Articles and Interviews

AKA, musings about golfing and golf courses in Oregon

The Yips

I have a good friend and great golfing buddy who is a pretty good golfer (he can shoot his age). Many years ago, he started to putt erratically. A change to a one-handed putt seemed to do the trick (and he was pretty good at it). But then when he had to chip, his arms would noticeably recoil into his body just before impact, causing him to blade the ball. It was hard to watch, and he became very frustrated.

He had a bad case of the “yips.”

The term yips is attributed to Tommy Armour, the Silver Scot, winner of three majors. But many other terms have been used, such as twitches, staggers, jitters, jerks, freezing, the waggles, and whisky fingers. It affects athletes in multiple fields, and is said to affect about 40 percent of golfers. Professional golfers who have been seriously afflicted by the yips include Harry Vardon, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Ian Baker-Finch, Ernie Els, David Duval, Padraig Harrington, Benhard Langer, Kevin Na, and Keegan Bradley.

The yips are defined as a sudden and unexplained loss of the ability to execute certain skills. Symptoms include any or all of the following occurring anywhere in the body: freezing up, spasms, tremors, twitching, and physiological distress. (Often psychological distress – anxiety, fear, stress – will be added and increased as you try the affected motion again.) Generally, symptoms occur right before the moment of impact and can affect distance, direction, or both. The yips are most easily seen in putting or the short game, but it is evident (and may occur more often) in longer swing motions up to and including driving.

Maybe because how frustrating the yips can be, it has been recognized as a serious affliction. It has been seriously studied by multiple well-recognized institutions and people, including the National Institute of Health, the Mayo Clinic, and hundreds of scientists. There have been studies of the yips done all over the world, including the US, England, Japan, and Denmark. There are multiple books and lots and lots of videos on what causes the yips and how to cure it.

But there is still uncertainty about its sources and cures.

The Mayo Clinic (one of the top-ranked research hospitals in the nation) reports that the yips are related to a neurological condition: the overuse of specific muscles causing a type of focal or task-specific dystonia (a condition that causes involuntary muscle contractions during a specific task). The Mayo Clinic and several studies conclude that the yips tend to be associated with more mature golfers and golfers with greater experience and lower handicaps. (That’s right, the more you play, the better you get, the more susceptible you are.) Per the Clinic, anxiety worsens the effect.

Because it is at least neurologically based, the yips is not choking, which is solely caused by acute anxiety and stress. On the other hand, the yips can be present whether the yipper is nervous or not. Some researchers see the addition of anxiety as contributing to a spectrum of severity. For example, in P Clarke, D Sheffield, S Akehurst, “Personality Predictors of Yips and Choking Susceptibility,” Frontiers in Psychology, Jan. 20, 2020 (the Clarke/Sheffield Article), the researchers suggest three different categories of yips: muscle spasms or freezing, performance anxiety and psychological symptoms, and muscle spasms and performance anxiety. Another study concluded that the yips is a neuromuscular impediment aggravated but not caused by anxiety, and that the yips represent a continuum where choking (anxiety-related) and dystonia symptoms are the extremes. A M Smith , S A Malo, E R Laskowski, M Sabick, W P Cooney 3rd, S B Finnie, D J Crews, J J Eischen, I D Hay, N J Detling, K Kaufman, “A Multidisciplinary Study of the ‘Yips’ Phenomenon in Golf: An Exploratory Analysis,” Sports Medicine, December 2020. So, unless you have ice in your veins, getting the yips causes a negative feed-back loop: you miss the shot, you get anxious and frustrated and miss the shot again, increasing the symptoms and how deeply the problem is ingrained.

As noted above, older, better, and more experienced golfers are more likely to experience the yips. But there may be other indicators as well. David Own, in a May 19, 2014, article in The New Yorker, “The Yips,” reported that golf research and teaching heavyweights Christian Marquardt, Marius Filmalter, and Hank Haney believe that there may be a genetic component to the yips. David Grand in his article “Cure for the Yips,” Psychotherapy Network, November/December 2015, stated that “often the root of the problem will be traced to traumatic experiences.” Teaching pro Bhrett McCabe in his videos suggests a source of a pre-existing mechanical flaw that surfaces with a stressor.

If you have watched the movie Tin Cup (and if you have not, you should), the cure for the yips is simply putting your change in the other pocket (and double tying your shoe, and turning your visor around, and putting a tee behind your left ear). But, of course, the yips is serious and it takes a serious approach to address it. There are lots and lots of purported cures out there. What one believes is causing the yips will guide the direction of the suggested cure. The Mayo Clinic, who seems to focus on the overuse of specific muscles as a primary contributor, suggests a change of technique or equipment. Its suggested changes include:

    • Grip change, because it changes the muscles used to make the putting stroke (go to claw, pencil, reverse grips; like my friend did).
    • Equipment change, to use different muscles (go to long putters that use more arms and shoulders and less hands and wrists; like Bernhard Langer did switching to long-shafted putters).
    • Change of focus during the stroke (look at the hole when you putt instead of the ball or even closing your eyes; like Johnny Miller did placing a red spot just below his grip to focus on).
    • Change of mental preparation just before the stroke (go to techniques of relaxation, visualization, or positive thinking).
    • Drugs. I was surprised by this suggestion, but the Clinic suggests benzodiazepines (relaxants or depressants such as Valium), baclofen (skeletal muscle relaxants such as Lioresal), and anticholinergic (neurotransmitter blocker such as Clozaril), and propranolol (to slow down heart beat). The Clinic also suggests “a careful” botulinum toxin injection into the muscles that are overacting to help limit muscle contractions. (Note, alcohol is not listed here. The yips does not provide one with an excuse to increase drinking on the course.)

