Case of the yips costs Els
He cards an 80 after disaster strikes on the first hole
April 07, 2016
By Helen Ross, PGATOUR.COM
- Ernie Els six-putted the first hole for a 9. (Harry How/Getty Images)
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Well, that certainly didn't take long.
Google the "yips" and at the top of the entry in Wikipedia, you'll find a photo of Ernie Els that references this week's Masters in the caption. And we're only through the first round.
The big South African had just signed for an 80 that included a 9 on the first hole, where Els inexplicably six-putted from inside 3 feet. The six-putt was the 23rd on TOUR since 1992, and the first in nearly two years.
"I can't explain it," a grim-faced Els said. "... A lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know, it's unexplainable. I couldn't get the putter back.
"I was standing there, I've got a three-footer, I've made thousands of three-footers and I just couldn't take it back."
Sound familiar? The dictionary defines the yips as a "nervous twitching or tension that destroys concentration and spoils performance." The condition is often characterized by involuntary wrist spasms or tremors or even the complete inability to complete the stroke.
The Mayo Clinic's website cites a 2000 study that estimates up to 30 percent of accomplished, low-handicap golfers with considerable experience will develop the yips at some point in their careers.
And like Els noted, players like Tommy Armour, who many believe coined the term, and Ian Baker-Finch were driven from competition by the yips. Others, most notably Bernhard Langer, faced long struggles to resurrect their games.
Video replays on Thursday showed Els struggling to compose himself on the first green. The frustration mounted so much, though, that the four-time major champion ended up one-handing the last few putts.
"And then I just kind of lost count," Els said, shaking his head. So, apparently, did the scoring system -- for five hours, Els was credited with a 10 and a seven-putt on the first hole before the mistake was sorted out when he signed his card.
Jason Day, who was playing with Els, said he'd never seen anything like it. The two have been teammates on a pair of International Presidents Cup teams, and Day considers them to be good friends.
"I feel for Ernie," the reigning PGA champ said. "... I didn't realize he was fighting stuff like that upstairs with the putter. But it's painful for players to go through that."
Day acknowledged he'd gone through chipping and hitting yips in the past.
"But not to a certain degree where he was missing one- and two-foot putts," the 28-year-old said. "You just don't want to see any player go through something like that, because it can be sometimes career ending for guys like that if they really are fighting it that much."
Els also missed par putts inside 4 feet on the last two holes. As frustrated as the two-time Masters runner-up was, he never considered withdrawing. The tournament means too much to him.
"I don't know how I stayed out there," Els said. "But you love the game and you got to have respect for the tournament and so forth, but it's unexplainable. It's very tough to tell you what goes through your mind.
"It's the last thing that you want to do is do that on a golf course at this level. So, it's very difficult."
So where does Els, who said he "couldn't putt with a stick" on Thursday, go from here? He's not quite sure.
"What holds you back from doing your normal thing?" Els wondered aloud, still clearly searching for answers. "I don't know what it is. I can go to that putting green now and make 20 straight three-footers. And then you get on the course and you feel a little different and you can't do what you normally do."
Still, Els plans to tee it up in second round of his 22nd Masters on Friday. He'll try to make the cut for the 17th time.
"From tee to green I'm not bad," Els said. "But, I don't know, I mean, on 17, 18, 16, 15, 14, you name it, with the putter it was difficult on every hole. So we'll see where we go from here.
"Hopefully I can pull it back and play some decent golf."