The yips are a real thing. In fact, they're a medical condition. The Mayo Clinic defines the yips as "involuntary wrist spasms" that typically happen when a golfer tries to putt. Anywhere from one-third to about half of golfers experience the yips at some point in their lives, including, most visibly and most recently, Ernie Els at the Masters.
The true cause isn't entirely clear, but the thinking is that focal dystonia, an involuntary firing of the muscles. In other words, it's something a golfer develops and does unconsciously.
The yips aren't limited to putting. They can happen with any club in the bag, but they're typically otherwise associated with chipping and driving the ball.
There have been plenty of great golfers who have been hampered by the yips, ranging from Tommy Armour to Bernhard Langer, Johnny Miller to Tom Watson. Who knows how many more majors Ben Hogan or Sam Snead would have won had they cured their yips. Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, then, just three years later, missed 32 consecutive European Tour cuts before he retired.
Armour believed there was no cure, with the yips driving him from competitive golf. He said, "Once you've had 'em, you've got 'em." However, that doesn't seem to be the case. Many golfers, including Langer, went away from the traditional putter to an anchored stroke to deal with the yips successfully. With the anchored stroke set to be banned in 2016, that option will be less viable, perhaps forcing players battling the yips to simply close their eyes when putting to prevent rapid eye movement from overloading the brain with pre-shot information.
Mark O'Meara found the cure in the form of a new putting grip, which he calls the Saw Grip. It was a last-gasp effort at keeping his career alive. Fortunately, it worked.
"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," O'Meara said in 2004. "I was very desperate."
Henrik Stenson had the driver yips twice in his career, both in 2001 and 2012. In the middle of the 2001 season, Stenson missed six of eight cuts, withdrawing once and not break 70 in that stretch. Eleven years later, Stenson didn't even play in the Open Championship or PGA Championship -- the yips were that bad. He's now second in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Now it appears Tiger Woods may have the chipping yips, or at least a minor case of them. In starts at the Hero World Challenge in Dec. 2014 and the 29015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, Woods seemed almost incapable of hitting proper shots inside of 50 yards. The problem remained at the Farmers Insurance Open the next week, but did show signs of improvement before Woods withdrew after 11 holes in Round 1 due to back pain.
Woods' former coach Hank Haney believes the 14-time major winner's trouble won't go away anytime soon, if ever.
"When you have the yips, you have issues. This isn't going away. This isn't just a turn of the switch," Haney said after the Phoenix Open. "It starts with technique and morphs into something else. It just doesn't go away."