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‘Yips’ or ‘Twitches,’ Who Knows Origin?

Just who named the “yips”?

It’s a good question, and it would be an even better one if there were an answer. But no one really seems to know where the term came from.

“I have absolutely no idea,” said Byron Nelson, 86, who won the Masters in 1937 and 1942, the PGA in 1940 and 1945 and the 1939 U.S. Open. “I first heard of it when I came on the tour in the ‘30s. It was just always there.”

Gene Sarazen, who will be 96 on Friday, won the 1935 Masters, the U.S. Open in 1922 and 1932, the 1932 British Open and the 1922, 1923 and 1933 PGA. He doesn’t know where the yips came from either.

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“Beats me,” Sarazen said. “I don’t know if you’ll find out. I have no idea.”

Neither does Paul Runyan, 89, the 1934 and 1938 PGA champion, who said he first heard of yips when he was living in Arkansas in the late 1920s.

“Even then, it was a word used for a jerky motion when your nerves catch you,” Runyan said. “It applies to a person with so many bad putting rounds that he can’t envision success.”

So we know what the yips are even if we don’t know how they got their name. Frank “Sandy” Tatum, former president of the U.S. Golf Assn., said when he was at Oxford in England in the late 1940s, he heard a slightly different term for the yips.

“The Brits called them the ‘twitches,’ which I think is rather more descriptive,” Tatum said.


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