was a mere 5 feet from the hole, but when Chey Castro raised his
putter for what should have been a clean shot, his hand spasmed
and he missed the putt that would have won him $180 at the
know Iím good and I know I can make these putts," says
Castro in a call from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I used
to always make them and never had an issue."
among those experienced golfers plagued by an inexplicable
phenomenon known as the yips. The name might make the condition
sound trivial, but the yips can ruin a professional athleteís
golfers, itís an uncontrollable spasm that occurs in the hands
right before impact, says Dr. Debbie Crews, a sports psychology
consultant for Arizona State University womenís golf team and
a faculty research assistant in the professional golf management
program. Crews has helped Castro and others treat the yips.
recently spoke in Dallas about the brain science behind golf and
the yips at the Center for BrainHealthís public lecture series
at the University of Texas at Dallas.
affect many kinds of athletes, including cricket and baseball
players, and even piano players, but the condition is most
closely associated with golfers. Tiger Woodsí poor game at the
recent Phoenix Open led some fellow players to speculate that
the great golfer himself has it.
percent of golfers will experience the yips at some point in
their career, says Crews. In the past, most golfers refused to
admit they had it. Today, scientists like Crews are trying to
understand what causes the yips, as well as how to treat it.
separate the yips into two categories: neurological and
number of golfers who come down with the yips have focal
dystonia, or a neurological problem in the brain that causes
involuntary muscle contractions, says Crews. For most, thereís
nothing neurologically wrong. This is what makes the yips so
mysterious. Except for the spasm itself, there doesnít seem to
be anything wrong with these golfers.
golfers have the yips only under certain conditions, say, if
theyíre playing a game with thousands of dollars resting on a
single putt. Others might have it intermittently for a few
months. For some, it might be chronic.
very hard to watch somebody miss the hole by 5 feet when a
little kid at 3 years old could do it just fine," says
And if itís
hard for the viewer, imagine the golferís frustration.
first experienced the yips more than 10 years ago. He had played
golf since he was 6 and was especially active in high school,
but when he went to college, he stopped playing so frequently.
Thatís when he first experienced the yips.
37, attributes it to a lack of confidence. In high school, he
was practicing every day. Now, he just plays for fun several
times a week. The lack of practice makes him less confident when
he steps up to even the simplest putt.
I just play with some buddies I play the best," says
Castro. "But when itís for a tournament ... I kind of
sometimes put too much pressure and mess it up."
doesnít cause the yips, Crews says, but it can make the
problem worse. Crews helped ease Castroís anxiety through a
variety of exercises, including focusing his attention past the
ball and making minor position adjustments in his setup.
suspects that making slight hand and feet adjustments can
recircuit the brain in a way that overcomes the yips.
golfer putts, his or her brain relies on a template it created
to determine what signal is sent to which muscles to tell them
what to do. With the yips, this template becomes dysfunctional.
often interferes with performance is when the left side of the
brain becomes overactive," says Crews. That analytic,
verbal side canít shut down, and it tries to over-control the
that small change in hand position and it seems like thereís
an adjustment and a detour in the brain," says Crews.
similar to a treatment for focal dystonia when writing. Place
paper on the desk, and people with focal dystonia canít write.
Place it on the wall, though, and all of a sudden, they can.
think theyíve got to do this one perfect motion this one way,
but thatís not true," says Crews. "Thereís many
working with Crews, Castro still struggles with the yips. Heís
not alone. Some golfers come out of treatment completely cured.
Others are not so lucky.
loves the game, so he doesnít let the yips keep him off the
fun, "but what do you do?" he says. "Iím not
one to get too frustrated."