MEMPHIS, Tenn. – On May 14, Lucas Glover ranked 184th on the FedExCup list, 147th in the world ranking and was 199th (out of 205 players) on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting. None of those things were mutually exclusive.
In the world of professional golf there’s only one real trigger word and even in the most casual conversations it’s avoided at all costs, which likely made the first Zoom call between Glover and Jason Kuhn beyond awkward.
“I know what you’re going through, I did it in baseball and I can fix you,” Kuhn, a former-college-pitcher-turned-Navy-SEAL, told the four-time Tour winner, “but it’s going to be different than anything you’ve ever heard. I’m going to take you to a different place.”
Glover had the yips. For those with weak constitutions and a sensitivity for such talk, stop reading now because Glover’s story, as well as Kuhn’s, gets worse.
Kuhn learned the maddening evils of the yips while playing baseball at Middle Tennessee State as a relief pitcher. He was good and relished the pressure of trying to close out games right up to the moment when his body, not his mind, stopped cooperating.
“I thrived in those high-pressure situations and then one day I can’t throw a strike and then it snowballs to where I couldn’t even play catch,” remembered Kuhn, who once recorded six wild pitches in a single inning.
The pitching yips drove Kuhn out of baseball and straight to the U.S. Navy and Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training, where he began the three-week course with 134 other hopefuls. By the time he’d completed his training he was one of just 20 who graduated from his class.
“That took a lot of mental toughness and at the same point in my life I couldn’t throw a baseball, [becoming a SEAL] proved to me it couldn’t be a lack of mental toughness,” Kuhn said. “I want to put the shame and the guilt away and understand it can happen to anybody.”
The 2009 U.S. Open champion has consistently ranked among the game’s best ball-strikers since joining the Tour in 2004, but his putting had become alarmingly inconsistent. Glover, like every other Tour pro, had avoided the self-actualization that he had the yips but he’d left no option untested – from countless sessions with sports psychologists to countless putter changes. Nothing he tried worked and even when he’d have moments of progress nothing was sustainable.
Rock bottom came in 2016 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am when he had what he described as a panic attack on the 15th green. A few weeks later it happened again at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
“It was full on no control over my facilities,” Glover recalled. “I was convinced I could beat it and out-practice it. It was just the way I’m wired. Turns out that wasn’t the case.”
In May, Glover’s longtime manager, Mac Barnhardt, convinced him to meet with Kuhn, who had made a name for himself helping Atlanta Braves pitcher Tyler Matzek overcome his bout with the pitching yips and go on to win a World Series game.
“I want to make clear to players that this is not due to a lack of mental toughness, I think showing up day after day and competing with the yips, I view that as an injury, and still competing is mental toughness on display,” Kuhn said. “Knowing the embarrassment that’s associated with it every day and to go out and say, ‘I’m going to face that.’ That’s toughness.”
That was the first of a 12-step process with Glover and although it would be impossible to do Kuhn’s philosophies justice in a single story, the basic concept is the realization that the yips aren’t something that can be willed away with more practice or better technique.
“It’s more of a scientific understanding of what was happening. It’s more of a central nervous system issue than a brain thing. I’d never had it explained to me scientifically,” Glover said this week at the FedEx St. Jude Championship. “What I took the most from it was he said, ‘Dude, you’re not mentally weak. Just the opposite, but being able to compete with this at that level tells me you’re as strong as anyone I’ve ever met.’”
Although he missed the cut at the Memorial in June, Glover said it was the first time he could remember feeling comfortable on the greens. That was shortly after he started working with Kuhn and made a switch to a putter with a broom-handle shaft at the urging of his south Florida neighbor Brad Faxon.
He tied for 20th a week later at the RBC Canadian Open, his best finish of the season, followed by three consecutive top-10 finishes at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, John Deere Classic and Barbasol Championship. But the true test came last week at the Wyndham Championship, where he began the final round with a share of the lead.
For those who have watched Glover struggle over short putts in recent years, Sunday at Sedgefield was the ultimate proving ground. He was 17-for-18 on putts from 10 feet and closer, including a particularly nervy 3-footer at the 10th hole. “It was uphill, left-to-right,” Glover recalled. “They were always the worst ones for me. I went through what [Kuhn] and I worked on.”
Glover made the par putt on No. 10 and pretty much every other clutch attempt he needed on Sunday for his first Tour victory since 2021. Even the putts he missed didn’t send him into a spiral like before, which is the ultimate sign of progress for a player haunted by the uncertainty of the yips.
“It was night and day different,” said Glover, whose victory at the Wyndham Championship vaulted him into the first playoff stop, where he’s poised to keep his post-season run going after an opening 66. “I just needed to hear what he had to say, that this should rewire your brain a little bit.”
For a Tour pro, it was the most difficult conversation imaginable about an impossibly painful subject. For Glover, it was exactly what he needed to hear.