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“Yeah!  Let’s all hear it for Brendon Todd!

“Who?”

Come on, you’re not paying attention.  I know your thoughts have turned to Christmas but do keep up.  Brendon Todd has won his last two starts on the PGA Tour and when he tees it up at this week’s RSM Classic he has a chance to be the first player to win three straight events on Tour since Tiger did it in 2006.  So, it’s obviously not something that happens every day of the week – but that’s not the reason I’ve become a member of the Todd fan club.

The smile of Brendon Todd, a back-to-back winner on the PGA Tour. [Courtesy of PGA Tour.]

Not that long ago Brendon Todd was going to hang up the clubs for good.  He had the full swing yips with his driver and just found it well-nigh impossible to draw the club back.  He missed 37 out of 41 cuts and decided to pursue another career and top of the list was buying into a pizza franchise.  As recently as the US Open this June he was ranked somewhere around 1000th in the world.  When he won in Bermuda a couple of weeks ago he moved from the 500s to 185th and then his win in Mexico last Monday morning catapulted him up to 83rd.  He’s living the dream now but he inhabited the nightmare of the yips for a long, long time and that can be a very dark place indeed.

I speak from personal experience.  I had always considered myself a pretty decent putter and had had good spells, bad spells and brilliant spells on the greens.  Then, one year, playing in a Ladies’ European Tour event at The Oxfordshire I stood over a 15-footer for birdie on the 8th green.  Without any warning or any conscious thought I found I had suddenly “yipped” the putt and had no recollection of any part of the stroke.  Despite never having done it before I instantly recognised it for what it was – that dreaded, uninvited inability to perform a fine motor skill with which you are so familiar that it is almost part of you.  The resulting three-footer had no chance and I realised that that dropped shot meant I needed to par the 9th (my last hole) in order to make the cut.  I chipped up to 14 inches from the hole leaving myself a straight uphill putt to secure my place for the weekend.  As I approached the ball I knew with total certainty that this was, at that moment, an utterly impossible task for me.  I simply couldn’t figure out any way that I could complete the task……..and I was correct.  My overriding feeling was one of relief that I was able to get the ball so close to the edge of the hole I could tip my next one in.  Welcome to yip city.

A number of weeks ago I came across a few lines I had written around that time to Patricia trying to explain what I was going through as I  battled to overcome the “flinches” as Tom Watson called them.  The whole of your game becomes infected as is obvious in this note I sent from The Thailand Open in 1997.

“I shot 80 yesterday – hit 14 fairways out of 14, missed the green 5 times from under 80 yards and missed 8 putts of 4 feet and under.  I played that golf course from the perfect position on every hole every time.  I was like two different players.” Sounds as if Brendon Todd could have done with my driving and I could have done with his expertise the nearer the hole we got!

A typical journalist, Patricia kept this note I wrote from more than 20 years ago from The Thailand Open. I had entered the dark tunnel of the yips.

Of course, it IS possible to overcome the putting yips – Bernhard Langer has, several times;  so has Tom Watson;  Tiger had a definite spell of the chipping yips of which there is now no trace and Todd has seemingly banished the driving yips.  There are many, though, who do not come out the other side.

The great Bernhard Langer surveys a smidgeon of his trophy collection – many of them won after a switch to the long putter after battling the yips on several occasions. [Courtesy of PGA Tour.]

It’s not only golfers affected, though.  Concert pianists, snooker players, violinists, tennis players – people from all sorts of walks of life have suffered.  The common denominator seems to be a fine motor skill that has been rehearsed ad infinitum and then, one day, the mind suddenly says, “Enough!  I can’t do this any more.”

There is no one magic cure.  It requires an inordinate amount of hard work, suffering setbacks, experimentation and sheer bloody-mindedness just to survive.  Oh, and, of course, a decent stash of funding to buy you time to find your way out of the maze.

So, sign me up to Brendon Todd’s fan club.  This is a fairytale story masking goodness knows what heartache – and there’s a chance an even more fabulous chapter may be written this weekend.

 

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