Ranking the 10 Worst Cases of the Yips in Golf History

James McMahonContributor IMay 29, 2013

Ranking the 10 Worst Cases of the Yips in Golf History

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    The Yips. No one in golf wants them, and few are the same after contracting them.

    History contends the term was coined by the great Tommy Armour, who is one of the most significant golfers throughout history to have suffered from them. For its part, the prestigious Mayo Clinic defines "the yips" as "involuntary wrist spasms that occur most commonly when golfers are trying to putt."

    More often than not, the dreaded mental affliction ends careers of capable golfers before they ever begin. Sometimes they afflict accomplished professionals, serving as the cause for potential never achieved.

    In the worst of cases, they attack even the greatest of golfers, robbing them of achievements that would only have raised their significant status in the game.

    Here are the 10 worst, or most well-known, cases of the yips in professional golf.

10. Tommy Armour—the Man Who Coined the Phrase

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    Tommy Armour is one of those great golfers who could have easily been known as one of the greatest ever had the yips not affected him during the prime of his career.

    In fact, Armour is credited for creating the very term for the mental golf disease that robbed him of his ability to make short putts on a regular basis, starting in 1927.

    The amazing thing about Armour is he won major championships even after his yips erupted at the 1927 Shawnee Open, in which he carded a 23 on the par-five 17th hole, a rather dubious single-hole score that has never been beaten.

    Despite those issues, from 1927 to 1931, the Scot managed to win the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship and the British Open and was widely considered to have one of the sweetest swings in golf. It was so good, in fact, that Armour would become one of the leading instructors of his generation once his competition days were over. 

    Indeed, the twilight of Armour's significant career was robbed by his short-putting woes, but before that, however, Armour was the real deal.

9. Kevin Na—Can't Pull the Trigger

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    Kevin Na is not in the same league as many of the golfers on this list, but few professionals have had the case of the yips erupt so quickly and as on such a large stage as Na did a little more than a year ago.

    Playing with the lead in the 2012 Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass, Na, with the golf world watching, developed a case of the full-swing yips that made it difficult for him to pull the trigger on his golf swing.

    He would stand over the ball for a seemingly endless period of time until finally mustering the mechanics to take the club away. As with many cases of the yips, Na's found its roots in a setup change the young golfer went through in early 2011. 

    Yips on the green can be debilitating, but they are not nearly as obvious and humiliating as the type of full swing yips Na battled in that Players Championship. Na finished in a tie for seventh, and two weeks later, he continued to play well with a top-15 finish at the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Since then, however, Na hasn't recorded a top-10 and, in 2013, has made only three cuts in eight starts.

    Na might be able to take the club away now, but the results after the follow through have not been very good since his battle with the yips at TPC Sawgrass.

8. Sergio Garcia—the Long Island Waggles

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    Entering the 2002 U.S Open at Bethpage Black, Sergio Garcia was the most electric young golfer in the game not named Tiger Woods. By the time the tournament ended, he was the one of the most psychologically-scarred player in the sport. 

    Other than being known for Tiger's second U.S. Open victory, the 2002 Open at Bethpage is renowned for the case of "the waggles" developed by Sergio that made Kevin Na's issues looked mundane at best.

    While in contention for his first major title, Garcia got caught up in multiple takeaways before every tee shot or iron play that eventually enveloped the previously confident young Spaniard.

    The waggle issue got so bad that the always testy New York galleries began to count out loud Garcia's takeaways before every shot. It happened during the final round when Garcia was paired in the last group with Woods, who went on to best Garcia by two shots en route to winning the tournament.

    Garcia's "yipes" certainly helped cost him that major championship opportunity and absolutely began his now contentious relationship with American golf fans.

7. Mark O'Meara—Saw Your Way Past the Yips

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    Few golfers who have been tortured so thoroughly by them have been as honest about the yips as two-time major champion Mark O'Meara. 

    Like so many of his peers, O'Meara battled a "yip" in his putting stroke for many years. Before the issue arose, O'Meara was one of the better putters on tour and unexpectedly captured both The Masters and the British Open in 1998. It was after that, however, that the yips began and O'Meara stopped winning tournaments.

    Like others, O'Meara went through multiple variations of stance, stroke and equipment to solve his issues. At the 2004 Bay Hill Invitational, O'Meara was quoted as saying, "If you told me to go around the corner and stand on my head for five minutes and then come over and putt, I would have tried it. I was very desperate."

    That same year, O'Meara did find a solution for his putting "yips" in what he called the Saw Grip, which is similar to the popular "claw grip." O'Meara credits the new putting grip for saving his career and allowing him to compete with the best players on the Senior PGA Tour.

6. Bernhard Langer—a Career Long Battle with the Yips

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    Bernhard Langer is a two-time major champion, but if not for a significant case of the putting yips that lasted the majority of his career, the talented German would have owned more than that.

