Author’s Note: The information contained in this article is perhaps the most important material that I’ve discovered in forty-five years of doing swing research. The majority of golf professionals can move the ball somewhat successfully from the tee. Your ability to score in this game, however, is dependent on what you can do from inside 125 yards. Understanding slack in the spine, and the consequences it has on the short game, is in my opinion, the “missing link” for the development of a great short game. One of the most interesting things that has become apparent to me after many years of study, is that short shots and putts, to be executed at their technically BEST, require an UN-NATURAL posture at address. In my entire golf life, I’ve never heard any player or instructor make that statement, but I can prove to you that it is true. This is why the short game, especially putting, has baffled golfers for more than half a millennium; doing it correctly is completely counter-intuitive! Whether you consider yourself to have the full blown “yips” or not, if you occasionally miss-hit a chip, pitch, or have distance control issues with these shots or putts, this information can change your golf life. By the way, the “yips” have nothing whatsoever to do with age; they occur when you try to hit delicate shots without a solid “core” connection to your hands. Read on – I’ll tell you why!
by David Lee, CEO Gravity Golf, Inc.
In 1971, while playing in the first round of the Texas Open in San Antonio, I stepped up to a dead-flat five-footer for par, and “yipped” the putt fifteen feet past-the-hole! It was as if I had suddenly contracted some terrible virus that had come from who-knows-where, that was affecting my ability to make a smooth, tension free, and under-control stroke with my putter. I was utterly astounded and baffled by what I had just done! Without any hesitation, I turned to my caddie, tossed him the putter, and calmly said “that’ll be all for me today.” It was the only time in my life that I ever walked off the golf course. At that time, I had already been playing golf for twenty-three years (since I was four), and although I had heard the dreaded term “yips” any number of times, I had never experienced the problem firsthand. That shocking moment started me on a journey that lasted forty-three years before it was finally complete. Many times, I believed that I had not only found the cause, but the solution as well. Some things I tried, worked okay for a while, but there was always a lingering-doubt hanging over me, and the uncomfortable feeling that the “virus” might suddenly return, slept nervously in the back of my mind for years.
It is said that you find whatever you’re hunting for, in the last place you look (duh), and after searching the human body for longer than Moses wandered in the desert, in 2015 I finally looked in the right place. I knew it the instant it happened, as clearly as if it were written-in-the-sky! The answer was so simple I could hardly believe it – and it wasn’t some weird claw-grip or extended-length-putter – it was right behind me – in the backbone!
The “yips” take a great deal of fun out of playing our wonderful game, especially if you’re trying to play it for a living! Believe me, however, they can be cured, and far more easily than you could possibly imagine. This malady afflicts individuals doing many different things. Athletes suffer in a number of different sports, with putting woes being the most notorious. To golfers, they are a condition where the hands and wrists flinch, involuntarily, just before the club comes into contact with the ball during a putt, chip, pitch-shot, or sometimes, even a tee-shot. The “yips” have been studied for years by coaches, physicians, and scientists, at institutions around the world, and are generally considered by many to be a mental or neurological problem. While they may indeed work their way into your psyche, the conclusion drawn from my years of research, is that they are caused by mechanical issues in the swing involving the spine. They occur because the brain senses a lack of connection between the core of the body and the arms, right before the moment of impact. When the brain detects “slack” between what should be the primary power source (the body’s core) and the club-head, it will attempt, at the last instant before impact, to eliminate the slack with a tension-increase in the arms, hands, and wrists. When the arms, hands, and wrists tighten involuntarily, the energy flow is partially reversed into the body, and the player will sometimes hit the ball “fat,” or feel that it “explodes” off the club-face. It feels like getting zapped with a “cattle prod,” and is a horrific feeling when you’re trying to apply a soft touch to a putt or chip. This condition afflicts countless players, amateurs and professionals alike, and has driven many great golfers from the game. I give you my solemn promise, that you can eliminate this issue from your game, and that you’ll be rid of it for the remainder of your golf life!
The term “yips” is said to have been coined by the great Tommy Armour, and notable individuals that have been stricken by them include Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Johnny Miller, Bernhard Langer, Vijay Singh, and Ernie Els, to name only a few. The inability to set the down-swing into smooth motion, as we’ve seen in “Sir” Charles Barkley, or difficulty in starting the back-swing, as we have tortuously endured watching professionals such as the late Hubert Green, Sergio Garcia, and Kevin Na, are forms of the “yips.” Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Sam Snead, Gary Player, Lee Trevino, and Chi Chi Rodriguez, have each told me that in their personal opinion, more than 75% of all professional golfers have been plagued by the putting “yips” at some time during their careers.
