The most hated word in golf - yips

By Rex HoggardNovember 29, 2012, 1:39 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – It’s the most hated word in golf.

More so than shank, hook, top - even more than Q-School - where a field of 172 set out on Wednesday in the chilly California desert in the annual quest for job security if not professional validation.

“Ugly word,” Robert Karlsson sighed when asked about the affliction.

In golf circles it is “the word that can’t be spoken” – yips. Even as the cursed word escaped the Swede’s lips one could almost detect a palpable shutter.

Karlsson, you see, has become something of a reluctant expert on the condition that can’t be defined but has torpedoed more pro dreams then Q-School ever could, not that he’s entirely comfortable with the vague notion or its impact on his game.

The Last Q-School: Articles, videos and photos

“What are the yips?” he glares at first when asked if it was what sent him staggering home without putting a peg in the ground at this year’s British Open. But the emotion quickly passes, reason takes hold and he owns it like an alcoholic easing his way through Step 1.

“Yes,” he smiles, “I would say it was (the yips). It was important for me not to characterize it as the yips because there is so much fear in that word.”

And Karlsson knows about fear. It first hit him at the U.S. Open in June. Through 69 holes at The Olympic Club, Karlsson found himself 7 over and vying for a top-10 finish as he approached his ball in the middle of the 16th fairway. From that ideal spot he pushed his second shot some 40 yards right of the green.

“I had a tough chip shot from hardpan and hit perfectly,” Karlsson recalled. “That’s when I knew something was wrong. I stood over the ball for two minutes in the middle of the fairway.”

While with chip shots and putting, Karlsson was as prolific as he’d ever been, but as he closed his week at the U.S. Open he found it increasingly difficult to find the center of the club face.

He struggled through the Travelers Championship the next week but when he arrived at Royal Lytham for this year’s Open Championship he found himself with no more fight. The official reason for his withdrawal, he later tweeted, was because of “some bad habits,” but he would slowly come to accept that it was the yips.

He didn’t play again until the PGA Championship and failed to make the cut in his next three starts. Unlike many who go through a similar slump, Karlsson immediately, if somewhat reluctantly, identified the problem and set about a game plan to fix it.

He began “working” on the problem the Monday after Royal Lytham with the help of his swing coach and two sports psychologist. For Karlsson it was his routine that was broken and to fix that he began hitting chip shots from every tee during practice rounds, going through the same routine he would to hit his driver.

There were signs of life late in the year. He made the cut at the Italian Open and finished tied for 20th at the BMW Masters on the European Tour.

“The first tournament I played with a sort of fluid routine was the second round (at the Wyndham Championship),” he said. “When I started to put together some scores and made the cut in Italy that’s when I was like, ‘Yes, I can still do this.’”

But it was his position on the Tour money list (160th) and a trip to the second stage of Q-School that finally lifted him from the yipping abyss. Where some would be discouraged by such a loss of statue, the 10-time winner on the European Tour and Ryder Cup stable used the Fall Classic as a starting point.

“I’ve had the whole spectrum this year all the way from Augusta to stage two (of Q-School). It’s quite a humbling experience to play stage two,” he said. “It makes you appreciate the success you had before. It feels like a bonus to be back playing. It feels good.”

The real bonus came on Wednesday when he opened with a 6-under 66 at the final stage of Q-School and was two strokes off the lead at the six-day grind. In a round his caddie called perfectly “boring,” Karlsson failed to make a bogey on the Nicklaus Tournament course in his quest to regain Tour status.

The Tour has been reluctant in recent years to award a Comeback Player of the Year trophy, or maybe two-time winner Steve Stricker never gave the chalice back. For the second consecutive year there was not a ballot sent out for the award but if Karlsson continues to play “boring” golf for five more rounds at PGA West it’s hard to imagine a quicker or more compelling comeback from the darkest of places.

A comeback from the dirtiest place in golf – the yips.

“That’s why it’s so rewarding now that I’ve been able to break it,” he said. “It can be broken.”

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.