Battling the Yips in Golf and Life

Last summer, I participated in a golf tournament at my local club and failed. While I hit the ball well, I had a severe case of the putting yips. If you golf, you know that you aren’t supposed to talk about the yips — the nervousness that causes one to miss a putt — but I take ownership of what I experienced. The golf tournament was not that big of a deal, yet my body indicated that it was a huge deal. My hands shook, and even short putts were treacherous. 

Having played competitive golf in the past, my experience was surprising. And it was also embarrassing. While I learned later in the fall that there was a medical explanation for what I experienced — a lack of B12 due to the acid reflux medicine I was taking — the experience left me with feelings of shame and embarrassment. I remember driving home with a barrage of negative self-talk in my head that I am too embarrassed to share here and asking myself, “Isn’t this supposed to be fun?” 

My weekend golf adversity might seem different from the adversity one faces during the work week. Yet, in my mind, at that particular moment, it seemed the same — it felt like a big deal. Granted, it should not have been a big deal because I do not make my living playing professional golf. But that is not how the mind works; the mind makes things that one cares about a big deal. 

Golf Scores and Self-Worth

Let me pause and explain why golf is so important to me. The first thing I think about when I think about golf is my dad. My dad was an accomplished amateur golfer: First-Team All-American at Purdue, US Mid-Amateur Champion, Walker-Cup winning team participant, and Masters invitee. Did I mention he worked full time as well? 

On the other hand, I had a largely successful four-year stint in high school golf, but got entirely burned out by the end of my senior year. So instead of pursuing golf in college — I had the opportunity to walk on at Purdue or pursue scholarships at smaller schools — I stopped golfing entirely. For the next several years, I barely played. I eventually picked the game back up in my mid-20s, almost out of compulsion. I was headed into sales and was advised (not by my dad, but by others) that I should play golf. I still had some talent, so it became a “thing” to do. 

Since then, I have somewhat redeveloped a love for the game. I say “somewhat” because I still derive too much of my self-worth from what I shoot — hence my shaky hands in a somewhat meaningless country club weekend tournament. Let’s be honest, no one cares who wins that tournament, so it’s foolish I got so worked up over it! It is even more foolish to think my dad would evaluate my game and be embarrassed that I didn’t make a much-needed five-foot putt. To be fair to him, he has NEVER voiced or acted in a way that should lead me to think that. But it is buried somewhere deep in my subconscious, perhaps because I surmise that is what others think when they see it happen. 

When Golf Isn’t Just Golf

If you are still with me, is it clear in what I’ve shared that there is more than golf going on? This is why golf can lead me to a feeling of the blues in the middle of the summer. Adversity can come there, at work, and everywhere else. To be human is to be full of adversity. 

So, where do we go from here? The day this happened last summer. When I returned home, no one else was there, and I could feel myself growing really mad. I was angry that I allowed myself to be overcome by emotions on the golf course. Then I said to myself aloud, “Alex, you can be mad all you want. You can be embarrassed. You can feel like a piece of s**** (I told you my self-talk was not healthy!) You can ruin this whole day if you want. Or you can pick yourself back up and keep going on.” 

I know it sounds melodramatic. I am not proud that the above deals with a golf event. But, I am being real here. Reality was kicking my butt. 

Overcoming Adversity

I then remembered a few keys to overcoming adversity that always help me. If you have stuck with me until now, here is your payoff. These will help you the next time you feel like you are succumbing to your adverse situation. 

  • Simplify: I always need to remember to simplify things when adversity arises. This feels counterintuitive, especially in golf. The day my putting went whacko, I tried multiple grips, focused on different routines, etc. I was doomed from the start! I putt best when I think least.

    Similarly, when relational conflicts arise at work, I am at my worst when I analyze every aspect of the conflict and get “technical.” I perform better when I simplify things and see the big picture. In relational disputes, I do this by prioritizing the relationship over being right.
  • Take Action: After identifying what I need to simplify, I determine what action I need to take. I ask myself, “What is the next best thing I need to do?” In relational conflicts, this may mean affirming the relationship over the dispute. In my golf example, this meant going back to the golf course and practicing putting.
  • Continue: Pastor Craig Groeschel has said, “Successful people do consistently what other people do occasionally.” His statement is an affirming belief that I can rally around. Crag’s statement jibes with me because it reminds me that no matter how large my failure feels in the moment, I can continue to show up and get better.

Just sharing my putting yips experience in this post gives it less power over my future. I commit to continuing to show up, working on my putting and the rest of the game, while recognizing that my golf score is only one aspect of my life — and NOT where I derive my self-worth. Nor does it have any impact on my dad’s view of me.