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Premier League Bowling

The yips

5th January 2024

Words by David McGloughlin.

A single word that strikes fear into even the most resilient hearts and panic into the most experienced minds. Rare, but always unwelcome, and spoken softly it still cuts through the usual fanfare and revelry, leaving a discernible chill and draining the joy from those closest.

For some, it’s folklore; a myth. Dismissed with logic and belief in our own agency and autonomy. I bowl therefore I am.

For others, the affliction is all too real. Even if it can’t be explained by modern science or defined with any linguistic precision, you know it when you see it, and you know it when you feel it.

A clouding of the mind. Sudden confusion and memory loss. Panic. Mechanical failure. A quickened pulse but a dulled spirit. Total destruction of the ego.

“He’s got the yips.”

The next heartbeat sends a wave of dread through your body and you could swear you hear the dark echoing thud of a clocktower casting its verdict; your time has come.

For how long is impossible to know. For some, their dance with the grim reaper is mercifully brief, and quickly banished with firm, deliberate levity.

For others, a greater toll must be extracted.

It is said that one minute with the yips feels like 1 hour in our typical human experience. A mere 5 minutes of Davey Slapz chanting barely comprehensible insults in your ear would constitute torture even the Soviets at their depths wouldn’t condone. And with every second that passes, the severity of the condition compounds.

It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter what you try. It doesn’t matter how you think. It doesn’t matter where you stand, or how you approach. It doesn’t matter how slow or how fast. It doesn’t matter if you ‘go back to basics’. It doesn’t matter if you drink more pints. It doesn’t matter if you stop drinking pints. It doesn’t matter if you practise more. It doesn’t matter. The ball will not go straight. It will not go straight.

At first - a bad ball. A bad ball becomes a blip. A blip becomes a bad game. But suddenly, an inconceivably low score. The game is out of sight now, but you worsen still, and suddenly the laughter dies.

There is no deal with the devil, there is no bargain to be made. Your torment will last precisely as long as the Yips demand it, and until then, your pins shalt not tumble.

It was Scottish golfer Tommy Armour who named this disease in the 1920’s, when trying to explain a sudden onset inability to hole short puts - something he had done tens of thousands of times before with no issues. Since then the Yips have plagued our species in all walks of life. Lebron James has suffered playoff games missing 80% of his free throws. Riders captain David Two Shoes has a bad case of pub-yips this year, failing to register more than 2.5 pints in any one session. And on the lanes this season, there are rumours of an epidemic, with big stars putting up small scores.

When the yips strike it’s easy to know which amongst us are yet to pay the toll. They respond with derision and viciousness, ridicule and condescension. But amongst the rabble you will see some devoid of this lightness, eyes glazed over with a thousand yard stare. For them, the battle lines are blurred, any hostility numbed momentarily. There is no joy to be found here. They know the struggle when they see it, as they knew it when they felt it.

When my greatest adversary suffers the yips, I will not savour it. That is a fate no man deserves.