If the for­mer No 1 hopes to suc­ceed in 2015 after a lost 2014, the an­swer bet­ter be no.

Golf Digest (South Africa) - - Contents 2/ 15 - by matthew rudy

Any time Tiger Woods changes his swing, he sets off an avalanche of sec­ondguess­ing, slow-mo­tion­ing and screen-grab­bing from in­struc­tors and pun­dits, pro­fes­sional and am­a­teur. But when the world’s most fa­mous golfer botched 10 short-game shots at the Hero World Chal­lenge in De­cem­ber, his first tour­na­ment back after a four-month lay­off, it spawned a new kind of rub­ber­neck­ing, com­plete with Twit­ter hash­tags and Vine video loops.

Sure, Woods’ full swing looked smoother and showed more horse­power after some work with new tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor Chris Como. But did the owner of what was long con­sid­ered the best short game this side of Seve Balles­teros come out of his lat­est swing re­build with a po­ten­tially dev­as­tat­ing is­sue most tour play­ers won’t even men­tion by name? Does Tiger have the chip­ping yips?

It’s a fair ques­tion as 2015 be­gins and the for­mer world No 1 tries to put his in­jury-plagued 2014 sea­son be­hind him. After all, when was the last time any­body saw any pro­fes­sional badly mis-hit that many short shots over the course of a sin­gle tour­na­ment?

“I just flubbed them,” Woods said, chalk­ing the chunks and blades up to com­pet­i­tive rust and residue from his full swing changes. “It’s some­thing I need to work on.”

No doubt. But whether Woods’ prob­lem is a short­term me­chan­i­cal hic­cup or some­thing more makes for fas­ci­nat­ing fod­der among short-game ex­perts. Ac­cord­ing to Dave Stock­ton, the tech­nique Woods has been us­ing lately is a clear de­par­ture from the sup­ple, ath­letic form he showed as a teenager.

“I bet a tour­na­ment like that has never hap­pened to him in his life,” Stock­ton says. “He al­ways hits the cor­rect shot, and just doesn’t mis-hit stuff. It looks to me he has his feet ex­tremely close to­gether, and he can’t get his weight for­ward. He’s mak­ing th­ese big swings for a short shot. It looks like he’s trapped be­tween hit­ting two dif­fer­ent kinds of shots.”

It’s a recipe for poor con­tact. Stock­ton says that the fix is as easy as com­mit­ting to hit a chip shot low or high, and us­ing the proper, cor­re­spond­ing tech­nique. “I’m sure he al­ready knows what it is,” says Stock­ton, who doesn’t be­lieve Woods has the yips, “and he’ll get out of that phase in a hurry.”

Fel­low short-game gu­rus Stan Ut­ley and Kevin Weeks – who be­tween them work with more than a dozen tour pros – also see im­proper tech­nique. “His hands are lead­ing too much and his right knee and right shoul­der dip, which makes the lead­ing edge stick into the ground,” Ut­ley says. “He needs to work to keep his right side tall and throw the club­head. It’s a four-minute fix if he’s work­ing on the right stuff.”

Adds Weeks: “In his swing, it looks like he’s try­ing to get the left shoul­der to go for­ward, then up and around. When the left shoul­der goes up in your short game, the right shoul­der goes down. That’s fine if you’re mov­ing for­ward – and he wasn’t. He prob­a­bly al­ready has sorted it out.”

As straight­for­ward as those as­sess­ments might be, oth­ers won­der if the an­swer is more lay­ered.

Randy Smith has worked with dozens of PGA Tour play­ers over a four-decade teach­ing ca­reer – he cur­rently teaches Justin Leon-

ard, Har­ri­son Frazar and Martin Flores – and has bat­tled his own chip­ping yips for nearly as long. He de­scribes a fright­en­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal spi­ral.

“You can fix bad tech­nique, but you can then be sound and dump a cou­ple and end up think­ing over ev­ery shot, This is the one thing I’m not go­ing to let hap­pen,” says Smith. “Your body will start to do things you just can’t be­lieve. The an­tic­i­pa­tion of it be­comes a men­tal thing, and the more you work on it, the more rigid you get – which is the op­po­site of how the great short-game artists play. When that starts to hap­pen, the guy who plays for a liv­ing gets scared. He’ll joke about it and call it a chip­ping ‘prob­lem.’ He’ll never say the words.”

Chip­ping yips don’t have the rich nar­ra­tive his­tory of their twitchy putting sib­ling, in part be­cause they’re harder to ad­dress. The thicker grips, longer shafts and al­ter­na­tive hand po­si­tions that can mit­i­gate the putting yips rarely work as well on the chip­ping mo­tion. And green­side col­lec­tion ar­eas at PGA Tour cour­ses are tighter and faster than ever, re­quir­ing ex­treme pre­ci­sion – and ex­tremely calm hands – ex­pos­ing more and more suf­fer­ers.

The yips ter­rify tour play­ers be­cause they break the hard-earned con­nec­tion be­tween the mind and the hands, turn­ing a shot they used to hit with­out a sec­ond thought into one that makes them worry about the pos­si­bil­ity of barely mov­ing the ball. “Good play­ers will stick it in the ground a cou­ple of times and re­mem­ber what they did,” Smith says. “Then they’ll go try to prac­tice out of it and hit that same shot 50 or 60 times and just in­grain it into their short game. The more you prac­tice, the harder it is to beat.”

When it gets to that point, treat­ment looks more like a pa­tient learn­ing to live with a long-term dis­abil­ity rather than count­ing on a cure. On tour, Tim Clark has adapted some of the putting-yips tac­tics, us­ing a heav­ier, longer wedge, a split-handed grip and a will­ing­ness to putt a lot from off the green. Ja­son Palmer earned his 2015 Euro­pean Tour card with a more ex­treme so­lu­tion – hit­ting ev­ery short-game shot inside 50 me­tres with one hand.

“Once it’s in there, I’ve never seen it leave com­pletely,” says Hank Haney, whose bat­tle with driver yips caused him to vir­tu­ally stop play­ing for 15 years. “You go around it. You find some shots you’re com­fort­able hit­ting, like more semi-flop shots where you’re gen­er­at­ing some speed, and you start putting from off the green a lit­tle more. It’s pos­si­ble to deal with. But this idea that you make a sim­ple me­chan­i­cal adjustment and they go away? It just doesn’t work that way.”

Haney, of course, worked closely with Woods from 2004 to 2010, and played hun­dreds of rounds with him at Isle­worth, the scene of the chip­ping dis­as­ter. “Not be­ing there and see­ing them from closeup, I can’t say he has the yips,” Haney says. “But I prob­a­bly played 300 rounds with him on that course, and I never saw him hit one shot like that, and in four rounds, he hit 10 of them. Guys are go­ing to chunk shots, but when you get a re­peat like that, you have to won­der if it’s an is­sue.”

No mat­ter how Woods spends his prac­tice time un­til his likely first start of 2015, at Torrey Pines in Fe­bru­ary, the ques­tion won’t re­ally be an­swered un­til he demon­strates he can hit good chips from tight lies un­der pres­sure.

“You can play a lot of rounds and not re­ally come across that shot, but one place you can’t avoid it is at Au­gusta,” Haney says. “You know what every­body will be think­ing when he gets over a tough one there. You know what the com­men­ta­tors will be say­ing. How can Tiger not be think­ing the same thing? At the end of the day, he’s just hu­man.”

‘You can play a lot of rounds and not re­ally come across that shot, but one place you can’t avoid it is at Au­gusta.’ –Han­kHaney

Tiger Woods with new ‘coach’ Chris Como.

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