The yips: two words that strike fear into the hearts of every golfer.
For Lucas Glover, it was a terror that tormented him for years.
An involuntary muscle tension in the wrist, the yips are not exclusive to golf, but the term – popularized by legendary Scotsman Tommy Armour in the 1920s – has become synonymous with a spasm that can cripple the swing of even the game’s biggest stars.
Ernie Els, Danielle Kang, Bernhard Langer and Georgia Hall are just four major winners who have battled the yips – also referred to as “the staggers” or “whiskey fingers” – which is primarily associated with putting issues.
In 2009, Glover was crowned US Open champion and became the world’s 15th best-ranked golfer. Six years and a case of the yips later, the American had plummeted to world No. 634.
“The closer you get to the hole, the worse it becomes.”
Glover steadily rebounded, climbing back to within touching distance of the top-100 by the start of 2023, but his green statistics continued to make for eye-watering reading.
Despite being among the best golfers in approach play, Glover sat at 189th for putting strokes gained (-.568) and 187th for putts per round (29.83) in the 2021/22 PGA Tour season. It was time to call in help, and that support arrived in the shape of former Navy SEAL Jason Kuhn.
An NCAA Division 1 baseball player, Kuhn had harbored dreams of playing in Major League Baseball (MLB) before the yips struck, leading him to throw six wild pitches in one inning, close to an NCAA record. Hopes of the MLB faded, with Kuhn joining the Navy shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Today, he is a mental skills and team culture coach, working with business leaders and athletes, including those battling the yips. His clientbase included MLB pitcher Tyler Matzek, who Kuhn helped to conquer a catastrophic yips issue to win a World Series with the Atlanta Braves in 2021.
Having first met with Kuhn in May, Glover began to work with the ex-Navy SEAL shortly after. It brought about a change in equipment – the 43-year-old switched to a long, broom-style putter – and a change in mindset.
“He walked me through a process about how to attack it instead of being scared of it,” Glover said.
“It freed my brain, my mind and my stroke up … it’s actually become fun again to go practice, to go play, to actually putt instead of being fearful. It’s been a life-changer for me so far.
“I never lost too much faith and always thought if I could just figure out a way to beat this putting thing that I’d be back where I could be.”
The results were immediate and extraordinary.
Having missed the cut at five of his first six PGA Tour events to open the year, Glover has finished inside the top-six on all but one of his last six starts, including back-to-back wins at the Wyndham Championship and FedEx St. Jude Championship.
Suddenly, he’s a six-time PGA Tour winner and, at world No. 30, racing towards his career-best position, targeting a remarkable hat-trick at the BMW Championship in Illinois this week.
A golfer once scared to putt is now the game’s most in-form player. For some in his position, that might have seemed like a pipe dream, but for the “mentally stubborn” Glover, a renaissance was always on the cards.
“I told myself a long time ago when I started, if I ever lost faith in myself and my ability, that’d be the time to retire or just quit,” said Glover, who is still working with Kuhn.
“Never lose faith, never lose hope … it’s up to us as individuals to be happy and we can control that ourselves. It doesn’t depend on anybody else to make us happy or to tell us we can do something.”
Ryder Cup calling
If he keeps up the momentum, Glover is hoping to play himself into the thoughts of US Ryder Cup captain – and close friend – Zach Johnson.
Though lacking the points to qualify as an automatic pick, Glover could see his dreams of playing a first ever Ryder Cup realized if Johnson selects him as one of six captain’s picks for Rome in September.
“Ever since I’ve turned pro, it was one of my goals and I’ve never achieved it,” Glover said.
“This is the closest I’ve been to being in the mix for a pick or even making it outright for about 10, 12 years.
“I’m excited about the opportunity and it’s in my hands – I’ve got two weeks to keep proving myself and make the decision easy … It doesn’t mean I necessarily have to win, but just show the consistency, the grit, and just keep putting my name up there.”
Scottie Scheffler, Wyndham Clark and Patrick Cantlay have already stamped their tickets for Italy, with the remaining three automatic places – currently held by Brian Harman, Brooks Koepka and Max Homa – to be confirmed after the BMW Championship.
On August 29, all attention will turn to the home of the PGA of America in Frisco, Texas, where Johnson will announce the six picks chosen to help Team USA try to win on European soil for the first time in 20 years.
Glover has a perfect record at the Presidents Cup, triumphing in 2007 and 2009, with Johnson his teammate at both tournaments. The Presidents Cup is a biennial competition between Americans and an international team open to players outside the United States and Europe.
“Making a team representing your country as an athlete is the highest honor,” Glover said.
“Not being a part of it [the Ryder Cup] always kind of urged me on a little bit, to be honest. I would love to do it.”