Nerves seize the day as Vinny gets the yips

Hopes of a fifth Lagging Jacket go west as his putter refuses to play ball


At first, Vinny Fitzpatrick thought nothing of it. He’d missed the odd short putt before. ‘These things happen’, he shrugged as he traipsed off the opening green at Deer Park on Sunday afternoon, having tugged a three-footer.

But when he pulled a putt of similar distance for a bogey at the next, he felt rattled, especially as he’d experienced a slight involuntarily movement in his hands just after he pulled the blade back.

What in the Dickens’ was going on, he wondered?

While Vinny wasn’t long off the tee, and his approach shots often sprayed wide of the target, he was a canny chipper and deadly with the Texas Wedge.

In the Soiled and Ancient Society attached to Foley’s pub in Clontarf, no one had a better reputation for turning three shots into two than the portly bus driver.

It was why he’d been 7/2 favourite to reclaim the society’s “Lagging Jacket”, awarded to the winner of the nine-hole scurry around Deer Park on Masters Sunday.

The garment, first presented by Old Man Foley in 1974, was bulky and buttery-looking was highly coveted if, for no other reason, its owner was entitled to a free evening’s jar in Foley’s.

Vinny had won it on four occasions, most recently in 2005, by coincidence the last time Tiger Woods had won the fourth of his Green Jackets at Augusta.

Grieviously damaged
Tiger would be trying for a fifth that evening but his reputation had been grievously damaged in the second round when he had deliberately violated a rule and should have been disqualified.

For Vinny,Tiger should have walked or been shown by the door by the blazered brigade of the Deep South.

“Poppycock”, he harrumphed as he brought his attention to bear on a two-foot tap in for a par at the short third. As he drew the putter back, another slight spasm shot through his hands and the ball jumped off the putter face at a crude angle, missing the cup by inches. Three putts: three miscues; this was getting serious.

At the next, Vinny foozled his approach and ended up with a 20-footer for a bogey. He dollied the putt up to within a foot of the hole but when he went to finish off, a strange thing happened: he froze over the putt.

Vinny couldn’t bring the putter back. He kept looking from ball to hole; hole to ball, twitching the tops of his golf shoes. He stepped away, managed a practice swing that looked fine and re-addressed the ball.

It was then Vinny felt his entire body seize up, as if he was in a catatonic state, locked into a scary place over which he had no control. He widened his stance, lowered his backside into a squatting position and began to breathe heavily.

“You’re on the clock,” giggled Fran, only Vinny didn’t laugh in reply. If he had his way, he’d shove the putter up Fran’s backside, only he couldn’t get it to move.

The blade, a trusty John Letters finest from the 70s passed on by his old man, seemed embedded in the turf. Vinny’s eyes danced from the ball to hole. The 12-inch gap seemed to widen and Vinny imagined the putt broke from the left, then the right.

He finally brought the club back and watched in horror as hands he didn’t recognise stabbed furiously at the ball, sending it darting outside the cup. It was, by some margin, the shortest putt Vinny had missed in years.

“Jaypurs tonight. What in God’s name was all that about?” said Fran. “We were nearly going to call the lads behind through.”

Vinny reddened, hunched his shoulders, Cabrera-like, and marched to the next tee. “C’mon, let’s get a wriggle on,” he growled.

At the short fifth, Vinny rolled a long birdie approach right up to the lip, so close it almost toppled in. He lost a ball at the next before holing a 25-yard pitch for par.

Standing on the eighth tee, Vinny had somehow accumulated 11 Stableford points. With two shots to come at the long uphill index one, and another at the last, he wasn’t out of the running. A par-par finish would give him 18 points – he’d have a squeak.

His drive was true, if short, and he followed with two fine smacks of his brassie to within 50 yards of the pin. A deft chip, with a hint of check on the second bounce followed, and left Vinny’s ball a yard from the hole. Incredibly, he had a putt for five points.

What followed was painful, so painful that those who witnessed it, which included Vinny’s playing partners and the two matches backed up behind, struggled to comprehend what happened.

Suffice to say that after several minutes of immobilisation, a stricken Vinny was eventually escorted from the green by his playing companions after appearing to suffer some form of paralysis.

The burly bus driver was bundled quickly into a car before being driven off in the direction of Sutton Cross.

A couple of hours later in Foley’s, armed with a pint, Vinny reflected on the painful events with a reasoned air.

“Lads, it was one of those things that could happen to a Bishop, a once-off. Look at my hands now, steady as they go. I just had a momentary lapse, that’s all. We’re in Royal Sillogue in a fortnight and I’ll bring it to its knees.”

The lads glanced quickly at one another, aware there had been nothing “momentary” about Vinny’s stiffening.

On the telly, the final round of the Masters was unfolding. As always, there was an unlikely story. This time, it was Bernhard Langer. When a curling 12-footer dived into the cup for a third straight birdie, the German jumped to five under par and was suddenly in contention.

“Langer’s in some nick for a 55-year-old,” observed Brennie. “He looks the same as he did 25 years ago.”

Macker nodded. “He does but there’s one difference. In his younger days, Langer couldn’t putt for peanuts. What did they say was his affliction? Oh yeah, the yips.”

At that, Vinny slipped off the bar stool and headed for the toilet. It had just hit him like a sledgehammer he had more in common with Langer than 55 winters; he too had the dreaded yips. And as he’d read somewhere, once you’ve had them, you’ve got them.