Controlling golfing yips
The "yips", a psycho-neuromuscular problem that puts golfers off their putting strokes, may affect almost half of all tournament players, according to a large study from Minnesota, USA (Smith et al. 2000). Despite the thoroughness of their research and the evidence provided by previous studies, it is still not clear whether the yips is primarily a neurological problem, made worse by anxiety, or a psychological problem that generates a permanent neuromuscular impairment.
The researchers assembled a multidisciplinary team for the study, including specialists in sports psychology, physical medicine, and rehabilitation, biomechanics, orthopaedic hand surgery, exercise and sports science, physical therapy, endocrinology, and neurology. A detailed questionnaire was sent to 2,630 tournament players registered with the Minnesota Golf Association, all of whom had a handicap of less than 12. A total of 1,031 golfers (39%) responded (986 men and 45 women), of whom 541 (52%) perceived that they experienced the yips, defined as jerks, tremors, and spasms, mostly affecting the lower arm and wrist.
The two groups were similar in mean age (mid-40s), playing experience (30 years), and handicap. Both groups played the same number of games per season (72) and had a similar competitive golf experience. Both groups considered themselves in good health, and only about a quarter of the subjects in each group were taking prescribed medication.
For yips-affected golfers, symptoms were episodic in most (87.4%) cases, with a mean duration of six years. They were most likely to be elicited by the following factors:
Because of the high self-reported prevalence of yips elicited by the questionnaire, a second, more practical study was carried out on a smaller group of volunteers known professionally to one of the investigators to start identifying some of the physical, physiological, and performance differences between yips-affected and non-affected golfers.
This revealed the following key differences:
Reporting their findings in Sports Medicine (Smith et al. 2000), the researchers estimate the overall prevalence of yips among low-handicap golfers at 32-5%-47.7% - a high proportion of serious golfers. One limitation of the study was that it drew responses from only 43 female golfers, of whom 23 were yips-affected, and it is not clear whether this reflects a genuine gender difference in the incidence of the yips.
"None of the studies thus far have been designed to determine a causal relationship," they point out. The challenge of future research is to establish whether
"If the yips are not precipitated by anxiety, researchers must establish whether the problem arises because of a central neurological change or whether it is attributable to a peripheral change at the neuromuscular junction secondary to overuse and prolonged postural demands on specific muscles in the forearm." In the meantime, they postulate that: "yips-affected golfers represent a continuum that is anchored at either end by anxiety and focal dystonia. The yips likely represent a physical, physiological, and psychological reaction."
Testing the effectiveness of anxiolytic drugs, including beta-blockers and tranquillisers, should enable future researchers to determine the role of anxiety in the yip's response.
The information on this page is adapted from Walker (2001) with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.
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