Long Uphill Putts -- Possible Yips?
I have the yips on long putts when putting uphill. Can you help me?
Dr. Putt will assume that what you experience is indeed the yips--that is, you panic and end up with a jerky stabbing motion rather then a smooth stroke. The root cause of the panic probably rests in some failures that led you to conclude that you cannot execute these uphill putts with the appropriate amount of force. Thus, when you encounter such a putt, the situation acts as a stimulus for the learned panic response.
Before discussing approaches to amelioration, Dr. Putt must note that this is most unusual. Yips are most likely to occur on short putts when the small muscles of the hands and forearms are involved rather than on full shots and longer putts when the larger muscles of the shoulders and back are relatively more involved. You may have noted that one encounters more difficulty producing smooth and neat penmanship when one uses only the hands than when one utilizes the shoulder so that the fingers and wrist only grasp the pen. The same principle applies to putting. Thus, the modern putting swing employs very passive and relatively firm hands and wrists. The stroke is executed by tilting the shoulders back and forth with no conscious cocking and uncocking of the wrists.
At first blush, Dr. Putt is also somewhat surprised that you do not encounter this problem on long downhill putts, where the margin for error is much smaller. The same incremental change in force produces a greater difference in total distance on downhill putts. However, therein may lie the clue to your malady! Dr. Putt would surmise that on the relatively more delicate downhill putts you are executing a smoother stroke that employs the wrists very little. However, on long uphill putts you probably feel that you must release the wrists into the ball so as to add the extra force required to move the ball up the hill to the hole. This brings those small and unreliable muscles into play. Hence, the yips!
Dr. Putt would suggest that you think of these long uphill putts as chip shots in which the distance is controlled by the length of the backswing, not the uncocking of the wrists. You should keep the wrists relatively firm, maintaining the triangle, as so many instructional pieces advise. That is, at the end of the stroke when you pose--as you should on all putts (and longer shots for that matter)--the angles created by your arms and the putter shaft should be almost the same as they were at address. If you occupy your consious mind with the thoughts of firm wrists, length of back swing, and posing at the end, your performance is almost sure to improve because you have taken the muscles that are subject to the yips out of the equation.
But what about distance, you might ask. How does one know how far to take the putter back to roll the ball a given distance. My dear Dick, you need some baseline reference from which to work. My friend, Goeff Mangum at Puttmagic talks about the "core putt." I think of it as a reference putt. On a flat area of the putting green, place your ball next to a hole and putt away from the hole, taking the putter back with your shoulders to about 7 o'clock, assuming you start at 6 o'clock. Then swing with your shoulders in an effortless smooth stroke and pose at just past 5 o'clock. You will find that you can repeat this stroke time and time again rolling the balls within a few inches of each other every time. Note that distance. On a green of average speed, it should roll in the range of about 20 feet. Then do the same thing, but this time on an uphill area of the practice green. Note how far the balls roll. This distance and stroke then becomes you reference for all putts in the ensuing round. If the hill is steeper or the putt is longer, you simply take the putter back a greater distance (say, to 7:30), and the follow through will also be a greater distance (say, to about 4:30 or a little beyond). You do NOT try to hit it harder with the hands, though on very long putts (in the 50 feet range or more) you may have to exert more force with the shoulders. On these, think of them as firm chip shots, though you should still concentrate on staying smooth with a long follow through and a pose at the end.
You need to practice these putts with this technique until you know how far to take the putter back for various distances. If you still feel panic, just focus on the technique. Eventually you will have experienced enough success so that instinct can take over on these putts in the face of panic. (You may want to read Dr. Putt's recent column on nerves and panic.) Remember that your goal on long putts is only to roll the ball to a 3 foot circle, not to sink the putt.
Please provide Dr. Putt with a little more "clay" for his "bricks" the next time you write and certainly let Dr. Putt know if he provided you with a solution to your most unusual and interesting problem.