Living with the Yips

A reflection on a good man gone mad

by Vicki Griffin

My husband has the yips.

It’s a disease, a physical malady, something only slightly better than a terminal illness. There is no treatment, no cure, and it can slowly drive you insane, at least that’s what he tells me after his regular Saturday morning golf game.

He tells me not to worry, that it’s not contagious.

I wouldn’t know. I don’t play golf.

The Yips
Dr. Thomas Griffin and wife Vickie.

What I do know is that it’s turned my normally well-adjusted husband into an obsessive, babbling facsimile of his former self.

I tell him that it’s nothing to be concerned about, that he’s played and enjoyed golf all of his life, and that the yips will fade just as rapidly as they came.

“Remember that nasty slice you developed during the club championship last year? Well, it’s gone now. Just the other day you told me how well you’re driving the ball.”

“It’s not the same thing,” he answers. “My new, super game-improvement, offset driver took care of my slice. There is no equipment fix for the yips.”

I’ll agree with that; he’s spent a fortune on putters. He’s too embarrassed to buy them from his club pro so he travels across town to anonymously purchase them from one of those discount places. He has long ones, short ones, and middle-length belly putters; he has mallets, blades, and putters with two balls and three balls on them; he has one he calls the spider, and one that looks like it’s more suited to Batman’s utility belt than a golfing green. None of them seem to work.

“I must have done something,” he says. “I don’t know what it is, but I’ve done something to anger the golf gods, and now they’re taking their revenge.”

“That’s ridiculous!” I answered. “Have you touched the sand with your sand wedge before blasting out of a bunker without penalizing yourself?”


“Have you improved your lie out of one of those fairway divots you’re always complaining about?”


“What about accidently moving your ball without telling your golfing partners?”


“Well then, it’s not the golf gods, it’s a psychological problem – something in your head. Try not to think about it. You’ll get over it.”

“You don’t understand,” he said. “I’ve tried everything – left hand high, left hand low, left hand only, no left hand. It doesn’t make any difference.”

“What are you talking about?”

“My grip, my putter grip. I’ve even tried the claw.”

“Sounds sinister.”

“Don Bauermeister says my fast twitch muscles are out of control. It’s a physiological problem, something to do with peripheral nerves and neurotransmitters. He’s a pathologist. He studies these things. He should know.”

“He’s your golfing buddy and he’s yanking your chain. You need a psychiatrist, not a pathologist.”

And so it goes.

Three weeks ago we sat on the couch as he told me about his game, searching for answers. I tried not to look him in the eye. He had hit 14 of 18 greens in regulation, which is very good (or so I’m told), and then he’d three-putted eight of them and four-putted two, which is very bad (I don’t need to be told that). His friends started giving him three- and four-footers, because they couldn’t bear to see him suffer. “Take it away,” they’d say. “That’s close enough.” It was humiliating. Something had to be done.

Dave Pelz says that anyone can learn to putt well if they work at it. All they need to do is practice. He’s some kind of a short-game putting and chipping guru, a scientist of sorts, and he applies the scientific method to the game of golf.

My husband bought his books, all of them. He studied them religiously. He took them to work along with his putter so that he could practice in his spare time. He even slept with Pelz’s “Short Game Bible” under his pillow, presumably to better absorb its contained wisdom.

He worked on his game and practiced every day, the correct way, the Dave Pelz way. He practiced at the club before and after work, and all day on Saturdays and Sundays. He even skipped meals to practice. I was starting to worry about him. Then, after two weeks of this obsessive madness he announced that he was once again ready to face his golfing buddies in their Saturday morning foursome.

The appointed hour came – an 8:00 a.m. tee time. He parred the first hole, and then the second. He pushed his drive on the third into the trees and settled for a two-putt bogey.

No sign of the yips.

He parred the fourth and fifth, and flew a 6-iron to within four feet of the hole on the par-3 sixth. He sunk the pressure birdie putt, and then sunk another for a birdie on the difficult par-5 17th.

He and his partner were 1-up with one to go. He was relaxed and at ease. And then, as he was approaching the 18th tee, someone said, “Press.”

My husband is a rational man. He knows that one bad hole doesn’t ruin an entire round. It could have happened to anybody. After all, even the great Sam Snead once yipped to a four-putt in a tournament, but then went on to do great things.

“You’ll be all right,” I said to him, being as supportive as I could. I held his hand.

He answered with an uncertain voice, “I hope you’re right.”

“Of course I’m right,” I told him. “You yourself said that you played 17 great holes without a yip. That’s better than you’ve played in months. You’re getting better. You’ll get through this. I know you will.”

After a pause, he muttered, “Do you really think so?”

“I more than think so, I know so. You’re my man.” I moved a little closer and smiled my most comforting smile. “And after all, things could have been worse.”

He stared at his hands and asked, “How could they have been worse?”

“Well, you could have had the shanks.”

The room suddenly became quiet, birds stopped chirping, the sun ducked under a cloud, our dog hid under the bed, the Earth seemingly stood still, and then my kind and gentle husband looked at me with a look of horror in his eyes and said, “Now you’ve done it.”

Vickie Griffin and her long-suffering (and good-natured) husband, Dr. Thomas Griffin, live in Seattle.