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Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Dreaded Yips

The cartoon in my previous post aside, I have been fretting about my short game.  Everything related to my golf game had been going along swimmingly for a couple of months, until about a week ago, when a couple of early warnings suggested that something was changing.  First my trusty flop shot got a little unpredictable.  Then my putts were all short.  Some other small things began to get tangled and my scores began to creep up.  But the real crisis occurred on Thursday at the Newberry Country Club Sandlapper's Tournament.

It started much the same as any other round of golf.  I got up early, showered, cooked my steel-cut oatmeal and raisins and put the stuff in a go-mug (complete with its own portable spoon), put a fresh sleeve of balls in my pocket, and bounded off to meet Alma at the Bi-Lo parking lot so I could catch a ride with her to Newberry.  Nothing felt out of synch.  In fact, everything felt perfectly in order.  Yet . . .

If you're a golfer like me, you've probably had those pre-round premonitions -- things just didn't feel quite right.  There's nothing specific, but it's almost as though the golf stars are just slightly out of alignment, just a small red flag warning of an impending case of the chipping or putting yips that can completely upend a golf game that was perfectly fine last week.  I didn't have any of those warnings.  I just sallied forth into the soft, misty morning expecting 18 holes of fun on a course I hadn't before played, with women I don't see often but with whom I always enjoy a pleasant round of golf.

Alma got us there, with a little help from the Google Maps app on my phone.  Our bags were taken off to the carts and we got checked in and headed for breakfast -- a 2nd breakfast for me because I'd already had my healthy, hearty oatmeal.  I added some sausage and eggs casserole, fresh watermelon, and mouth-watering, grease-laden club crackers wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with cheese and toasted earlier in the morning in somebody's oven to my oatmeal base.  (I decided to push from my mind any speculation about what the carbs and fat were doing to my blood glucose and triglycerides.)

Then I wandered off to the driving range and went through my usual warm-up routine, hitting a few balls, which dutifully flew straight off my pitching wedge, my 7-iron, my 4-hybrid, and my driver.  There didn't seem to be any major issues, so I moved on to the practice green, which was small and crowded.  I pushed my way in and rolled a few putts, just to get a feel for speed.  My timing felt just about perfect.  With 10 minutes to spare I made my way back to the carts and got acquainted with the others in my foursome, two new women I'd not met and my pal Barb.  It felt like this was going to be a perfectly splendid golf day.

The Yips: Causes & Cures
Au contraire.  The round started badly for me and got worse.  I could get off the tee and onto the fairway, but I couldn't get to the greens, I couldn't get out of the bunkers, and on those rare occasions when I had the opportunity to put a pleasant number in one of the little boxes on my scorecard I couldn't sink a putt.  What had happened to my short game?  How did I get such a bad case of the yips without any warning?  By the 5th hole I was overcome with despair.

Barb has a vested interest in the state of my game right now.  We're playing together in the Member-Member Tournament next weekend.  About half-way through the round she offered her only comment on my situation, privately, as we were getting ready to move on to the 6th tee:
It's funny . . . your short game is your strength . . . I wonder what's going on?
I wasn't particularly amused.  I checked my grip, my stance, my alignment.  It all seemed fine.  Mazie, my cart-mate, suggested that I double check my alignment with my left elbow (it should be pointing to the target).  She even demonstrated it.  That was a new tip for me and it didn't help.

The best advice, and the wisest, came from Linda, the fourth in our foursome.
Just relax and enjoy your day with us.  This will pass.

*   *   *   *

Last night I dreamed a new swing thought: Head Down, Follow Through.

Today I put that thought to work and was chipping, pitching, and putting like my old self.  I don't know if it was the new swing thought, getting paired with three of the Old Dogs in our club WGA who have seasoned games that have survived years of golf ups and downs, or the patience, acceptance, and perseverance that flowed from Linda's advice that made the difference.  But my head was down, I'd stopped gripping my clubs like I was trying to strangle an attacking rattlesnake, my shots were on target, I'd gotten back to playing golf like I try to live my life, one shot at a time, and my score was back down in the acceptable range.

My flop shot's still a little shaky, but I'll have it back in working order by next Saturday's Member-Member Tournament.