|Fitness, Sports, Money-Nuff Said
|Does Tiger have the yips?
The Yips -- Causes and Cures
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By A. Lee, Contributing Columnist
If you play golf, or shoot pool or shoot at a gun
range, you've heard of the yips. The yips are the
answer to the question “what can turn a
superhuman 14 time major-winning golfer like Tiger
Woods into so bad a putter that he can't even make
the cut in run-of-the-mill golf tournaments? What
exactly are the yips? Does science offer an answer
to the yips?
How Common Are the Yips?
For male golfers with handicaps under 10, between
32.5% and 47.7% can be expected to have the
This same percentage range occurs for female
golfers with handicaps under 12, according to a
study in 2000 from the Department of Laboratory
Science of the Mayo Clinic.
This study, of 1,031 tournament players, found that
52% of players believe that they at one time
suffered from the yips. These players reported that
the putts most affected by the yips were those at 4
feet, 3 feet and 2 feet. The researchers found that
players with the yips also had trouble with fast,
downhill putts (who doesn't?) and putts that broke
left to right. The scientists also found that yips made
golfers grip the putter too tightly.
Other studies have confirmed that golfers with the
yips are in fact holding on too tightly. One study
found that the right forearm of yips-affected golfers
had far more muscular activity during putting than
golfers without the yips.
What Exactly Are the Yips?
The yips are an involuntary movement that occurs
during the execution of a fine motor skill. Examples
of fine motor skills include hitting a target in
archery, hitting a target in shooting, shooting pool,
and putting or chipping in golf. The muscles you
use with fine motor skills are small—your finger tips
typically. Executing an athletic skill using your fine
motor skills also requires stillness and focus. While
your hands and finger tips execute, the rest of your
body's larger muscles must remain dead still.
Otherwise, the tiny muscles of your hands will get
rocked off course --- much like a tiny row boat can
get moved miles off course in the waves created by
a ocean cruise ship.
Stillness, therefore, is the first essential part of the
mystery of the yips. The yips introduce movement –
involuntary movement – right in the middle of a
process that depends on stillness.
Stillness is important for another key reason in fine
motor skills. And that reason has to do with how
you actually execute a fine motor skill such as golf
putting. Take a skill that requires large motor skills
such as blocking a tackle. You have to line up your
body and, using the gigantic muscles of your thighs,
you thrust yourself forward. Not a lot can go wrong
there. If you find that you're missing tackles, you
can study films, see where yo are lining up—maybe
half a foot too low in your stance—and correct it.
The key is that you can see what you're doing and
use your sight and mind to help you correct what is
But correcting fine motor skills is a different
process. The mental process required to move your
fingertips the half a millimeter ( or quarter of a
millimeter) it takes to correct a golf putt relies not
so much on thinking – that is too macro a process
--- rather than on intuiting what you want to
happen. Here's the difference. I can think about
leaving my house in the morning. But I don't have
to think about how to walk to the door, how to turn
the key, how to breath. Certainly these things
happen –walking, turning, breathing --- and if I
tried to mess them up I could intentionally do so.
But the automatic nature of these actions suggests
that a different kind of intentionality is occurring.
This kind of intentionality, in the case of walking and
turning a key in a lock approaches “involuntary”
movement. They are the type of movements that do
not require you to –wait a second, line up the
thought –think about something to make it happen.
You have performed these tasks so often,
thousands, millions of times, that your body's big
muscles and small motor skills simply know what to
Coaches often talk of “muscle memory”. This
process is what they mean. Repetition of an action
in correct form thousands and hundreds of
thousands and millions of times creates a memory
that springs not from the mind but seemingly from
the muscle itself. Your body “knows” how to stroke
a pool stick, how to shoot a target, how to stroke a
Having earned this muscle memory from countless
repetitions, how in the world do “involuntary”
movements get introduced into the middle of
things? How is that possible?
What Scientists Know and What They Don't Know
About the Yips
Scientists believe that the yips are caused by both
neurological and psychological factors. Cases of the
yips can occur anywhere along a continuum
between 100% neurological and 100%
psychological factors. In 2003, Dr. Aynsley Smith
and others from the Mayo Clinic studies the yips.
That team concluded that the yips can range from
focal dystonia all the way along the spectrum to the
phenomenon of “choking” in sports.
As a result, you can observe a series of jerking,
tremors and freezing up in the arms and hands of
golfers with the yips. These tremors occur more
often when the golfer is under severe performance
stress. The key combo are conditions of “high stress
and physiological arousal”.
Here's an important clue to whether what you have
is the yips. Dr. Smith's team found that golfers with
the yips average only 75 rounds a year. The yips
add on average 4.9 strokes to your score for every
18 holes, and many golfers quit playing altogether
to avoid the embarrassment of the problem. Sound
familiar? Tiger Woods just announced that he will
be withdrawing from playing tournament golf
indefinitely until he can get his game straightened
Back to that issue of physiological arousal. The yips
occur when a golfer experiences physiological
arousal in combo with high stress. Left unexamined
in this study and others is a key question. Could a
golfer who had become accustomed to high levels of
physiological arousal develop the yips when the
sources of arousal are suddenly withdrawn? In the
case of Tiger Woods, his appetite for sexual arousal
is well-documented. But could it be that somehow
his body and mind became dependent on this
superhuman levels of sex to create the magical
balance of arousal-relief-calm and concentration he
needed to be Tiger?
If in fact a sex is the answer or part of the answer
to Tiger's vanishing magic, then he wouldn't be the
first super-transcendent athlete to use that
particular magic potion. Babe Ruth had legendary
sexual appetites. And Wilt Chamberlain, by his own
accounts, bedded more than 1,000 women during
his long career.
Is Botox the Answer for the Yips?
A 2013 study led by Dr. S. Dhungana of the Baylor
University College of Medicine suggests that
botulinum toxin may be a solution for the yips. Their
proposed solution would only work in those cases
where the tremors are more physiological in cause,
rather than psychologically-based. This work, out of
Baylor's Parkinson's Disease Center and Movement
Disorders Clinic, offers a ray of hope to yip-afflicted
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