Here is a post my friend Kevin Kraft that he posted on facebook about his journey to cope with anxiety. I have caddied for him on occasion in the last couple of years and he has done a great job of keeping things in check. Anyway I thought it was a pretty good read...
When I quit tournament golf in 2008, I was a wreck. In January of 2008 I got an IRS letter telling me I was going to be audited. I had accountants, so how bad could it be. They'd have done their job and have me all squared up. Except they didn't do their jobs. Not even close. And that's when it started.
The yips. The yips are a mental condition that physically manifests itself by causing the body to essentially self-sabotage what a golfer is trying to do. They are most often associated with touch shots. Putting, especially short putts or chip shots around the greens. That's not how mine manifested themselves.
For me, it was the most powerful swing, and the thing I was best at, driving, that got stripped from me. I experienced extreme tension in my downswing that made it physically impossible for me to square the club properly. I had two shots at my disposal: a 90 yard block to the right and a 60 yard snap hook to the left. There was no middle ground.
Mine showed up on the second hole of the first event I played that year. I was warming up for another season on the Korn Ferry Tour out in Arizona. I had blocked my first tee shot a bit but thought nothing of it. I got to my ball, knocked it on the green and made par. I went to the second hole, one that was almost driveable for my warning-track power and I promptly hit the ball 90 yards right into the desert. I did the "pro" thing. Looked at my club. Wondered what the hell just happened. I went out into the desert, found my ball. I wasn't under a cactus, so I knocked it on the green, two putted and made par. When I went to the third tee, I wasn't sure what was going on. My tee shot on #3 went 90 yards right again. My brain exploded. Figuratively, of course.
Fast forward to 2015. I hadn't played competitive golf for 7 years. I decided I wanted to attempt to play a tournament again. I entered the qualifier for the Pennsylvania Open. I didn't know what was going to happen. Could I hit a driver again? What would I shoot? 69? 89? It could go either way.
I was fortunate that I didn't have to hit drivers at this course. First hole was a little dogleg left par-4 that I could use a 3-wood off the tee. I made a 30 footer for birdie to restart my tournament career. Incredible! I got to the 2nd tee box and it is a straight away par-5. Total driver hole. My mind shut down. I literally could not pull the driver out of the bag. I was scared to death. I hit a good 3-wood and would go on to make another birdie.
I would actually hit two drivers that day. Both on par-5's. Both with decent results. Played those two holes one under par. And while I was anxious, I kept making good swings and ended up shooting 69 and qualifying for the PA Open.
Shortly thereafter I went to Ohio to play another event. I didn't have a caddy with me for this one. My anxiety was ramped up with nobody to keep me in check. Again, the golf swing was good. I made a ton of putts. I was scared, but I just kept swinging. I shot 64 and would win in a playoff. I hadn't shot a score like that in 8 years. I was thrilled. Flabberghasted, but thrilled.
The anxiety started to wane. The more I played, the better it got. By the time I won the PA Open in 2018, it was gone. I was free to pull out the driver most any time. Though there have always been holes that I just know I cannot pull the driver out. The yips are never going away. But I have figured out how to manage them.
Fast forward again to 2021. After not playing much in 2019 and 2020 due to work commitments and Covid, the anxiety started to come back. I did, however, still manage to qualify for the US Senior Open at Omaha Country Club. I know the driver yips are still there, but as I said, they are mostly managed. A new yip has started to take hold. Long, lag putts have become very difficult for me. I'm still working through how to make that go away. I may have found the answer, I just haven't had any events to put it to a real test. We shall see in 2022. The problem is the anxiety. And it showed all through the summer and out in Omaha.
On my way out to Omaha for the US Senior Open it was a great road trip. Had one of my best friends with me as we made the 17 hour journey. A lot of fun. I had all the support in the world. Everyone was so excited for the event. And so was I. But I was scared. It went beyond anxiety. I would get the shakes thinking about what was coming up. Playing in front of crowds that were now allowed back on the courses at events. Playing along side the likes of Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer, Freddy Couples...I was so afraid of what would happen, even with a long track record of being able to play through the gobbledegook that plays out in my head. By the time we approached Omaha, I was in complete fight or flight mode and I wanted to flight. I wanted to turn around, withdraw from the tournament and just go home.
I was really fortunate that a series of events that transpired on site at the Senior Open went a long way to calming me down. It got better as I spent some time on the range. I relied heavily on my caddy, John Wilkins. I don’t know what I would have done without him. Seriously. He knew my history and what he (and we) were getting into. My biggest fear was what would happen on the first tee. Could I take the club back? Would I be able to get the ball airborne? Was I going to shoot 90? The anxiety was bad, but I've been able to play through it. I had a great time at the U.S. Senior Open. Making the cut in my first professional major is just incredible. One of the truly amazing experiences of my golf career. I wish I could have enjoyed it a little more. Maybe in the next one I can be anxiety free. I'll keep working on solutions. It's all I can do. I love tournament golf. I don't want to quit. I have to face these challenges head on and do what I can to keep myself moving forward. And as this article makes very clear...I'm not alone.