    Considering his struggles with the putter, it's ironic that Langer's two major titles were both won on Augusta National's challenging greens. At the same time, it's also a testament to just how great Langer's tee-to-green game was during the best years of his career.

    Bottom line, however, is few golfers with the talent of Langer have struggled so much with one mental aspect of the game as he did on the greens. Only through "sheer will power" and multiple putting grips that changed from year-to-year did Langer get past his mental woes.

    The mental toughness in the face of the often debilitating yips to capture two green jackets makes Langer one of the greatest survivors of the yips in modern golf.

    In addition to those Masters titles, Langer captured an RBC Heritage crown and then went on to win 18 times on the Senior PGA Tour.

5. Ben Hogan—Driven Away from the Game

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    Misfortune is among the highlights, or more appropriately the low lights, of one of the greatest careers in the history of golf.

    Ben Hogan is one of the few professional golfers to have won each of the sports' four major championships during a career that saw him claim nine of the game's biggest titles.

    Yet Hogan also lost many of his best years to military service, then to a nasty car accident in 1949 and then eventually to a terrible case of the yips that drove him to flee the golf course rather than suffer the embarrassment of his putting struggles.

    The amazingly-talented Hogan overcame time away from the game and the pain and damage done to his legs following the car accident to win majors. In fact, he won three majors in 1953, four years after that terrible accident. Yet when it came to the mental barrier of his putting woes, Hogan couldn't best the beast and opted to shut it down.

    It's one of the biggest tragedies of golf that a champion like Hogan had to suffer through so many things even as he accomplished so much in the game. 

4. Sam Snead—the Yips Slam "Slammin Sam"

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    By his own estimation, Sam Snead had the yips for more than 55 years and attributed his putting woes to playing on multiple surfaces through his career.

    In fact, the legendary "Slammin Sam" told Golf Digest that "You get to the point where your mind can't figure out how hard to hit the ball." Like his good friend Ben Hogan, Snead struggled with the yips on the green as his career progressed.

    He attempted several different putting techniques to cure the problem, yet, through his own admission, the problem never left the sweet swing golfer.

    Snead's incredible career includes three victories in both The Masters and the PGA Championship and a British Open crown in just three attempts oversees. Yet the one missing achievement in his illustrious career is a U.S. Open victory, a casualty, in part, of his putting woes.

3. Tom Watson—8 Wasn't Even Enough

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    Tom Watson won eight major championships during his career, not because of his putter but largely in spite of it. One of the game's greatest champions went through battles with his putter that could have crippled an athlete of lesser mental toughness.

    Watson, whose putting woes cost him an opportunity to win the 2009 British Open at the age of 59, is on record as saying the yips likely cost him at least one major victory a year over a decade of his more than four-decade-long career.

    Unlike other golfers, including his brethren on this list, Watson didn't alter his grips or change putters to deal with his putting woes. Rather, Watson chose to deal with the issue for what it was, a mental challenge that simply required toughness and focus to get through. 

    Given his status of one of the greatest to ever play, there no doubt he managed to do just that many times. Yet one has to wonder just how many more wins he would have had if not for the yips.

2. Ian Baker Finch—so Schocking, so Sudden

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    Ian Baker Finch captured the 1991 British Open and catapulted his career into another stratosphere. A mere couple years later, the Australian's rising star would crash so quickly and completely that Baker Finch would never realize his significant promise and essentially exit competitive golf completely as a player.

    In perhaps one of the most complete and absolutely surprising career collapses, Baker Finch completely lost his swing and confidence following the 91 British Open.

    From 1994 to 1997, Baker Finch missed 32 consecutive cuts while he listened to pretty much every swing analysis and mental breakdown available as he went from tournament to tournament.

    Eventually, Baker Finch would hang up his PGA Tour efforts in favor of working in television, where he is one of the best commentators, especially when detailing the psyche of the golfers he is covering come late Sunday afternoon, in the game today.

1. David Duval—from Major Champion to Missing in Action Almost Overnight

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    Only David Duval knows whether it was the yips or utter indifference that drove him from major champion to PGA Tour outcast following the 2001 British Open. One thing is for sure, however: Duval was never the player proven or promised following that victory.

    In a relatively short period of time, Duval went from No. 1 in the world to a player without a game  after winning that British Open. Meanwhile, Tiger Woods was establishing himself as the best in the game.

    Yet, unlike many of the game's elite who have struggled with mental collapses and particular struggles with the game's mechanics, Duval seemed to pretty much check out and move on from the game for several years. In fact, the British Open is his last victory and the only other major he truly challenged in again was the 2010 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black.

    Duval is still competing today, but at more than 1,400 in the world, he's only a shadow of the player that held the top ranking and was at the time the biggest threat to Tiger Woods.