The Yips & Ernie Els

The yips finds Ernie Els. Millions have watched The epic meltdown in the day since it has happened. Four-time major champion Ernies Els wound up six putting from under three feet for a nine on the opening par four at the Masters.

How could this possibly happen to such a successful veteran golfer?

In an interview after his round for the day, Els chalked up the embarrassing moment to nerves.


Els’ explanation seems reasonable even for such a seasoned when we consider the three criteria at play when performance anxiety strikes. The first is that you do something in front of others. Second, you are judged on it—or at least feel you’re being judged. Third, the judgment constitutes some sort of threat. Els must have experienced all of this during his epic fail.

Even such a seasoned golfer would have suddenly felt he was being scrutinized when he missed the first easy putt, and this constituted a threat to his professional reputation. That threat only increased as he kept missing the hole with subsequent shots.


The fight, flight or flee response would have immediately kicked in when Els felt an imminent threat, flooding his body with adrenaline. This is the body’s autonomic response to perceived danger. The body prepares to take physical action, like fighting or running away.

The fight, flight or flee response is great if you need to run away from a bear. However, it can be downright maladaptive if the threat is less physical and more existential. Els certainly might have thought about running from the green during his meltdown, but that was no option. Instead, with the yips clouding his thinking and sending fine motor skills out the window, he had to try to concentrate on sinking his golf ball into the hole.

What do you think? Feel free to join the conversation by leaving a comment.

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