After a terrifying attack of the yips on the first green at Augusta National that saw him make a 9, Neil Tappin asks what next for Ernie Els?
In sporting terms triumph and despair going hand-in-hand. Take the final round of the 2016 Masters as the perfect case in point. Jordan Spieth begins the back nine on Sunday with a five shot lead – half an hour later, he’s three behind and on the verge of tears. Later that evening the American is forced to place the Green Jacket on the shoulders of a beaming Danny Willett. Professional sport can be a cruel mistress.
However, what happened to Ernie Els goes beyond just despair and poses a profound, worrying question about his future in the game. Let’s be clear from the start here – Ernie Els is suffering from a particularly debilitating version of the yips. We can all miss short putts but the yips are like a bolt of electricity working through your hands at the moment of impact, altering the direction of the putter face. Despite resetting himself and running through his routine, Els was unable to keep the yips at bay. It was almost as if there was a force-field around the hole. Six putts from inside four feet was the horrifying result. Not a single golfer on the planet would feel anything other than genuine sympathy for the big South African. Unlike most of the rest of us however, he can’t just lock his golf clubs away in the naughty cupboard. He’s a professional, he needs to find a way through it.
After his 10 at the 1st, Els showed his professionalism and class by battling through the rest of the round and shooting a highly credible 73 in tough conditions on day two.
Ernie Els yips video
Is this the end for Ernie Els on the big stage? The answer to that is – it doesn’t have to be. Bernhard Langer speaks eloquently about how he survived the yips on numerous occasions during his career and with the recent anchored putter ban, it’s a battle he continues to fight. Whether the likes of Sergio Garcia or Adam Scott suffered from the yips is unclear but they have both transformed their games on the green by adopting drastically different approaches.
This would seems to be the most likely next step for Els. Those who have struggled with the yips often pinpoint the problem to the right hand – by changing the way it sits on the grip, you can change the way the putter feels in your hands. That’s the theory.
What’s for sure is that it seems Ernie can’t do nothing and hope for the best. The first round of the Masters comes with its own unique pressure and that it should be at that moment they struck, tells an important story. All the moments that truly matter in golf are nerve-racking. If Els is going to win on the big stage again, he’ll need rebuild his trust in his putter. What happened at Augusta (and on a few previous occasions, including at last year’s Dunhill Links Championship), undermines that trust.
A completely new approach will help to reset the feeling in his hands and potentially keep the yips at bay. Whether he will be able to contend again in the very biggest tournaments is the great unknown but if he can adopt a new approach to putting, he may be able to unlock the potential of his incredible ball striking.
Whatever happens, we wish him well. Ernie is too good to struggle so badly.