No easy fix for what ails Tiger's short game

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 4, 2015, 10:17 pm

SAN DIEGO – When Hank Haney leaned into the microphone last week and said on his radio show that he believes Tiger Woods is battling the yips, and that the issue “isn’t going away,” he was speaking from his own experience.

Haney has battled the long-game yips since high school. The problem became so bad, he once lost every ball in his bag during a nine-hole stretch. He found a workaround, a way to manage the symptoms and stay in the game, and he went 122 rounds in a row without taking a penalty shot.

“But even during that period of time, I never felt super, super confident over the ball,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I felt like it could happen again at any time.”

Haney, who worked with Woods from 2004-2010, has studied the subject extensively. He even wrote a book about the yips, in ’06.

The title was “Fix the Yips Forever,” with the tagline: “The First and Only Guide You Need to Solve the Game’s Worst Curse.”

“Unfortunately you don’t ever really do that,” he said, laughing. “But it was a better title than ‘Work Around the Yips Forever.’”

Not surprisingly, Woods’ recent short-game woes have elicited a variety of impassioned responses.

Is he lost? Confused? Or is it something deeper, darker ... the y-word

Haney can’t say definitively that Woods has the yips, of course, because he hasn’t tested him.

Woods has insisted that his problems are merely technical – in his news conference Wednesday, he used the word “pattern” nine times. Outspoken ESPN analyst Paul Azinger doesn't believe its the yips, either. He said last weekend that Woods’ chipping and pitching problems could be fixed in “literally minutes.”

If that’s truly the case, if Woods’ problems could be fixed in not months or weeks or hours but mere minutes, then Azinger should do the golf world a favor and share the secret. Because Woods is still searching for answers. Because, in reality, the yips are a complex, complicated problem that have befuddled medical experts for decades.

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Most troubling is that there is no known cure for the yips, according to Dr. Gio Valiante, a sports psychologist and Rollins College professor.

What Valiante does know is that the issue is three-pronged: Yes, the yips are a psychological problem, but they’re deeper than that. There are neurological and mechanical elements, as well.

It’s psychological, because nervousness and performance anxiety can exacerbate the problem.

It’s neurological, because, Valiante said, “the cortical maps in the sensory motor cortex are misfiring at a fundamental level.” In other words, when the neurons in the brain are compromised, they stop telling the other muscle groups to be quiet – thus, the involuntary motions.

And it’s mechanical, because there are certain techniques that can provide relief, albeit temporary.

“People usually go with the theory that there’s only some kind of physical problem, that technically there is something wrong with the motion,” Haney said. “Then they see bad results, and then it becomes a psychological issue, too.

“Except the problem with that is that when you fix the physical and you get better technique, and you work on the mental aspect, you’re still left with the yips. It’s always there.”

Valiante says the yips develop after years and years of overuse, and there have even been some studies that suggest that genetics plays a role. But it’s important to remember that the yips are not strictly a golf malady.

Musicians suffer from the yips. So do writers.

People who stutter can sing or whisper. The issue only arises when they try to talk normally.

Infielders Chuck Knoblauch and Steve Sax couldn’t throw to first base.

Pitchers Rick Ankiel and Mark Wohlers terrified batters with each wild pitch to the backstop.

Shaquille O’Neal could knock down free throws in practice, yet brick nearly every attempt in the game.

Ian Baker-Finch had the yips. David Duval had the yips. David Gossett had the yips. The list goes on and on.

Players have tried just about everything in a last-ditch effort to prolong their careers.

While putting, simply orientating your hand in a different position relative to the hole can smooth out the stroke. That’s why more players have turned to the claw, saw and pencil grips. Kevin Stadler has even gone to putting left-handed.

Duval was a former world No. 1, but his problems began when his club went across the line at the top of his swing. During his prime he always cut the ball, but he soon developed a two-way miss and began hooking the ball. Cue the decline.

Most experts agree, however, that the chipping yips are the most serious form.

With the driving yips, players can still scramble from the rough. With the putting yips, players are usually left with only a tap-in. But with the chipping yips, players are faced with essentially the exact same shot after a chunked wedge or a bladed chip.

Even worse, there isn’t really an alternative way to work around it. Players have tried split and cross-handed grips, but those haven’t proven effective over time. There is a player on the European Tour this year, Jason Palmer, who now chips one-handed.

“That may give you some relief,” Haney said, “but there’s no cure for this.”

For the past few months, Woods has talked repeatedly about release points and swing patterns and the bottom of his swing.

At Isleworth, he flubbed numerous shots around the green. It was alarming, but not totally unexpected: It was Woods’ first tournament in four months, he was in the early stages of his work with new swing consultant Chris Como, and he was one of several players who struggled to pinch pitch shots off the tight, into-the-grain Bermuda grass.

Last week in Phoenix, though, the issue seemed even more widespread. There was a shanked shot out of the bunker, multiple chunked pitches and bladed chips.

Indeed, it was a stunning development: One of the game’s greatest short-game magicians seemed gripped by fear and indecision, even while faced with straightforward shots.

“It’s a hard game, it’s a hard problem, and you kind of have to play around it,” Haney said. “He’s got to figure out something that’s quite a bit different than what he’s doing to give him some better shots and relief, and it’s a slow process to build up your confidence.

“Will he ever be as confident off of those (tight) lies at Isleworth as he once was? No. He never will be. It’s in your mind now, and that’ll never get out of there, no matter how many good shots you hit.”

No player in the sport’s history has had every shot scrutinized like Woods. Even on the range Wednesday there were at least a dozen people with cellphones and cameras, just waiting for his next miscue.

The pressure to perform must be suffocating, so it’s little surprise that Woods has deflected attention away from the mental aspect and said that this is simply a technical issue – that the release pattern under Sean Foley is markedly different than the one he is working on now.

Such an explanation helps shield his confidence, and it also buys him a little more time to turn around his game.

“I just need reps,” he said Wednesday at Torrey Pines. “I just need to keep doing it and doing it and doing it, and eventually it will start becoming more natural.”

Except that if Woods has the yips, that won’t be the case at all.

“You can’t will your way out of them,” Valiante says. “Really, you can relax your way out of them and lower the probability that they will pop up. The more intensely you try, the deeper the problem becomes.

“You just can’t hard-head your way through the yips. You’re using your own will against you. The harder you try, the worse you’re getting.”

Woods’ road to Augusta continues Thursday, and after last week’s debacle his short game will draw even more attention. If nothing else, it is abundantly clear that this issue can’t simply be fixed in minutes.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.