Be Realistic When Overcoming Weaknesses, Don’t Kid Yourself…

One of my students, Angela Won, is playing the Futures Tour Qualifying School this coming week in Lakeland, Florida. Angela is a talented girl, with a great golf swing and owner of, perhaps, the best putting stroke on Earth. But unfortunately, she has an issue — an issue that has scared her to death and has kept her from reaching her true potential. Angela’s issue is chipping. Angela has basically had the yips with chipping for the last 5 years. During practice, she’s fine…but when she plays for something that matters, and has a chip shot, watch out — because it could go anywhere. I’ve seen her skull simple chips from the fringe over the green. I’ve seen her double-hit chips from the rough. I’ve seen her chunk chips so badly that the divot went further than the ball. It’s really quite something to see. I mean here is this girl who plays golf so naturally and so effortlessly that she is one of my favorite players to watch. But give her a simple chip shot and she turns into a 30 handicap. I’m not talking tough chips over bunkers or out of heavy rough — I’m talking little simple chips that most 15 handicappers would get up and down easily. Like I said, it really is something to see.

I met Angela a couple years ago after she graduated from UC-Irvine. She was a very good junior player and had a great college career. But…in her own words, it should have been much better. When we met, I asked why? She said it was all chipping. I was surprised, as Angela wasn’t very long, and usually, shorter hitters rely on their wedges to compete at such a high level. But her equalizer had always been keeping the ball in play and literally making everything on the greens. Still, that will only take you so far and she had reached that point. She could no longer compete by wasting strokes around the green. I watched her chip for a while, and right away, we worked on some fundamental flaws — and she quickly got much better. All of a sudden she started holing out simple chips from everywhere. She started routinely winning short game contests against my other students. She was gaining confidence by the day and it looked like her problem was solved. It couldn’t have been this easy I thought. There is no way simple set-up fundamentals and easy drills could solve years of chipping problems in just a few days. But that’s what happened. Or so I thought.

Not long after we met and worked on those fundamentals, I watched Angela play in a golf tournament. She hit the ball fine and putted like her usual self — but low and behold — sure enough — her chipping was exactly how she described. She made 3 or 4 double bogeys from the fringe area by hitting some of the worst chips you’ll ever see. It was a completely different girl than what I had saw the previous couple weeks of practice. I think she shot something like 76 — but if Stevie Wonder had been chipping for her — it would have easily been 70-72. And if Tiger Woods was chipping for her — it could have easily been something in the 60’s.

She was right…she was an awful chipper. Or was she?

After the round, the first thing I told her was to putt everything from off the green the next day. I didn’t care how much fringe she had to go through — I wanted her to putt it. Then I told her we would talk over our strategy after the event. The next day she putted everything and played better — but still not nearly as well as she should have played…if she could somehow chip in tournaments like she did in practice.

The first thing Angela had to understand is why she was a bad chipper in tournaments. And to me, it was a comfort zone thing. If Angela had chipped in tournaments like she had in practice, she would have probably been the best college player in America. And quite frankly, she wasn’t prepared for that. And when golfers are not prepared for success, they will always find a way to sabotage themselves. And to me, Angela was doing just that — sabotaging herself.

The next thing Angela had to understand was that under extreme pressure, golfer’s always revert back to what feels natural. Angela was a great-great chipper as a teenager. But once she started taking lessons and doing things “the right way”, she lost all of that feel and became very mechanical. Her chipping method as a kid used lots of legs and feet. But her chipping method after lots of golf instruction used lots of hands and arms. She was basically confused. And when she got under pressure — she had the mechanical thoughts of hands and arms — fighting her natural inclination of feet and legs, which resulted in lots of ugly chips. I told her great players march to their own drum and if she was a great chipper before, she could be a great chipper again. And that I didn’t care if she chipped on one foot if it worked. To me, changing something that works just because it doesn’t fit the norm, is like trying to square up Lee Trevino’s stance. Seriously, if a golf pro would have gotten a hold of Trevino and said “wow, you hit it great aiming 50 yards left, but I think you should square up your stance” — we never would have witnessed the genius that was Lee Trevino.

