Graeme Clarke homepage
Call Today: (03) 348-5595

What helped to beat the Putting Yips

Comments Off on What helped to beat the Putting Yips

1. The Yips experience

I am now six years free of the putting yips. I had ‘suffered’ the Yips for over seven years.

The problem was gradually fixed. I recall in November 2014 being two months free of the Yips, and now six years on they remain a distant memory. Not a great problem to have, as I’m a Clinical and Sport Psychologist.

The sympathy, encouragement and suggestions, from my golf mates were considerable and genuine. I was going to write a book ‘Trying to beat the Yips, 10001 tips from my golf mates’. No matter what I did, including trying the well intentioned advice, the dreaded yips seemed forever with me.

As a Sport Psychologist I was highly familiar with all the Mental preparation, Peak Performance State, being ‘In the zone’, positive self-talk, cue words, slowed breathing, but over the ball although saying all the right things, the Yips habit persisted.

Generally my golf mates were hugely supportive, but when they struggled to even watch me putt it was a challenge. There was creative banter, even the opposition shaking hands on the game before I was lining up to sink a two footer on the 18th. At times the putts were so comical, on one occasion I eight putted from three feet, got to be in the Guinness record book. I could have nudged the ball into the hole with my toes.

I came close to giving the game up several times, I had always been a reasonable putter. The Yips developed when my vision deteriorated and the Glasses I required made it difficult to read close putts.

Missing a few putts and the self-doubts set in, and the Yip stroke developed, the panicky stroke seemed to have a life of it’s own. I went through ten Putters, of course it was the Clubs fault. I had hours and hours of lessons, and some great tips.

At times I would putt like a champion on the practice green, then under the game pressure, if tired or stressed the bizarre Yip dance, with it’s staccato, jerky movements emerged. Or worse when everything was going smoothly, stress free, a beautiful day, bang, there it was. And associated with this movement was a complete lack of confidence in the stroke, a dramatic deceleration, or no timing at all.

A six feet putt would move a foot, or a quick jerk to ensure the ball got to the hole would end up well beyond the hole, or nowhere reading the line or break, and on occasions I would double hit the ball.

Fear is a beautifully efficient emotion, equips us humans as it needs to, for danger, but at times gets to be totally in the wrong time and place

I changed by realising that technically I needed to do something different, my dominant right wrist seemed to spontaneously move like an uncontrollable flick. Even just thinking about my right wrist seemed to create feelings of tension in that wrist. Ultimately, I realised that this physical glitch was the source of the problems that followed. The right-handed flick had become the habit that needed to change.

Everything else, the fear, misreads, deceleration, pushed putts, feeling as if my head was somewhere else, evolved, as there was no confidence to technically believe I could hold the Club steady through the stroke.

2. The Technical change, Non dominant side focus, and the Claw Grip

After eight years of trying everything what eventually helped, almost by chance was the claw grip. Learning this grip helped take the focus away from the dominant hand, to a firmer left sided grip, wrist and arm to initiate and lead the stroke. I focused on a certain grip pressure with my left hand, wrist and arm and maintained this (for me 6/10, 0=no pressure, 10= firm pressure) and with the right hand very light (1/10).

Many pundits advised just using the shoulders during the stroke, but the shoulders seemed miles away from me, and it was easier to focus on the firm left wrist and this ‘bracing’ the left arm, and the shoulder movement followed. The focus on the firmer left hand and arm helped to ‘quiet’ the right hand. Focusing on the left sided led stroke was workable.

It was just a huge relief to ’stay down’ on the putt, ‘stay with’ the stroke. The feeling was amazing. I know when I achieved a non yip stroke over several rounds’ I felt like punching the air. It was fascinating because the left focus enabled a focus of attention where my right hand was taken out of the yip equation, was it that simple?

Of course, I didn’t let my golf mates know too soon as there was always that chance the Yips would return. And initially on occasions there was the odd ‘moment’ but generally the firm left focus allowed me to not flick the right hand, to feel firm holding the club, and learn to trust the movement of the left led arm and hand.

I focused on just maintaining that left sided focus, and the rocking V shoulder movement followed. In essence the stroke was a shoulder movement but braced and led by the left side. I gradually became more confident. With that confidence the sudden jerk and movement of the right hand, happened less and less.

