Roy Exum: 'The Yips' Are Very Real

Monday, May 14, 2012 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum
As I watched The Players golf tournament Saturday and Sunday, my insides were absolutely churning for Kevin Na, who agonized over almost every shot before he hit it. Kevin, who led the tournament after the first three rounds, is a neat guy whose family moved to the United States from Seoul, South Korea, when he was six after his grandfather was once a Justice on Korea's Supreme Court.
None of that really matters but is background music for the harsh reality that Kevin, age 29, has "the yips." Some people say there is no such thing but I can remember when Mayo Clinic doctors proved that a medical condition called "focal dystonia" is very real indeed. Apparently some people, golfers in particular, can lose their fine motor skills when they combine intense concentration, extreme demands on their coordination, and exacting muscle motion all at the same time.

What happens is that suddenly the golfer "can't pull the trigger." He actually freezes over the ball while putting and, for the life of himself, he can hardly pull the putter back, much less strike the ball. To watch is almost as cruel as the condition. It is like watching someone stutter as their brain holds them prisoner. And get this: Mayo researchers found that 33 to 48 percent of all serious golfers must work through the yips at some point in their life.

Ben Hogan had 'em badly at one point and so did Sam Snead. Tommy Armour is who came up with the nickname "the yips" but it has also been known as the rattles, the shakes, the jitters and the jerks. Basketball players can get the yips at the foul line, Pittsburg Pirates pitcher Steve Blass was once sent down to the minors to cure himself and, as Mayo Clinic learned, the yips can even affect fighter pilots, who "lock" on a target but can't pull the trigger.

Na's case was brought into screaming focus Saturday afternoon when he took the lead going into Sunday. But then he was heckled by the gallery and put "on the clock" by the PGA for slow play.  He understandably fell apart, bogeying five holes in a hurry after one errant shot went in the water. And he missed his time-allotment on one hole. 

The way the slow-play clock works is one miss is a warning, two is a one-stroke penalty and $2,000 fine, three misses will get you two penalty strokes and a $10,000 fine, and four misses during a round will get you disqualified. Na promises he's working on it, apologizing profusely and refusing to use his yips as any excuse.

But the Ponte Vedra gallery still ate him alive. As he waggled his club, he could hear yells of "Just hit it!" and "Don't choke!" After a bogey on one hole, one guy actually walked up and told Na and his caddie, "I have $2,000 bet on you," which cruelly led to even greater pressure.

By the 9th hole there were spectators singing, "Nah, nah, nah, nah. Nah, nah, nah, nah. Hey, hey, hey, goodbye." Matt Kuchar, who won the tournament, tried to lift Na out of the doldrums during the final round but Na's closing 76 took him from first to seventh on the final day. Na got a check for $296,083 while the popular Kuchar, who played for Georgia Tech is college, pocketed $1.71 million.

"It is what it is,” Na said after the tournament ended. “I do need to work on what I need to. I do need to work on my pre-shot routine. I do need to play faster. But the average golfer has no clue how much pressure we’re playing under and how tough it is and how much of a fight it is mentally. I honestly think with all that going on, I did pretty well fighting. I had a good fight. I hung in there, so you know what, I just take the positives from it.”

Na, who has been on the tour for ten years, will keeping fighting the yips. "As ugly as it is and as painful as it is, believe me I'm fighting it. I'm not being nice to myself. I am ripping me worse than anybody else."

Therapists have some skills in treating the yips but it is far from an exact science. That's because nobody is certain what exactly causes the condition to happen in some and not in others. But after Kevin Na's appearance this weekend, we all know the yips are a terrible thing indeed.


Special Session Of Legislature Needed To Deal With Biden Vaccination Order - And Response (3)

Teaching Is More Than A Job

Roy Exum: Joe’s Mandate Explodes


A special session of the Tennessee General Assembly needs to be called. Joe Biden drew a line in the sand and has challenged us to cross it. Tennessee’s leaders and elected officials have a choice ... (click for more)

I have heard that a few leaders in state government believe, “all teachers are liberal.” I interact with educators across the state daily, and their political ideology---just like most Tennesseans--- ... (click for more)

There were over 400 million cell phone subscribers in the United States in 2017, according to the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association . Globally, there are more than 5 billion ... (click for more)



Opinion

Special Session Of Legislature Needed To Deal With Biden Vaccination Order - And Response (3)

A special session of the Tennessee General Assembly needs to be called. Joe Biden drew a line in the sand and has challenged us to cross it. Tennessee’s leaders and elected officials have a choice to make. We are either on Joe Biden’s side or on the side of Tennesseans. We must address Biden’s executive order, vaccine and mask mandates, parental rights, excessive quarantining, stronger ... (click for more)

Teaching Is More Than A Job

I have heard that a few leaders in state government believe, “all teachers are liberal.” I interact with educators across the state daily, and their political ideology---just like most Tennesseans--- is all over the map. There is not one political box you can simply lump educators into. To insinuate otherwise is offensive and inaccurate. By “liberal” these “leaders” may be referring ... (click for more)

Breaking News

Higher Number Of People Under 50 Dying From COVID-19 In Hamilton County

The Hamilton County Health Department reports an increase in the number of COVID-19 deaths below the age of 50, over the past three months. During the most recent winter surge, four percent of deaths were age 50 or younger. Since the beginning of July, 22 percent of deaths have been below the age of 50. “We extend our sympathy to all of our community members who have lost ... (click for more)

CARTA Bus Drivers Get Nice Bump In Pay As Union Contract Negotiations Are Settled

CARTA bus drivers will be getting almost a $3 per hour pay increase under terms of a new three-year contract between the transit agency and Local 1212 of the Amalgamated Transit Union. Lakecha Strickland, union president, said starting pay will be going from $17.32 an hour to $20.15 for new drivers. After a year, the pay rises to $21.80 and after two years to $23.70. Also, ... (click for more)

Sports

Chattanooga FC: Potential Is The Key Word For Bahena, Hurtado And Rodriguez

Ricardo Bahena could be seen on the wing at the end of Chattanooga FC’s Thursday practice, working on driving toward his defender before whipping crosses into the box. Next to the 19-year-old was coach Peter Fuller, who gave the teenager specialized instructions as clouds loomed overhead. “You have to do what I was doing today, which is spending time working with and coaching ... (click for more)

Dan Fleser: Vols Trying To Process Lessons Learned From Pittsburgh Loss

Operating on the premise there’s much to be gained from a loss, Josh Heupel was especially observant this week. Tennessee’s first-year head football coaching watched every move his players made following last Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh. Everything from their attentiveness in meetings to their competitiveness on the practice field was scrutinized. Did they process the result ... (click for more)