Rewind to 2015. Site: the Waste Management Phoenix Open. During that tournament, Tiger Woods put on a short-game exhibition that was stupefying.
Skulled chips, flubbed chips, even bunted chips when he seemingly could rely on nothing else. That performance and others around the same time left many experts thinking what his former instructor, Hank Haney, succinctly declared, "Let's be serious: Tiger Woods has the yips."
They're the four scariest letters in golf. When you realize that something neurological might be impairing a part, or parts, of your game, feelings of fear, terror, helplessness—even surrender—are soon to follow. Some golfers never recover, which makes Tiger's latest comeback all the more interesting.
Are the issues he had with chipping two years ago still lingering? Have they gotten better or worse? We asked Golf Digest Teaching Professional Josh Zander to analyze Tiger's chipping action from the Hero World Challenge in late 2017. Like Woods, Zander is a former Stanford University golfer, and he has monitored Tiger's game for more than 20 years.
"Of all the stuff I've looked at, I think this photo (below) says a lot," says Zander, who still teaches at Stanford. "His arms are soft; his grip looks light, and he's picturing the shot. When you're in performance mode, this is what you look like. He's not thinking about his swing; he's thinking about what he wants the ball to do. That's not the look of someone who has the yips."
IMPACT: ‘A weakened left-hand grip helps his club glide along the grass.’
To be clear, Woods wasn't perfect around the greens at the Hero World Challenge, his first tournament in nearly a year. He mis-hit several chips, including one or two that looked like the action someone with the yips might employ, letting the leading edge of the wedge's clubface dig into the turf and get stuck. But his short game improved as the tournament went on, and Woods finished tied for ninth in the 18-player event at eight under par.
"The chunking? It's probably coming from the one thing I would tweak," Zander says."He's got a little too much forward shaft lean as he approaches the ball. This negates the forgiving design feature in wedges—the bounce—that allows the club to skim along the grass and not get stuck in the turf."
You do want to hit wedge shots with a slightly descending blow, Zander says, but it's a bad idea to have more degrees of shaft lean than the club has degrees of bounce. "In this photo (above) he's got some shaft lean but isn't getting his hands too far forward. It's a fine line, though. If I were him, I'd practice chipping right-arm-only. Chipping with your trail arm trains you to swing through impact with the shaft more vertical so you can use the bounce."
RELEASE: ‘Tiger’s head rotates to follow the shot. He’s not locked down.’
The most consistent chippers move their heads toward the target in the through-swing, which is what Tiger's head is doing here (above), Zander says. This suggests he's not worried about getting the ball airborne—the typical fear of someone with the yips.
"You can easily mis-hit it if your head moves back and toward the ground," Zander says. "Do that, and you've changed your distance from the ball. You'll have to pull in your arms to save the shot."
Another thing to note is the position of Tiger's sternum, Zander says. It gets ahead of where it was at address. He's not hanging back trying to lift the ball. "I also like how his eyes follow the shot. He wasn't locked down; an indicator he's thinking about the shot and not swing mechanics."
He does a lot of other things worth copying, Zander says, such as having a narrow and open stance, rotating his body through impact and having a weak left-hand grip (back of the hand facing the target) to help use the club's bounce. "But I keep going back to what he's doing before address," Zander says. "He looks like he has external focus, meaning he's thinking about the landing spot, the break, etc. He's in a performance state."