If chip yips strike, hide your eyes

Print More
delaet

Graham DeLaet

If you don’t think golf can be cruel, you obviously didn’t see Graham DeLaet play the 11th hole at the Country Club of Jackson Sunday during the final round of the Sanderson Farms Championship.

DeLaet, a 35-year-old Canadian, came to the 64th hole of the 72-hole tournament with a one-shot lead. He had the look of a winner. And then he blasted his drive 330 yards down the fairway on the par-5 hole. That’s when, as they say, stuff happened.

With no more than 210 yards to the pin, his second shot veered right, bounced the wrong way and splashed into the green-side pond. So, he took a one-shot penalty and a drop, still leaving himself a good chance for a par.

Then, more stuff happened.

A little history is necessary here. DeLaet, known as one of the sport’s best ball-strikers, has had periodic issues with his short game. He has suffered at times from what the pros call “chip yips.” He sets up to hit a simple chip shot, and then stuff happens. He might skull it over the green. He might shank it dead right. He might hit behind the ball, chunking it far short of the hole.

Rick Cleveland

Melanie Thortis

Rick Cleveland

This past June, at The Memorial, Jack’s tournament, it got so bad he just quit, dropped out during the first round. To his credit, he didn’t claim an injury as many would. No, he tweeted one of Twitter’s most honest-ever tweets:

I’m dealing with incredible anxiety while chipping/pitching right now. It’s not fun. I needed to withdraw to get it sorted out and get back ASAP.

But it’s not that easy, even for one of the most skilled golfers in the world. He took several weeks off and then had two good tournaments, a tie for 8th and a tie for 29th, before heading to the Canadian Open. And then the “chip yips” struck again with a vengeance during a first-round 77. Once you’ve had them, you never know when they might strike again. It’s not physical, it’s mental. It’s the toughest six inches in golf: the six inches between your ears.

Which brings us to Sunday at CCJ.

Remember, DeLaet, leading by one, had hit the ball into the water, taken a drop and was facing a 29-foot chip on his fourth shot to the par-5 hole. Par was still possible, which would have retained the lead.

DeLaet took out his wedge, addressed the ball, and then, well, he shanked the shot, dead right, not quite back into the water but inside the hazard line. Before his fourth shot, he was 29 feet from the hole. After his fourth shot, he was the 34 feet from the hole – and in the hazard.

His fifth shot, which he thankfully did not shank, still left him 16 feet from the hole. He then two-putted for a double bogey. Shaken, he bogeyed the next hole as well. From one shot ahead, he went quickly to three behind.

Instead of winning, DeLaet finished tied for eighth. Instead of $756,000, he won $126,800. Instead of leaving the “chip yips” in the rear-view mirror, they are still there, surely never quite out of his mind.

You should know that the “chip yips” and “putting yips” can strike any golfer, at any age, at any level of the sport.

I once had a good friend, a low-handicapper who had, in the past, been one of the best short putters I have known. If he needed to make an 8-footer for the money, he made it. And then, at about the age of 50, he got the yips. He couldn’t make it from two feet. He tried putting cross-handed. He tried a long putter. He tried putting, while looking at the hole instead of at his ball. He even tried putting left-handed and then cross-handed, left-handed. Nothing worked. Finally, he just quit golf. The game wasn’t any fun anymore.

Fifty years ago, back when we played with persimmon woods and balata balls, a teen-aged golfing buddy got a case of the “chip yips.” He was a heckuvan athlete, a really good junior player. One day, he almost drove the ball onto a par 4 green. And then the yips struck. He shanked one to the right, walked over to the ball and shanked it, dead right, again. He was just getting started. Same thing happened again. And then again. Finally, there he was, almost in the divot where he hit his second shot, and he was hitting his sixth. He had shanked it all the way around the green. He gave up and putted it onto the green.

Funny? It wasn’t funny then, and it wasn’t funny when it happened to Graham DeLaet Sunday. Following his round, DeLaet dutifully signed autographs for kids, somehow managing to smile and high-five with a few of them.

So I knew I was going to write about him, and I wanted to ask him about what had happened. I asked him for a quick interview.

“Not now,” he said. “I’ve got to go pack up.”

You know what? I don’t blame him.

•••

Tour rookie Cody Gribble wins Sanderson Farms Championship in just his second start.

Rick Cleveland is Mississippi Today’s sports columnist. Read his previous columns and his Sports Daily blog. Reach Rick at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.