Golf putt yips

4 tips to beat the yips

The Yips: What Are They and How Can You Overcome Them?

It's actually a mental problem that becomes so severe that your brain can no longer control the muscles. Just before I hit the ball while chipping, a hiccup or startle movement would occur. I couldn't sleep anymore; at 3 a.m., I would be out of bed practicing that chip motion. During training, there is no pressure. The yips really occur under pressure, the stress of performing at that one crucial moment in a competition. I just couldn't do it; I would simply miss the ball. When it happened once or twice in a row, eventually I started to feel ashamed of what I was showing as a professional.

Golf putt yips

What are the yips exactly?

The yips in golf is a sudden, often inexplicable motor disorder that usually affects golfers around chipping or putting. It manifests as involuntary, spasmodic movements, muscle tremors that hinder a smooth and controlled stroke. From amateurs to professionals, any golfer can suffer from this disorder. It is not only a well-known problem in golf but also in the world of darts, where it is referred to as dartitis.

Task specific dystonia

The yips in golf is a form of task-specific dystonia. This means that the movement disorder only occurs with one specific type of muscle tension. There is a disruption in the signals that go from the brain to the muscles. This disruption in signals manifests as an abnormal movement or an abnormal posture of one body part. This movement is often twisting or spasmodic and follows the same pattern repeatedly.

What are the causes of yips?

There are several theories about the causes of the yips. Neurological, biomechanical, and psychological causes are put forward as explanations. The most obvious explanation is that it is a combination of the factors below. We will focus on psychological causes.


Psychological cause

In football, basketball, or cycling, mistakes can be made during the match that are easily fixable and have no major impact on the final result. The focus required to achieve the best possible score varies. You are constantly shifting focus, taking into account opponents, game situations, yourself, etc.

Golf, as well as darts, archery, and pool billiards, are different in that sense. Here, you are always playing against yourself, and the focus required is extremely precise. Every distracting thought, every millimeter off, every movement, and every feeling can result in not achieving a perfect score or performing below your potential. This means that all pressure, stress, and tension accumulate until the one moment of ultimate focus and performance. Much can go wrong there.


Results oriented focus

This way, a golfer may start worrying about the outcome of his swing just before hitting the ball. “What will they think of me,” “I just need to hit the ball well,” “I can’t afford to mess up now,” “If I don’t hit it well now, I can forget about the tournament.” These are some examples of thoughts that increase the pressure and decrease performance. This can be a cause of exacerbating mental blocks and physical disturbances.

Focus on technique

Another possibility is placing an exaggerated focus on executing the technique, causing the movements to become strained. More frustration can be the result, and here too, an exacerbation of the dystonia may be imminent.

4 tips to beat the yips

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome the yips. These sport psychological mental trainings require time and attention, but will eventually bear fruit. It often involves regaining confidence or rewiring neural pathways in the brain to bypass or break through the disturbances.

1. Visualisation

The most effective method in reducing the yips is likely the so-called kinesthetic visualization. Unlike normal visualization, in kinesthetic visualization, you actually let your body and muscles perform the movements. Visualization involves playing a specific movement, situation, or scenario in real time. By doing this, you are creating pathways in your brain and essentially training without physically training. With kinesthetic visualization, you can also physically engage your body in this process, adding an extra layer of effectiveness.

Visualisatie golf yips

2. Instructive self talk

There are two types of self-talk: positive self-talk and instructional self-talk. With positive self-talk, you aim to motivate yourself when you’re struggling and need to push through. Instructional self-talk focuses on the technique, providing yourself with instructions while hitting the ball.

‘Stay focused on the ball’ is an example of instructional self-talk.

‘Relax your shoulders, don’t grip too hard.’ Is another

Performing your pre-routine can also take the form of instructional self-talk, where you repeat each step to yourself. Checking off each minimal task boosts confidence to execute the next one, and the next, until you have putted or chipped. It’s also a good idea to write this out in advance as a step-by-step plan.

3. Mantras

Mantras are in a way similar to self-talk, but they are shorter and act as a kind of cheat sheet for self-talk. They often succinctly express what you want to focus on during a movement, action, or decision. 
By doing this, you simplify the complexity of a golf swing and package it into one simple word or phrase, allowing you to rely on your automatic, learned movements.

Examples include: stay calm, light as a feather, deep breathing, relax, powerful.

4. Circles of attention

Attention circles can ultimately help in maintaining the right focus. The goal? Stay in circle 1 and focus on your task. Everything else is noise and distraction and you don’t want to be dealing with it while putting or chipping. This only adds extra pressure and is not helpful.

Our task is to get the ball into the hole, and with attention circles, you ask yourself how? It’s not more than that. The problem here is that this task becomes much harder to perform under stress and tension, and attention often shifts to one of the other circles.

A good exercise is to challenge yourself to intercept thoughts from other circles 5 times during a match or qualifier and bring yourself back to task focus. If you succeed 5 times, try it 10 times, and then 20 times. This way, you gradually reduce the perceived pressure and stress, and the effect of the yips will diminish under pressure.

Yips golf attention focus
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Did you find this interesting? My name is Lex Ligtenberg, MSc. Sport and Performance Psychologist, and I help ambitious poker players and athletes with their mindset. As a passionate amateur poker player, I discovered during my master’s that the processes and skills applicable in the world of elite sports are exactly the same as those that can be used at the poker table. Winning poker players are focused on delivering top performance both at the tables and during their studies. This realization led me to focus on providing individual guidance to both poker players and ambitious athletes who are ready to take the next step in their careers!


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