Most of these (including botox injections) are also recommended in the Clarke/Sheffield Article. Most articles/videos I have reviewed recommend one or a combination of the above (except drugs). See, eg, J. Sens, “Can Putting with a 5-Iron Help Beat the Yips,”, January 13, 2018 (quoting Mr. Filmalter’s suggestion to use a 5-iron, go barefoot, touch the dirt, get grounded); the blog from Keiser University College of Golf; and videos from teaching pro Todd Kolb.

Mr. Haney and various other researchers focus primarily on changes in hitting style (including grip and focus changes). See, eg, Haney, Hank and Rudy, Matthew, Fix the Yips; the First and Only Guide You Need to Solve the Game’s Worst Curse, Gotham, 2006; Y Gon, D Kabata, S Kawamura, M Mihara, A Shintani, K Nakata, and H Mochizuki, “Association of the Yips and Musculoskeletal Problems in Highly Skilled Golfers: A Large Scale Epidemiological Study in Japan,” Sports (Basel), May 21, 2021.

However, you also have researchers concluding that mechanical changes may not help at all. D Abraham, “What Causes the Yips? This study might help reveal the answers,”, May 8, 2021 (changes in putting style may not help at all); N. Saleh, “When Athletes Get The ‘Yips’,” Psychology Today, July 24, 2023 (treatments for the yips are not evidence-based and instead rely on anecdotal accounts).

And then you have psychotherapist David Grand who sees a core cause of the yips as being a prior traumatic experience. His suggested treatment is brainspotting; a therapeutic approach that accesses emotional and somatic areas deep in the brain, It focuses on eye gaze and body awareness to access and process traumatic memories that may be difficult to bring to consciousness. In brainspotting, spots in the visual field are found that trigger emotionally intense memories. Once located, clients are guided to maintain a gaze on these spots while mindfully observing their internal experience. Greater details on this treatment can be found in Grand, David, Brainspotting, Sounds True, 2013.

Did you know that one of the leading teaching golf pros focused on curing the yips is based out of Quail Valley Golf Course, west of Portland?

Jim Waldron has been a teaching pro for over 31 years. He started specializing in curing the yips in 2010. Since then, he has been dubbed the “Yips Whisperer.” He combines a deep knowledge of the Western mechanics of a golf swing (think Hogan, Nelson, and Snead), with Eastern psychological insights (think Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Suziki-Roshi). Golfers from all over the world seek yips relief from him and more golfers may seek treatment from him than any other source. Although he works mostly with golfers, he has also successfully treated athletes from many other sports. He states a 99 percent cure rate when working in-person and a 92 percent cure rate when working remotely.

Jim Waldron

I was fortunate to talk with Jim about his program. (A great interview with Jim by Karl Morris in Mr. Morris’s podcast, “The Brain Booster” can be found here.) Although Jim sees dystonia is a factor that causes the yips, he believes that a lack of confidence (often combined with a high degree of fear) is the primary contributor. The lower the confidence and higher the fear, the worse the condition. As noted above, this can cause a negative loop: fear starts out as fear of a bad shot, but then also becomes fear of the yips and loss of control. Each individual may have additional factors that contribute to the yips, which might suggest slight changes in the approach to a cure.

Once the yips has settled into your game, Jim sees the yips as a bomb, with fuse and fuel. The fuse is the mechanics when they go slightly wrong. The fuel includes a lack of confidence (lack of self-esteem) and fear (of one or many things caused by a fear of a poor result). His belief is that simply changing mechanics or focus can help short-term, but not provide a long-term solution. He therefore addresses the yips by combining four basic strategies: address the negative emotions; learn to better focus the mind; re-set and maintain a pre-shot routine; and, possibly, make minor mechanical adjustments.

For addressing the negative emotions and helping with better focus, he will often have clients purposefully manifest their yips and play badly (on the range and then on the course with other golfers). The goal is to decouple emotions around how you perceive yourself, how you think others perceive you, and what you score from what the golf ball does. Changes in grip and mechanics can also be brought in, as can multiple types of meditation.

Jim’s program is lengthy and rigorous. After a 30-minute intake interview, it generally starts with a two-and-a-half-day intensive session. It’s not a quick fix (but then, as discussed above, the yips is a serious affliction warranting a serious response). If you want to contact Jim, you can at .

I have done a bit of research on the yips, but I am sure that what I have seen and read is not even a sizable fraction of what is available. But from what I have read and watched, it seems that most researchers, pros, and commentators believe that the yips are both neurological and physiological, that it gets worse if not addressed quickly, and that cures are based on change (some internal, some external).

I will not suggest a cure, because not having gone through a treatment, I don’t know. But what I do know is if you start experiencing freezing up, spasms, tremors, twitching, or the like, don’t wait. Don’t ignore what is going on. Don’t beat yourself up and fall deeper into despair. Don’t self-medicate. It’s gonna get worse the longer you wait and the more you try to fight it. The yips is a serious condition that should be taken seriously (from an athletic performance standpoint). Go talk to someone, whether it be your doctor or a pro, and try to identify and start to address the issue(s). Quick fixes may not be the answer, but quickly starting on a recovery plan is.

Life is too short. You should enjoy playing golf every time you play.