish – for a putt that might be swinging the putter head to just outside your left foot (depending on the length of the putt). The “ball bubble” just happens to get in the way of a good stroke.
Did you reach the finish? Success!
Was it a smooth stroke? Brilliant!
We don’t much care if the ball went in the hole or not.
This sounds strange, but think about it. Does focussing on making the putt actually improve the chances of it happening? No, it reduces them!
Your chances are maximised by going through the process. Reading the putt, aiming properly, calming your mind, letting The Player play. Do these things, make a stroke that will send the ball on its way as best you can, and the ball will take care of itself.
You’ll miss a few, sure, we all do. But you’ll make a lot more if you remove the anxiety and tension caused by thoughts of outcome.