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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)[2]. 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:

  • distances from the cup of 3, 4, 2, and 5 feet respectively
  • fast, downhill, and left-to-right breaking putts
  • playing tournaments, leading a tournament, challenging and easy putts, specific competitors

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:

  • Measurements of heart rates during putting revealed that yips-affected golfers had faster mean heart rates than non-affected golfers during and after the point of contact, suggesting increased anxiety
  • People with yips also demonstrated greater grip force throughout the putting stroke than non-affected golfers
  • During the putting stroke, the yips-affected golfers demonstrated more forearm muscle activity, as measured by electromyogram, than non-affected golfers in the elbow and wrist flexor and extensor muscle groups
  • In terms of performance, yips-affected golfers putt less successfully to almost 30% greater distances from the hole, making fewer first putts than non-affected golfers. However, they were at the additional disadvantage of not using their standard compensated grips or long putters.

Reporting their findings in Sports Medicine (Smith et al. 2000)[2], 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

  1. the yips behaviour occurs as a result of focal dystonia [localised postural disorder] that results in poor putting performance, which then causes angst, or if
  2. the golfer becomes tense and subconsciously grips harder on the putter, thus causing a poor putting stroke and poor performance

"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.

Article Reference

The information on this page is adapted from Walker (2001)[1] with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.


  1. WALKER, I. (2001) Getting to grips with the golfing yips. Peak Performance, 147, p. 8-11
  2. SMITH, A.M. et al. (2000) A multidisciplinary study of the 'yips' phenomenon in golf: An exploratory analysis. Sports Med, 30 (6), p. 423-437

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2001) Controlling golfing yips [WWW] Available from: [Accessed