This is an interesting story and absolutely factual. One day in 1980, I had the opportunity to play golf with the great Gary Player at the then brand-new TPC Stadium Course in Ponte Vedra, Florida, where the Players Championship is annually contested. We were walking down the fourteenth fairway, and began talking about various teachers and individuals who we felt really understood the game. Gary emphatically informed me that without doubt, “Ben Hogan knew more about the golf swing than any-living-human-being.” I quickly informed him that he was full of beans (I cleaned that up). He jumped right back at me and asked in his wonderful South African dialect – “why did you say that, mahn?” My reply was – “how can a man who hits a #1 iron ten-feet from the flag, time-after-time-after-time, but can’t knock the ball in the hole from three-feet, be an authority on handling a golf club?” He looked at me in total seriousness and said – “putting is a different game!” For years I thought he was crazy for making such a statement, but I have since come to realize that in some respects, we make putting a different game, even though it shouldn’t be, in any way, shape, or form!
The first thing golfers do differently when putting and chipping, is to countermand the way our brain instinctively and naturally makes us move. Although we don’t consciously think about it, if we are standing (or sitting) and wish to move from one-place-to-another, we begin the process by allowing some level of collapse or relaxation in the muscles and joints that support-us, so that our core can move out-of-vertical. Once this occurs, gravity helps shift the body to its new position in space, and our limbs move automatically to support it there. We don’t consciously think about the extent to which we utilize gravity to improve our efficiency-of-motion, but we do-it nonetheless. In all probability, the reason we (and many other critters) were created, or evolved, as upright, top-heavy animals, instead of being built like “Jabba the Hut,” is so that we can take-advantage of gravity to help move us from place-to-place, and thereby conserve a tremendous amount of energy. Golfers that move farther off-vertical before they begin the delivery in the down-swing, and allow their arms to start down without flexing them, take full-advantage of gravity in the swing. Freddie Couples has always done this perfectly in a full swing, but sadly, didn’t sense the need to do it with his putter. Properly utilizing gravity, helps these players diminish the internal-effort needed to start the core turning in the delivery, and allows them to swing with less effort than those who stand solidly on their feet and physically force the forward rotation. This is why we see such differing levels of effort in the swings of tour players. Those who swing with less effort, are using gravity more effectively, and creating far less stress on their bodies during the down-swing.
When putting, chipping, and pitching, most players abandon this natural and instinctive way of moving and attempt to keep their core motionless. This forces the power for the shot to come from the shoulders, arms, and hands. In a technically proper short-shot, just as in the full-swing, power for the delivery should come from the ground up, with a turn of the core bringing the arms and club along-for-the-ride. Pushing or pulling the stroke forward with the upper-body, starts the delivery from the top down. This sends some level of energy back into the system, creating a plane-change, and the necessity to compensate in some manner for the ball to move on the intended-line. Athletic movements that are not core-driven, may trigger negative sensations in the brain that contribute to the development of the “yips.” In the following paragraphs, I will explain why slack in the body, specifically in the spine, is the dominant factor that causes the issue. I will also explain how to permanently cure the “yips” by eliminating this damaging slack in putts and short-shots.
As any physician knows, the body has a certain degree of available slack in many of its joints. The slack enables independent movement between our parts, similar to the way couplers do for train-cars. Without slack in the couplers, the engines of a mile-long freight train would have to pull the weight of the entire train from a stopped, or static position. That’s why the train backs up before it goes forwards. Backing it up puts slack in the couplers of each car and allows the engines to engage one car at a time as the train gains momentum moving forwards. Depending on your viewpoint, slack-in-our-joints is a marvelous element of design or evolution in vertebrates. If we are fortunate enough to have been endowed with decent coordination and a sense of rhythm, joint slack allows us to easily do the jitterbug, the jive, and the tango. Without it, we would move around stiffly like Frankenstein. However, when swinging a golf club, especially the putter, slack becomes a huge-potential-liability. In a properly executed full swing, the arms are high enough to provide time during the down-swing, for the turn of the body to remove slack from our system, and smoothly engage and sling the club-head. In a putt, however, this is not always the case. Read the next three sentences carefully – they are very important! With a putt, chip, or short pitch, the back-swing is significantly shorter. This means there is less time for any slack between the core and the arms to be removed before the club-head reaches the ball. If the brain senses that the core (because of the slack) cannot provide adequate power in the down-swing for the ball to easily reach the hole, it triggers an involuntary tightening in the hands, wrists, and arms, to eliminate the slack. This is the flinch reaction that we call the “yips.”
