Most Golf 'Yippers' Perceive Symptoms as Physical, Not Psychological

Over one-half of golfers affected by the “yips” report symptoms that strongly suggest a physical rather than psychological origin of the problem, according to findings of a Mayo Clinic study published in the most recent issue of Sports Medicine. The ‘yips’ is a condition that involves a tremor, freezing or involuntary jerking of the hands when attempting golf shots, particularly short putts. Previous research has indicated it adds nearly five strokes to an affected golfer’s 18-hole score.From the Mayo Clinic:Most Golf ‘Yippers’ Perceive Symptoms as Physical, Not Psychological

ROCHESTER, MINN. — Over one-half of golfers affected by the “yips” report symptoms that strongly suggest a physical rather than psychological origin of the problem, according to findings of a Mayo Clinic study published in the most recent issue of Sports Medicine.

The ‘yips’ is a condition that involves a tremor, freezing or involuntary jerking of the hands when attempting golf shots, particularly short putts. Previous research has indicated it adds nearly five strokes to an affected golfer’s 18-hole score.

“For many years the ‘yips’ was seen as a purely psychological problem, something that was all in the golfer’s head,” says lead researcher Aynsley Smith, Ph.D., of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center. “This latest study provides further reason to believe that there is a physical component for many if not most ‘yippers.'”

The Mayo Clinic study was the first to ask golfers to describe their subjective experience of the “yips.” “Yips”-affected golfers with an average handicap of 6.7 described their symptoms for the survey, and a team of three physicians from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.; Jacksonville, Fla.; and Scottsdale, Ariz.; categorized their responses. Fifty-five percent of the golfers described their symptoms in physical terms (e.g., “involuntary jerking of the hands during putting”), while only 22 percent gave descriptions consistent with psychological causes (e.g., “nervousness and tight feeling in the body prior to and during the putt”).

The mean age of the 72 golfers was 52 years, mean golf experience was 36 years, and golfers averaged 75 rounds of golf per year. Golfers averaged 20 years of club tournament experience with 66 (90.4 percent) playing in local and 19 (26 percent) in national tournaments.

“These results lend support to our theory that there is a continuum of causes for the “yips” within two main categories, ranging from performance anxiety, or ‘choking,’ to a focal dystonia,” says Dr. Smith. A dystonia is a neurologic disorder, often described as an occupational cramp, characterized by involuntary movements such as spasms of a body part. It may be related to overuse. “These are highly accomplished golfers who experience the problem after many years of successful competition, and we see similar fine motor problems in others, such as professional musicians, who must assume unnatural postures for prolonged periods. Anxiety can make the problem worse, but it appears there is a physical element that may be the underlying problem,” says Dr. Smith.

The Mayo Clinic researchers plan a putting tournament this spring with 16 “yippers,” one-half from each category. By measuring factors such as confidence, heart rate, grip force, stress hormones and the videotapes of each putt, they hope to better understand the problem and whether medications may help relieve symptoms.

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Monday, March 3, 2003
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