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.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

Playing with the pros

Tiger, DJ and Faxon

Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

Rory faces criticism

Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'

President at the Presidents Cup

Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump

Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73

Cart on the green

Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green

Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open

Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National

Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open

Trump golf properties


Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers

Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover

Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up

Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?