So, our strategy was two-fold. One, Angela needed to give herself permission to play well. And two, she had to be secure enough in herself to do things her own way. Sure, we would work on her chipping — but until she made those two mental decisions — none of our work would matter.

Sadly, over the next year, Angela experienced a serious wrist injury and was unable to compete. So she has never been able to put her new-found chipping philosophy to the test. But she is healthy now and looking forward to starting her professional career. And her first step is next week in Lakeland.

Now, here is where my title “don’t kid yourself” comes in to play. Angela and I have talked extensively about her chipping fears in the past and how to overcome that fear. But until you put that talk into action, you never really know. Angela thought she had mastered that fear many times before in the past, only to have it reappear the first time she missed a green. So, I told her it would be irresponsible for us to just assume it’s gone forever. And that we had to prepare for that situation in case it comes up. I’m a very positive coach – but I am also a realist. I don’t subscribe to the theory of thinking everything is going to be okay, when deep down you know it may not be. We can fool a lot of people, but we can’t fool ourselves. Think about it — if you have duck-hooked every single shot for nine holes and now face a tough drive with water all down the left side — does it make more sense to just believe you can hit it straight or to have a plan or strategy in case that situation comes up? I’m all about expecting the best but preparing for the worst. Because if you’re prepared for the worst, it’s not nearly as scary.

I posed this question to Angela yesterday.

If I asked you to walk down a 100-yard, dimly lit hallway and then told you on the other end was $10,000 — would you walk down? She said yes. I then asked, would you still walk down if I said that along the way super-scary things would happen, like men in masks jumping out at you? She got a little apprehensive and said probably not. I asked, what if you knew they wouldn’t kill you and when it was over you’d be okay? After she thought about it more — she said definitely not — even if she was going to be okay. I then asked her would she go if I told her exactly when all the scary things would happen? She said maybe. I then asked would she go if I told her not just when things would happen — but what would happen? She said probably. I then asked would she go if I told her when it would happen — what would happen — and then what she could do as it happened to not be scared? She said yes, she would go for sure.

I told her this story was just like her golf. And that dimly lit, super-scary hallway was her chipping. But now instead of walking down that scary hallway with no information, she now knows when and where all the bad stuff will happen. And she now also knows how to deal with it. This seemed to make her feel better.

So, what will Angela do if she gets nervous chipping this week? Well, I showed her a simple chip with a 6-hybrid she carried in her bag. It mirrors her putting stroke, which she loves, and is super easy to repeat. She can hit it from anywhere that there isn’t a lot of rough to carry. And I’ve had her practice the heck out of it over the last few weeks. She’s gotten to the point where she is ridiculously good with this club and has tons of confidence. But the best part of this club is — she can’t chunk or skull it. Her misses are 7-8 feet away from the hole. And as good as she putts, that’s still almost a guaranteed par. But more importantly, she has a security blanket to fall back on if she needs it. And I believe that security blanket will be enough to let her have a good week. I told her — instead of practicing like you’re not going to be nervous — let’s practice just in case you are. And let’s work on a shot you can play even in your hands are shaking. That’s not saying you’ll need it — maybe you won’t — but it’s a nice thing to have in your back pocket just in case. Basically, let’s not kid ourselves.

A funny thing happens to a golfer when they have one thing that consistently bothers them in their game. It doesn’t take long before that one things starts to infect other areas of their game. For example, a person who putts poorly will put so much pressure on their iron game that eventually it will let them down as well. Or in Angela’s case, she has put so much pressure on her putting because of her chipping – that I worry it will eventually let her down if something doesn’t change. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to make everything to stay competitive. I just want her to just stroke it — because when she does — it’s magic. But unless her chipping gets better and takes that pressure off her putting — who knows what could happen.

