Revealed: the real reason why a golfer suffers the yips

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Indy Lifestyle Online

The jerky putting stroke that marks the end of a golfer's hopes, throwing handicaps awry, may have its roots in a muscle disorder similar to writer's cramp.

The jerky putting stroke that marks the end of a golfer's hopes, throwing handicaps awry, may have its roots in a muscle disorder similar to writer's cramp.

Known as "golfer's yips", the spasms catch players by surprise at the moment they are making a crucial shot on the green. The cause has been put down to the stress of playing under pressure but scientists believe they have traced the origin of the problem to a malfunction of the muscles.

A team from the Mayo Clinic in the US asked 20 male golfers, 10 with yips and 10 without to hit a total of 75 putts at distances varying from three to eight feet from the hole.

The golfers were rigged up to a machine that recorded the muscle activity in their arms and were asked to rate the quality of their strokes.

Testing before the experiment showed none had any abnormal arm muscle movements at rest, when they held their arms outstretched, or while standing still holding the putter.

But at all distances from the hole, half of the golfers with a history of yips had spasms of their forearm muscles just before they struck the ball. Only two of the five were aware that they had had yips.

The five golfers who had spasms were also the poorest players. They were older, had higher handicaps and missed more putts and by a greater margin.

Among the other group, which had no history of yips, none had abnormal muscle contractions.

Charles Adler, one of the researchers who presented the findings to a conference of the American Academy of Neurology in Miami , said: "The co-contractions were similar to those of task-specific dystonias, or movement disorders, such as writer's cramp and musician's cramp."

The conclusion was challenged by Mike Rotheram, of Sheffield Hallam University's Centre for Sport and Exercise Science. Mr Rotheram, who is surveying different sportsmen about yips and in what situations they occur, said the Mayo Clinic study did not prove what was causing the muscle spasms.

"I firmly believe there is an emotional element to it. You also see it in other sports, such as darts and cricket." He said there were two views about the cause of yips. "Some believe they are task-specific cramps and that the more times you do the same movement, you get disruption in the movement programme that carries out that task."

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