Medical institutions and universities around the world have been studying the causes of the “yips” for a number of years (personally, I’ve been studying them for more than forty). The technical name for the “yips” is focal dystonia, and we’ve attached other colloquial terms like “whiskey fingers,” etc. Electroencephalograms detect a storm of brain activity when a player “yips” a putt that is generally considered to be a neurological issue. My opinion, however, is that nothing is wrong with the brain or nerves whatsoever. The reasoning for that opinion is that the “yips” have plagued some of the healthiest golfers in the history of the game including Sam Snead, Johnny Miller, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh, my good friend Dave Ragan, and many others. What I believe that researchers are actually seeing during an encephalogram of the brain, when a player yips a putt or chip, is a reaction to the sensing of a mechanical-disconnect (slack) between the core-of-the-body and the limb(s) it is trying to move – and the brain is searching frantically for a connection!
Here’s the Solution for Eliminating the “Yips”
These final paragraphs discuss what I consider to be the true cause and cure for the yips, and why short shots and putts require an un-natural posture. This information should be studied very carefully and thoroughly.
When we’re trying to develop proper putting and chipping technique, one of the most difficult areas of slack to detect is in the spine. Because of its great flexibility, the spine possesses the potential for both vertical and rotary slack. When we are standing-normally, our spine is not at its full potential length. There is about a half to three-fourths of an inch of vertical slack-in-our-spine, just from the weight of our head, shoulders, and arms pushing down on it from the force of gravity – and especially on a delicate putt, pitch, or chip, this slack mechanically sets us up for a potential “yip.” When standing over these short shots, although we are totally unaware of it, a natural relaxed posture allows the discs in the spine to be compressed like an accordion on the in-stroke. This can be extremely problematic for proper core connection during the delivery of the club-head to the ball. In the full swing, as I mentioned earlier, there is time in the down-swing for the turn to remove the slack, but because of the shortness of the stroke in delicate, partial back-swing shots, we need to remove the slack when addressing the ball. This can be done by pre-stretching the spine to its maximum length and slightly turning the thorax (the chest) within the shoulder joints, in the direction of the shot, until it engages the shoulders. This will eliminate the slack between the body’s core and arms. If this two-way spine-stretch is maintained throughout the stroke, adequate power can easily and delicately be applied from the body’s core to the club-head, and the impulse to “yip” the shot will immediately go–away. The ball, as it should, will be struck both solidly and softly at the same time. There is great subtlety in doing this properly, but when it happens, the purity of the ball strike is amazing! Once a player begins to feel how to maintain slack-free-connection on short-shots and putts, he/she will quickly gain total control over one of golf’s most dreaded and problematic “diseases.”
If you’re thinking that my explanation for curing the “yips” sounded too simple – it was not! Oftentimes, issues that appear to be the most baffling problems imaginable, carry the simplest solutions. Once you understand that slack in the spine is a natural state-of-being in any standing human, and how it affects a putting stroke, you’ll realize that although the solution is not readily apparent, it is far-from-complicated.
You might find this to be an interesting aside. As people age, they begin to lose the smoothness in their handwriting. Being seventy-four years old, I was beginning to notice that phenomenon in myself some time back. After discovering what caused the “yips,” it occurred to me that a similar thing might be happening when I was writing longhand. When I tried pre-stretching my spine prior to using my pen, my handwriting immediately smoothed out and looked just as it did when I was twenty. Every day that I live in this body, I am more amazed by its complexity, and humbled by all the things we have yet to learn about it.
If the “yips” and other short game issues are taking the fun out of your golf, consider joining us for one of the most informative learning experiences of your life. Our short game schools are two days in length (four hours each day), and will teach you exactly how to practice so that your short game will be the envy of all your golfing associates. Come see us!
This article is excerpted from David Lee’s newest book – Gravity Golf – The Best That I Can Be ISBN 0-9645478
Any reproduction, written or otherwise, without the written permission of Gravity Golf, Inc., is prohibited.
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