I read last week that Johnny Miller said one of the reasons he quit the Tour was that he had a classic case of the yips. Boy, can I relate to that—except my problem isn't putting. For the last 12 years I've had the chipping yips. In fact, the chipping yips ended my career in 1990. Before I retired, I had won the Scottish Ladies Championship in 1988 and '89 and was on the victorious Great Britain and Ireland Curtis Cup team in '88. I was a good ball striker and could putt, but whenever I missed a green, I was in big trouble.
My yips began at the 1985 European Ladies Championship, in a most innocuous way. Until then I had never flinched when missing a green. In the qualifying round I missed the 1st green by three feet. The grass was wet—an obvious chipping situation—but I recall thinking, Can I putt instead? That was the start of my nightmare. From then on I woke up feeling panicky on tournament days. In the '88 Scottish Ladies Stroke Ray, on the 15th hole at Royal Troon, I was 10 yards short of the green. On my first chip the club hit behind the ball and bounced over the top: air ball. The second chip was a classic flub. The third was a nervous stab that knifed the ball to the back of the green.
I sometimes tell myself that the chipping yips can't be as bad as the putting yips because while you're going to be on the green 18 times in a round, you may not be forced to chip at all. Still, I can't imagine anything worse.
I haven't played competitive golf in seven years, yet I still feel a wave of dread at the memories. As my ball was in flight on approach shots, I'd try to will it to the putting surface, and if it was going to miss, I'd will it into a bunker. When it would land just off the green, I'd feel sick and scared. Standing over a chip, I'd look at the green, back at the ball...and see nothing. Once I started the swing, it was like slow motion. I saw the club going too far back and wanted to say, That's too far! When I looked up, the ball would be two feet closer to the green.
I hated the frigging game, hated myself and hated chipping for ruining my career, but kept telling myself how good a chipper I had once been and would be again. With help from instructors, golfing partners, my husband and two psychologists, I waited five years for my chipping to return. It never did. I still suffer from this curious affliction. I am eternally optimistic, though, and next year plan on getting out my clubs and trying again.
The yips can't last forever, can they?