Augusta National's slick greens are enough to give anybody a tremor. But for a player with the yips, they offer a special kind of nightmare.
That dark place looks something like Ernie Els' first hole.
Els had a straightforward three-footer for par, and proceeded to hockey the ball around the hole six times (originally believed to be seven) for an astounding 9 -- which included a backhanded lip-out from a foot. The 5-over score matched the highest ever recorded on the first hole in Masters play, and left the Big Easy with four more hours on the course to try to find some stroke triage.
To add insult to injury, Els hit the par-5 second in two, but three-putted from 25 feet for what must be one of the most unsettling pars in history.
Unfortunately, there's no easy in-round fix, says 50 Best Teacher and Tour short game instructor Kevin Weeks. "The only way to calm it down it is to stop anticipating impact," says Weeks, who is based at Cog Hill Golf & Country Club in Lemont, IL. "If it was that easy, nobody would have the yips."
On course, a Band-Aid would be setting up to putt, but making the stroke with eyes closed, says Weeks. "After the round, I'd remind him he hit it great, and then take him over to the putting green," he said. "When you take away a target, it usually makes the stroke a little easier to do. I'd put down a chalk line and have him just roll the ball down it 15 or 20 times. Then, you work in a non-golf target, like a water bottle or soda can. If he can do that, then you stick the bottle in the hole and try to bounce balls off it from one foot, two feet and so on."
Top Maryland teacher Bernie Najar also picked the eyes-closed approach as an emergency fix, and pegged a grip change as Els' best hope for a manageable stroke. "I've had a lot of success showing players a modified claw, with the lower hand holding the shaft between the thumb and the side of the index finger," says Najar, who is based at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills. "You're sticking your elbow out, and it makes that arm only able to push the putter straight."
Oh, and the actual putter Els used for the dubious record? "I would be surprised if it lasts the night," says Najar.