Nobody likes them. Everybody hates them. If they get too serious they can be the final nail in a golfer’s coffin. And at the moment, they’re fairly prominent in the world of golf.

I am of course talking about the yips.

As a sufferer of the darned things, I almost shudder at the word. I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one too and soon enough, as long as the majority of onlookers (both informed and not) are correct in their assessment that arguably the world’s best ever golfer is now suffering from the dreaded curse, Tiger Woods will feel the same.

Tiger recently announced that he will take an indefinite break from golf because his “play, and scores, are not acceptable for tournament golf.” It’s been hard to watch arguably the best to ever play the game doing a darned good impression of a weekend golfer playing in a monthly medal, and it’s hard to argue with Woods’ assessment of the current state of his game.

While we’re all aware he’s working through yet another swing change, this time under the supervision of “swing consultant” Chris Como, it’s not been his errant driving and loose iron shots that have worried Tiger fans over the course of his appearances at TPC Scottsdale and Torrey Pines.

It’s been the shocking state of his short game.

Tiger’s short game woes first came to light at the Hero World Challenge in December – Take away the 9 or 10 shots he dropped due to duffed chips etc and he wouldn’t have finished a million miles off 2nd place – Jordan Speith was on another planet that week!

Now…Tiger would have us believe that he’s “stuck in between patterns” and that he “can’t find a consistent bottom” due to his new swing being more shallow. However the dreaded “Y” word has been bandied about by many and it’s hard to argue with that assessment.

How else would one of the most skilful, sublime and seemingly pressure-proof short game in the history of golf so suddenly dive bomb, reducing Tiger to using a putter from spots around the greens from in the previous 18 odd years of his sparkling PGA Tour career, it wouldn’t even enter his head to do so?!

Remember this? Tiger’s chip in during the 2005 Masters is just one of countless incredible short game shots that it is hard to imagine tiger hitting now, considering the current state of his short game.

The yips seem to be a reasonable explanation to Tiger’s short game woes but what exactly are they?

Many golfers who’ve never experienced the yips (you lucky sods!) are naysayers, and scoff at the idea that there’s an actual condition that makes a golfer uncontrollably twitch and jerk live they’ve got a live snake in their hands whenever they pick up the offending club in question.

Most simply assume that “yipping” is a by-product of anxiety, and that these twitchy moments can simply be put down to choking. But look up terms such as Focal Dystonia and you might start having some sympathy for golfers who look like tapping in a 1 foot putt is as stressful as disarming a nuclear bomb!

I won’t go into too much detail because, well let’s be honest, science can be a little boring, but Focal Dystonia, the cause of which is not precisely understood, is basically your brain behaving badly.

When the brain tells a given muscle to contract, it simultaneously silences muscles that would oppose the intended movement. When dystonia strikes, the ability of the brain to control these surrounding muscles is thought to be impaired, leading to a loss of conscious muscle selectivity, “co-contraction” of antagonistic pairs of muscles and eventually, some funky, unwanted movements…a.k.a the twitches!

Focal dystonia is most typically associated with individuals who rely on fine motor skills including musicians & surgeons. Golfers obviously fit the bill too. And the fact that focal dystonia is associated with fine motor skills would explain why chipping and putting are the parts of the game that are more commonly affected.

To make things worse for us twitchtastic golfers, it’s believed that excessive motor training – ie practice! – may contribute to the development of the condition. Focal dystonia is also seen as generally being “task specific”, which would explain exactly why different golfers have different parts of their games damaged and in some cases destroyed by the yips.

Most golfers suffer from the yips while putting. Others though can even develop full swing yips.

Robert Karlsson for instance once stood on the practice range at the Open Championship, less than 24 hours before his opening tee time, and there he remained, unable to even start his backswing. He had been hit with the full swing yips and was forced to withdraw from the tournament. Thankfully, he’s now back playing competitive golf. But that took some considerable time.

Kevin Na is another golfer who, like Karlsson, struggled with full swing yips, even getting to the point where he was shouting at himself during tournament play to “PULL THE TRIGGER!”

Tiger doesn’t have the full swing yips or the putting yips. As I previously stated, the yips are seen to be task specific, and it’s Tiger’s pitching and chipping, of which he once displayed an almost unmatched mastery of, that has gone the way of the twitch.

So can Tiger fix the problem?

Past examples would suggest that yes he can. Looking at some bad cases of the yips, we can see that they don’t necessarily end a sportsman’s career.

Johnny Miller struggled with putting yips throughout his career but found methods he could employ as “quick fixes” to help him during a round and continued to win long after his prime. Bernhard Langer’s another golfer who got all twitchy on the greens and found a way to continue playing at the highest level. He’s now dominating on the Senior circuit.

Tiger continued to struggle around the greens during his two rounds at TPC Scottsdale. He would shoot his worst score as a professional (82) during his second round.

Golfers who don’t fully understand the yips – mainly those who are lucky enough not to have experienced them –often assume it is simply a case of nerves getting the better of the golfer in question. Various studies suggest though, that the yips are more a neurological problem than a psychological one.

Debbie Crews (Chair of the World Scientific Congress of Golf) and Charles H. Adler (Professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale) are two leading voices on the topic and following extensive studies, they believe that while most cases of the yips probably do have some sort of psychological element to them, ultimately, the cause will be more deeply rooted in neurology.

Like people who suffer from a stammer, the yips are already there, and anxiety or nervousness simply exacerbates the problem.

Tiger Woods has historically had one of the strongest “mental games” on tour and perhaps even the best in history so part of me thinks (and as a Tiger fan, hopes!) he will find a way of combating what on the surface seems to be an attack of the yips.

If we’re going by the word of the very man who coined the term “yips” though, the outlook may not look so good because as Tommy Armour once said, “Once you’ve had ’em, you’ve got ’em.”

I for one (a huge fan of Tiger, the golfer) hope Tiger’s “indefinite break” from golf will allow him to bed in his new swing and give his body time to rest. And I think it will. After all, we’ve all seen Woods make comeback after comeback following injury and swing changes. This issue with his short game though, enters into the unknown.

I for one hope we see Tiger beat the yips – if he does indeed have them of course – and get back to playing good golf. God knows Rory McIlroy could do with the challenge of an in-form Tiger!



The resident golf geek at Your Golf Travel. Have been lucky enough to have travelled far and wide playing golf and if I’m not writing about it at work, you will probably find me hacking it around my local course. Owner of 2 holes in one and some of the most crooked drives you have ever seen!

What's in my bag?
Srixon ZX5 Driver
Srixon ZX7 irons
Srixon ZX 2 iron
Cleveland RTX Zipcore 52 & 56
Cleveland Fullface 60
Odyssey O Works Red #7 putter


  • René says:

    Hello Rory,

    thank you for this refreshingly well researched article about the yips! I’m a biocybernetics researcher and have been involved in the yips-topic for quite some time know. The misconception of yips being solely mental stays tenaciously in the minds of many golfers. There are very few articles like yours who help to communicate a more accurate picture.

    Keep up the great work!

    • Rory says:

      Hello Rene,

      As a sufferer of the yips, I have been curious about the science behind it all for some time and was also sick of people telling me my putting problems were “all in my head”!

      Thanks for taking the time to comment and I hope you enjoy future posts on the 19th hole.


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