The 'yips' in golf: a continuum between a focal dystonia and choking

Aynsley M Smith, Charles H Adler, Debbie Crews, Robert E Wharen, Edward R Laskowski, Kelly Barnes, Carolyn Valone Bell, Dave Pelz, Ruth D Brennan, Jay Smith, Matthew C Sorenson, Kenton R Kaufman
Sports Medicine 2003, 33 (1): 13-31
The definition of the 'yips' has evolved over time. It is defined as a motor phenomenon of involuntary movements affecting golfers. In this paper, we have extended the definition to encompass a continuum from the neurologic disorder of dystonia to the psychologic disorder of choking. In many golfers, the pathophysiology of the 'yips' is believed to be an acquired deterioration in the function of motor pathways (e.g. those involving the basal ganglia) which are exacerbated when a threshold of high stress and physiologic arousal is exceeded. In other golfers, the 'yips' seems to result from severe performance anxiety. Physically, the 'yips' is manifested by symptoms of jerks, tremors or freezing in the hands and forearms. These symptoms can result in: (i) a poor quality of golf performance (adds 4.9 strokes per 18 holes); (ii) prompt use of alcohol and beta-blockers; and (iii) contribute to attrition in golf. Golfers with the 'yips' average 75 rounds per year, although many 'yips'-affected golfers decrease their playing time or quit to avoid exposure to this embarrassing problem. While more investigation is needed to determine the cause of the 'yips', this review article summarises and organises the available research. A small study included in this paper describes the 'yips' phenomenon from the subjective experience of 'yips'-affected golfers. The subjective experience (n = 72) provides preliminary support for the hypothesis suggesting that the 'yips' is on a continuum. Based on the subjective definitions of 72 'yips'-affected golfers, the 'yips' was differentiated into type I (dystonia) and type II (choking). A theoretical model provides a guide for future research on golfers with either type I or type II 'yips'.

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