It was November 11, 2014. I had just hit 10 greens and shot a 14-over 86 at Bear Trap Dunes in Ocean View, DE. This was the round where I hit rock bottom with the chip yips. There is nothing worse than having a decent ball striking day only to know that when you miss an approach shot you have no chance because you’re going to blade a chip over the green or come up way short. You are paralyzed with fear and indecision and cannot execute. This is what it’s like to experience the chip yips.
It was clear the yips were a mental problem. I had been plagued for about five years but earlier in my career had no problem executing a variety of shots around the green from a technique standpoint. I can’t point to a single event where my chipping fell apart, it just did. The primary symptom was fear of running the ball past the hole and as a result, leaving my shots way short. A secondary symptom was blading the ball with a sand wedge, usually off of a good lie. This happened with small straight forward shots and became worse the farther away I moved from the hole. A 20-30 yard pitch with a sand wedge became darn near impossible, however when I moved back out to 50 yards, I had no problem because that was an automatic half swing with a lob wedge. Also, bunker shots were never a problem. That day at Bear Trap Dunes, I was firing blade runners everywhere and totally embarrassing myself.
The solve: Some of these techniques may seem counter intuitive and simply worked for me. They may not work for you, so don’t necessarily try them for yourself or think that they constitute an avocation on my part of a certain method. They simply worked.
The first thing I tried to fix was the bladed shot because that was a total loss of control. I know my left arm softens at the elbow in my full swing and I suspected that might be happening with chips, which in turn would shorten my swing radius. I simply focused on keeping my left elbow firm on all short swings and presto, no more bladed shots.
The more difficult issue was the fear of going long. In the past, I had tried hitting to a spot and letting the ball run out, or feeling the distance to the hole with my practice swing but neither worked. Everything still came up short. If I accidentally got one to the hole, the immediate feedback upon hitting the shot was that I hit it way too hard. The only way I could save par was by sinking a 10 or 15 foot putt. But then I remembered seeing a video of Seve Ballesteros rehearsing chip shots with his right hand (dominant hand). Then I recalled reading Greg Norman’s Shark Attack where he advocated throwing balls with your dominant hand at the hole for practice to gain a feel for short game. I decided I was going to try to use my dominant hand (right) to hit my short shots because I’d always focused on making a turn with my torso and keeping my hands out of the shot. It was a mechanical move and not feel based. In short, I needed more art and less science. So I started with a change in my pre-shot routine. I stopped approaching the shot from behind, like a full swing, and started to stand astride the shot and rehearsed it until it felt good. Then I hit the shot without delay. The mechanical change I made was on the back swing, to feel like I was taking the club back with my left hand (with my elbow still firm), and then on the downswing controlling the force of the swing with my right hand. When I did this, all of a sudden, I started swinging more aggressively, hitting the shot a little harder, and generating more backspin. Now, my only thought is to “take it back with the left hand, hit it with the right.” When I first tried this, I felt like I would chunk everything, but that never happened. On my recent trip I started to pull my chips slightly which was probably due to the over-active right hand. I added a little bit of pivot to the downswing and that was corrected because the chip is still a mini swing that requires timing and needs to be initiated with a hip turn.
After 18 rounds, I’m trusting this pretty well. Now when I miss a chip or pitch, it inevitably goes long, and I’m fine with that because I can see the ball break around the hole and I know it’s had a chance to go in. On occasion, I’ll still feel a little apprehension about going long so I make sure to take enough practice swings feeling my right hand initiate the downswing and then I hit the shot quickly. In all my 2016 rounds, I can honestly say I’ve only yipped two or three chips, and actually seen a few more than that go in.
Finally, regarding club selection, I am in the camp of matching the club to the shot rather than being able to execute a ton of different shots with one club because I don’t play or practice enough to do that. For chips, I like the sand wedge, pitching wedge, and on long chip and runs, the 8-iron. For green side pitches, I favor the lob wedge or sand wedge.
So that’s the story of recovering from the chip yips. They are horrible and I wouldn’t wish them on anyone. Hope my luck holds out and that you never see them.