It is interesting but now, in 2020, six years on, I hold the club with far less pressure, 2-3/10 on the left hand and ‘side’ (upper arm into the chest) and 1/10 with the right side. It’s less Claw but continues to be left side dominant, the right hand gently sitting just below the  left hand, the shoulders moving together.

Over time the confidence was there to lower the pressure in the grip, and create an efficient one piece left side dominant led movement.

3. Putting stroke is mostly Muscle Memory

The next step was the chance to work on the feel of the stroke. When the yips are rampant the mind is always anticipating, and the focus is visually dominant, trying to get to the hole, or avoid missing the ball. We know that in putting we use only the visual part of our mind to work out the line and the breaks, then ultimately the Putt is Muscle memory. It’s to do with the feel.

So when reading the putt, yes first visually pick the line, aim at a spot where the break may be, or a spot to assist with the line, the ‘eye hand coordination’, and then ‘feel’ the distance, relax, come into the present, and learn to trust the muscle memory. There are ways of measuring the muscle memory ‘feeling’.  The muscle memory dimensions include feeling such as rhythm, pace, balance , timing, flow. Use words like gentle, soft, firm, smooth…

4. Some Cues that helped reinforce the Muscle Memory stroke

I found some cues or prompts helpful to keep an awareness of the muscle memory focused stroke. A Website came up with steps ‘look, focus, stroke and listen’.

The ‘listen’ was really helpful, affirmed staying with the feel of the stroke. I’d pick the line, focus on the feel, and that feeling of ‘willing’ (not thinking) the putts movement with the pace I wanted.

Initially my ‘Set up’ prompts included; My left foot square to the target, firm left hand with the back of my hand towards the target line, a confidence booster to maintain the left focused stroke,
and Stay Still.

The LFSL acronym for me was:

  • Look Where the ball is directed e.g. the point on the green of break, speed, direction
  • Focus On the feel of the stroke required e.g. gentle, the length of the movement, the release,
  • Stroke Positive, Firm, Smooth
  • Listen To where the ball finishes

I came up with a riddle to help remember the cues, “Lumberjack Fellows Study Logs”. A bit corny but plenty of reminders amongst all the trees on most courses.

The yips is about fear, a habit, we learn to anticipate, waiting for the worst to happen. My right hand, and wrist had become so sensitised, it was like a kindling effect, it sparked and fired. The left and right sides seemed in competition. The eyes had become the dominant pathway, looking for what was happening next, playing into the anxiety, anticipating. When more relaxed we create the chance to remain more in the now, the vision provides the information for reading the putt, and the stroke focus is then on the ‘feel’.

The LFSL acronym became the standard Pre Set-up stroke sequence, I began to smile when the putts went in, reward myself for the stroke, and the ‘performance’ or process goal. As the confidence grew it became easier to not only stroke but putt from the middle of the putter.

I still stand over the putter and at times that tension is there, and now and again the putt may be a bit snappier. But mostly there is confidence that if I focus on the LFSL cues, I retain a positive, smooth stroke.

Putt with your ears, stay in the moment. The rhythm is solid, not too quick, not too slow, positive, firm.

5. Growing the Muscle Memory confidence

There are heaps of ways to hone and build that muscle ‘sense‘ awareness. The visual path is about picking and thinking about the line and break. Once you do this, pick a point on the green then the stroke is about feel, not thought. Lots of opportunities to practice how we to build awareness and confidence in our muscle memory.

Let’s pick some activities to practice;

Imagine a dart being thrown.
You see the target and trajectory, then you ‘feel’ the throw.
Not a thought, it’s the feel, yes work on firstly ‘accuracy’(visual) the trajectory towards the target, where the dart is moving towards.
Then focus on the movement (Muscle memory) the pace, speed, rhythm, release…what words help, soft, smooth, firm.
Also keep the stance still, and aim to remain relaxed and positive, hold the feeling, and listen.
The muscle ‘feel’ is the key to the movement.

Imagine rolling a ball down a hill
Where you would like the ball to stop.
Pick the required speed, the target landing spot (visual), and then ‘feel’ the speed, the release again with a firm, positive, relaxed movement.
Same applies throwing a ball uphill to land on a platform.
Where to land the ball, what trajectory, what feel’.
Hold that feeling and listen to the ball landing.

