Allow me to be the millionth person to comment on the state of the great Tiger Woods’ short game. Specifically, I wanted to make a few quick comments on what many of the “TV Experts” have determined to be a potentially fatal affliction—the yips.
I have most often heard of the yips in reference to putting. One of, if not the biggest performance drop-off in golf as professional players age, comes through putting. For whatever reason, and many have been given through research conducted by experts within the various disciplines of Kinesiology, putting performance shows the steepest regression in performance as we age. For a recent example that comes to mind, go back and watch the putt Tom Watson had on the 18th hole at Turnberry in the 2009 British Open. It’s difficult to concisely articulate the visible defection you are able to see in that putt, but something apparent in that putting stroke is apprehension. That apprehension, or hesitation to complete the entirety of the motion, has a cyclical relationship with your confidence in being able to make the putt.
It goes something like this: you aren’t confident that you can make the putt, so you are nervous, which makes you more aware of every movement involved in hitting the putt, which takes an action that should be automatized and turns it into something you are trying to control. Then, you miss the putt, which further diminishes your confidence and makes you think about your putting stroke even more than before. It’s a vicious cycle, one not too unfamiliar to those of us who don’t hold a PGA Tour card, but that is what makes it so bazar to see in someone as accomplished as Tom Watson—or in this current case, Tiger Woods.
Tiger’s chipping and pitching issues are unquestionably tied into what he has repeatedly said in interviews—changing his “pattern” from what it was with previous biomechanics guru Sean Foley to what it was in his best years. I recall hearing Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee at the time when Tiger decided to pair up with Foley express his concern with Tiger deciding to adopt the fundamentals of his new full swing into his short game. Simply put, Tiger took his swing from wide/shallow to very, very steep. How that affects his short game is in the release of the club, which is a huge part of how you feel where the bottom of the arc of your swing is.
So fast forward to 2015, Tiger is shifting back to his old ways, and has no clue where the bottom of his pitching/chipping stroke will be for any one given swing. You don’t have to be an expert to understand how that isn’t exactly fantastic for your confidence. If you need visual proof of his insufficient confidence to hit even the most standard of pitch shots, go watch highlights from his two rounds at the Waste Management Open. He chooses to hit certain shots around the greens that are not even in the realm of consideration for most people—and not in a good way—all because he doesn’t believe he can find the bottom of his swing and hit the required pitch shot (see 4-Iron putt/chip from 5+ yards off an elevated green).
More importantly, and really what is being referred to by people who say “Tiger has the yips,” is the loss of atomization in his short game. If you have invested countless hours practicing an action, such as Tiger has with his short game, there shouldn’t be a whole lot of conscious thought that goes into the moment-by-moment sequence of performing that action you’ve practiced. In Tiger’s case, given the extent to which he has struggled with the task of hitting a pitch shot and his lack of confidence doing so, I would argue that the automaticity in Tiger’s short game is all but gone. Instead, to give him the necessary confidence he needs to hit the shot, he is trying to control every single aspect of the swing, which just flat out won’t work, no matter how good you are.
Golf at its best is a sport played by visualizing the shot you want to hit, swinging in a way that you feel will make you execute your vision, and trusting in your ability to do so. A common saying applies here that you’ve likely heard: just play golf, don’t play golf swing. This is what makes Bubba Watson so fantastic to watch and keeps his game relatively consistent. For us mortals, it is incredibly difficult to A) actually just perform without thinking about the movements of a swing; and B) have enough confidence in your ability to do so and just go with it.
Think about this—when’s the last time you sat down to tie your shoes and went step-by-step. Unless you developed an unhealthy appreciation for the long lost fad of Velcro shoes (if so, seek help), you have tied your shoes, without thinking, for almost the entirety of your life. You don’t think about it, you just do it. That, for the time being at least, is precisely what Tiger cannot do with his short game—just do it (swoosh….see what I did there?). Until Tiger is able to just hit the pitch shot, without trying to control everything in his motion, he is likely to continue looking like us mortals.