Sergio Garcia: Death Grip = The Yips

While Sergio won The 2008 Player's Championship, his play was a mixture of extremes. He was #1 in driving accuracy and greens in regulation. Yet he had problems with his putting. He was 74th in putts per round, the worst of all the players who made the cut.

We find there is a connection between his accuracy with his clubs, and his problems with the putter.

Sergio at address      Sergio at impact  

Research conducted for our new book The Efficient Golfer, has shown that well-known golfers who suffered from the yips (Snead, Hogan, and Trevino) compensated for centrifugal force on the downswing by gripping their driver and woods so hard that they did not allow the 100+ lbs. of centrifugal force generated by the club to extend their arms and club at impact.

This strategy theoretically allows for better ball striking as the club returns close to the same position at impact as it was at address, and the golfer does not have to change his Spine Angle to compensate for the 6-7" increase in distance between the club head and shoulders that takes place when the golfer goes 'ballistic' and lets everything extend, as you see in the photos of Jack Nicklaus below. Nicklaus played for decades without ever developing the yips. He did not over-grip his driver, but rather let it extend at impact. He was able to compensate for the change in his spine angle with superior hand-eye co-ordination. Here is Nicklaus at address and impact from up the line.

By contrast, here are photos of Snead, Hogan and Trevino at address and impact—golfers who developed the yips later in their careers from over-gripping their driver and woods at impact.

 Snead at Address    Snead at Impact

Hogan at Address    Hogan at Impact

Trevino at Address Trevino at Impact

It appears, from the photos below, that Sergio has adopted the 'gripper' strategy—gripping his driver and woods so hard that he does not allow his arms and club to extend at impact. The position of his arms and club at address and impact is most like Lee Trevino—who was an excellent ballstriker but developed the yips later in his career.

You can also see why he was so accurate off the tee and fairway. Sergio returns his club to EXACTLY the same position at impact that it was at address. As a result, his Spine Angle is EXACTLY 28 degrees at address and impact. Since alignment is responsible for accuracy, Sergio's perfect alignment down the line is responsible for his leading the field in fairways and greens hit.

Sergio at Address Sergio at Impact

But this means that he fights 100+ lbs. of pull on every downswing with just the small muscles of his forearms. Doing this hundreds of times a day on the practice range overuses the small forearm muscles. It would be the same as doing 100 lb. wrist curls every day, when the norm is 15 lb. When muscles are overused, hundreds of the tens of thousands of individual fibers that make up those muscles are torn. As the individual fibers repair, they get bigger and stronger.

But scar tissue also forms inside the muscles, and in the connective tissue around the muscles, to immobilize them so that they can heal. This scar tissue, called microfibrosis, is nature's internal cast. Once the individual fibers have healed, the microfibers not only do not go away, they tend to accumulate over time, making the muscles stiffer with age. These microfibers also tend to lock tension into place—the tension necessary to prevent the club and arms extending at impact.

When you then have to lightly grip the putter, the tense, bound-up forearm muscles spasm, and you have the yips.

This explains why Sergio putted so poorly at The Player's Championship. The tension from holding onto his driver and woods was just too much for his forearm muscles. Since he has been using the Death Grip with his driver and woods for some years, his forearms are also full of scar tissue.

While the microfibers in his forearms can be released, which will help to improve his putting, he will need to change his compensation for centrifugal force to prevent new microfibers from forming.

He can reduce the stress of fighting centrifugal force, and improve his ballstriking even more, by putting his hands on his swing plane at address, as we suggest in our new book, The Efficient Golfer. Here are some drawings from our book to illustrate what we mean.

You can see that our golfer has exactly the same Spine Angle and is always on plane from address to impact. By setting up this way at address, keeping his club on plane, and keeping his spine angle constant, our golfer was able to improve his accuracy off the tee while increasing his average drive from 275 to 290.

Or, Sergio can continue to over-grip his driver and woods and suffer with poor putting.

Sergio has recently turned to a putting guru to help him with his putting. Unfortunately, his teacher has not been able to help him because his putting problems do not start on the green, but in the tee box and on the fairway.

Fighting centrifugal force by over-gripping his driver and woods is going to condemn Sergio to more years of frustration and disappointment.