Does Tiger Woods have the Yips? A GLT Golf examination

Iain Highfield
  • Author: Iain Highfield
  • GLT Director
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Matthew Cooke
  • Author 2: Matthew Cooke
  • GLT Founder
Tiger Woods Chipping

Wow, what a weekend. Tiger Woods is back, and not only was it great to see him in his Sunday red, it was great to see him embrace the challenge of battling some of the world’s best players.

Unfortunately, what was not so great about Tiger’s comeback was having to listen to some of the wild, non-insightful claims about the state of Tiger’s swing and golf game.

One claim that particularly stood out was that Tiger Woods has the chipping yips. Even if this was true, there was absolutely no desire by the journalist who threw out this claim to educate the golf world on what the yips actually are.

So, in an attempt to help the golfing world avoid hanging belief based on the words of a certain journalist, team GLT decided to write a short blog to help golf coaches take an evidenced based approach.

What are the Yips?

Yips is a term used to describe an abrupt, involuntary movement. For a golfer, this would typically occur in the dominant hand. The movements are often described by affected people as stabbing, jabbing, jerking or jolt.

The most likely cause of the yips would be a focal dystonia. A Focal dystonia is a neurological condition that affects a muscle or a group of muscles in a specific part of the body, causing involuntary muscular contractions.

These involuntary movements tend to show up during tasks that require use of highly demanding motor programs, usually involving the control of a delicate set of force parameters, such as chipping or putting in golf. In other words, because of the force of the movement within such small parameters, the brain causes an involuntary Charlie-horse in the shape of a muscle spasm. Musicians and writers are other examples of professions where the yips could be dominant due to the delicate and repetitive nature of the movement, i.e. writing or playing the piano.
 

Tiger Woods Masters

How do they develop?

The exact cause of a dystonia or yip remains unknown, but it is likely that it involves altered nerve-cell communication in several regions of the brain. Research suggests the following can cause a dystonia or yip:

  • Genetics
  • Drug therapy
  • Surgery

As well as the individual’s neurology, there is a large psychological element at play. The self-efficacy of an individual will affect their perceived ability to deal with the demands of a task. A player with low self-efficacy for chipping or putting will be more likely to yip. This doesn’t mean that low self-efficacy is the cause, but that the yip is more likely to detonate in this moment.

 

How can a golfer cure the yips?

 

Again, this is unknown, but science has found ways that they can be managed. Here are some techniques that can be explored with a player who may be suffering from the yips:

 

  • Altering eye fixation, just like Jordan Spieth started to do when playing for the Texas Long Horns 
  • Lock down the impact mechanics (think Sergio Garcia and the claw grip) 
  • Putting or chipping left handed if they were a right-handed player

These solutions will result in the brain having to produce a different and less complex motor program to solve the problem of getting the golf ball into the hole, thus avoiding the involuntary movement being fired.

 

Increasing a player’s self-efficacy for putting or chipping would also help; the perceived demands of the task would be less likely met with a stress resonance, thus reducing the chance of the yip. This can be achieved in many forms of effective practice; however, hitting a high number of balls in a blocked fashion would not be one of them as this could actually fuel the dystonia.

 

So, does Tiger Woods have the chipping yips? Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure. What we do know is that one or two poor strikes when chipping up hill and into the grain is not enough evidence to begin making these claims about a 14-time major champion. Also, suggesting that he needs more reps to cure his technical issues (which are leading to the yips) is very poor message for the golfing world to hear. We know first hand at GLT that block practice is not conducive to the results we want.

 

Tiger, good luck with your comeback. Team GLT is very excited to see you produce the magical short game again that has led to you winning 79 Tour Events.

 

Tiger Woods Golf Swing