I’m not sure how Angela will do this week, but I’m certainly pulling for her. It’s tough to tell how someone will do when they haven’t played in a tournament in over a year — but I have faith in one thing — Angela’s chipping will not kill her this week. She’s given herself permission to succeed; she’s gone back to what feels natural; and she has a “go to shot” just in case she gets nervous around the greens. And most importantly, she’s not kidding herself.

17 Responses to “Be Realistic When Overcoming Weaknesses, Don’t Kid Yourself…”

  1. Dave King says:

    I have a problem with the dreaded S word,i.e.shanking.Every
    4 to 6 months it comes back into my game and playes havock
    with my game,so much so that I stop playing until the feeling goes away.Any advice for this problem.

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks Andy.

    About 10 years ago, during The Masters, Jack Nicklaus was giving tips on TV and suggested that high handicappers, facing a shot of up to 50 yards, unimpeded, to the flag should use a 6 iron, with a putting stroke, and with practice to get the feel for distance, could be the simple & best option.

    I took that to heart, and it works a treat.

    Perhaps an alternative.


  3. Theresa says:

    Great story

    Will try that with my fear on holes with lots of gorse in front of the tees will use a different club on my practice Monday to see if I can get confidence .

  4. Garrick says:

    I am just trying to rectify a few months of the worst chipping imaginable but had not thought of the hybrids. Will give them a try. Thanks!!

  5. Patrick says:

    Fascinating article, good reading. Will try the hybrids and the thought process. Thank you.

  6. gerald r. says:

    Gary Player, on the golf channel a few years ago, couldn’t understand why high handicappers were not using hybrid’s for chipping from flat surfaces.
    I generally use a 4 hybrid and it works quite well.

  7. norman says:

    So whats new? Everyone knows short game is where pro´s leave the am´s behind. Everyone can tee up and whack a long drive, but to be precise with your irons, thats something else… and when the pressure is on, you revert to your old habits. My wife bougth a “chipper” which is like a putter but with a 56° face. She still has the same problems… they are in your head and it´s almost impossible to clear them away. Ask Vijay Sing about his puttin woes!

  8. Robin says:

    Hi Andy,
    I have the same problem, but have now aquired a 37° chipper.

  9. gerry melody says:

    great story. I will be looking out for angela next week . hope she does well Its a great reminder not to change a good thing , if it works stay with it , I like a lot of golfers , keep changing my driving chipping etc ,only to end up back to square one , However i love the game and wont give up The best part of my game at the moment is my shout FORE

  10. Joe Crammond says:

    I enjoy the game, never going to be as good as tiger nor as bad as when I first started, but I beleive that what you say is true we try and change what is natural to us to make us better, we have got to realize that most of it will work but the one or two that don’t we must have the conviction to go back to our natural shot. This might sound bad but I glad to hear that pro’s also struggle

  11. james pilar says:

    Good story it applies to all of us at one time or another.

  12. Em Shedlock says:

    I have the same problem,chipping & short pitches.I chip left handed (rh golfer). At least I don’t flip this way. It puts pressure on my iron game,not to miss greens. Like Angela in practice I’m very good,on the course just the opposite. Thank You, this will give me a new prespective on my chipping & pitching.

  13. Bob Crawford says:

    Fascinating story. Been there ,done that, so they say. Golf is a mind game and once you acceopt that, the rest is a matter of believing in ones self.

  14. tony gill says:

    This is me of course ! 5 yrs of chipping yips have taken me out from 6 to 10 handicap – I intend to implement the solution with my recently acquired utility club – its actually quiet frightenly how similar her duffed shots were similar to mine –

  15. billy tanner says:

    :shock::shock::roll:yea the article makes a lot of sense so will be watching her career to see how she progresses

  16. Mike Black says:

    It’s all in the mind; trying to recall good shots one has made from similar positions should be a step in the right direction, but I guess we’ve all got our weaknesses – mine is probably swinging my driver too fast!

  17. jose Rolz says:

    Hey Andy:
    Great story.
    Sounds like me. I will give my hybrids a try.

    Best regards,


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