Opening a door, closing a door, rocking a bassinet, a handshake, releasing a frisbee…
How gentle, how firm, the pace, speed, rhythm, softness, release.
Work on ‘feeling’ the movement, that is natural but firm, relaxed, positive.
Close the eyes, your memory moves into ‘muscle feel’ and release, hear the outcome.

Then work to apply this to your putts.

Shorter putts firmer, to the back of the hole. Longer putts ‘see’ the line, gauge the speed of the green (and any up or down, lateral movement) and where any break may come, then feel the movement that will create this, listen.

Practice from all distances and lies, and remember the greens can change in pace through the day. Learn to trust the muscle memory, it is what has worked for you in so many activities Like throwing a ball, hugging, turning a page, pressing keys on your computer or other apps, riding a bike…

We have this muscle memory in truckloads. It’s just learning to trust it with a putter in hand, stroking a ball 1.68 inches in diameter towards a circular hole 4 and a half inches in diameter

No problem. 😐

So there are several key approaches that can help dampen and remove the Yippy transgressor. After all, the Yip movements has been part of us trying it’s best to help us, but now deserves a rest.

To summarise so far;
a. Strengthen and trust your non dominant side to lead the putting stroke. Leave the flicky limb in a support, understudy role

b. Build awareness of the muscle memory and how you measure the ‘feel’ of an action. Dimensions such as speed, smooth, release, soft, light. The visual path allows the Road Map the stroke follows.

c. Use cue words to affirm the ‘feel’ of the stroke. Like the LFSL acronym

6. Mental Performance approaches, using the Science of Psychology

The confidence around the Putting stroke can also be enhanced by understanding some Science. A vast body of literature exists devoted to understanding our Mental state when we perform well, and strategies to promote this state.

With all Sport Performance, in all codes, the aim is to create a ‘Peak Performance State’(PPS) during the moments that count i.e. in golf, swinging or stroking the club. This state is about being relaxed, alert, positive and ‘in the now’.

In this state we perform at our best. The aim is to consistently identify and create this state (PPS). Then you work out what distracts you from the PPS, and learn to use a range of strategies that help to remain in, or move back into this state. Distractions are many and varied e.g. course conditions, opponent playing well, a poor shot, comments from your mates, a shank, a flicky wrist….

The strategies to help manage the distractions include; Cue words (already mentioned), Relaxation approaches e.g. Breathing techniques, Meditation, Mindfulness, challenging unhelpful thoughts (called Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), Imaginal rehearsal, Positive imagery, using Attentional Grids, and the highly recommended Process goals (rather than Outcome goals). It is also recommended to develop a consistent Pre- Shot routine. The Pre- shot routine involves the Mental Management and Performance cues i.e. Posture and grip, reading of the break and pace, remaining relaxed and present, using the LFSL cues to stay down on the putt, to help ‘feel’ the stroke and listen.

The Mental Performance strategies are mainly based on common sense, and are well established researched tools that help us understand, and promote consistency in our Mental Performance. There is lots to learn from these Science based approaches and are covered in greater detail in a separate module, or plenty of sites On- Line.

6. Reflections

It’s fascinating but when Yippy it’s like the ‘mind’ was ‘partially present’ unable to stay with the stroke.

There was no certainty what the hands were going to do. You live in anticipation of the Yip.

I am now writing this in 2020, and the Yip reaction and associated fear is thankfully a distant memory.

But I totally sympathise when I see a golfer struggling, hopefully some of these approaches, which changed my Yip experience, will be helpful.

Keep it simple.

Work on the non-dominant sided stroke, allow the dominant hand to play a gentle supportive role.

Practise and Trust the Motor Memory, and Listen.

Identify the cues, and learn strategies that help to maintain a positive, relaxed and present state.

Build those cues and steps into a consistent Pre-Shot Routine. Expect lapses, trust the process, and leap for the sky when it works. 😐


Posted In: putting yips, Uncategorized
  • Unit 10, 35 Riccarton Road
    Christchurch 8011
    New Zealand

    Phone: (03) 348 5595