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Golf

Controlling golfing yips

The "yips", a psychoneuromuscular problem which 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 which generates a permanent neuromuscular impairment.

The researchers assembled a multidisciplinary team for the study, including specialists in sport psychology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, biomechanics, orthopaedic hand surgery, exercise and sport 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 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, difficult 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 to identify 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 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 putted 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 being able to use their normal 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 a 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

"In the event that the yips is 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. It is likely that the yips represents 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 yips response.


References

  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

Article Reference

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

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: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article030.htm [Accessed

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