Golfer's Curse: Researchers Pin Down 'the Yips'

Sudden, involuntary actions may be due to a movement disorder.

ByABC News
April 16, 2010, 12:22 PM

April 18, 2010— -- The yips -- those sudden, involuntary movements that send a critical putt careening wide of the hole -- have been the curse of golfers since time immemorial.

Now a researcher is suggesting that the yips are actually a movement disorder on par with writer's or musician's cramp, rather than a function of stress or anxiety over the outcome of a match.

"I believe that's the case in a subset of golfers," Dr. Charles Adler of the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Ariz. told MedPage today after his presentation at the annual meeting at the American Academy of Neurology in Toronto. "Identifying that subset is my goal."

That's not to say anxiety doesn't play a role, Adler said. Experts in movement disorders are well are that stress and anxiety can cause symptoms to worsen, even when the condition is normally well controlled by medication, he said.

"I get that from my patients all the time," he said. "They say: 'Doc, you've got me controlled real well, except when I'm nervous.'"

But the study he presented here suggests that a specific, visible involuntary motion is involved in many cases of the yips -- or, as Adler prefers to call the condition, golfer's cramp.

To investigate, Adler and colleagues enrolled 25 golfers who complained of the yips and 25 who did not, matched for age, sex, and golf handicap.

They were each asked to attempt 70 putts of six and 12 feet, either straight or breaking in one direction or the other, on an outdoor practice green. Movements of the wrist were tracked with surface electromyography, while hand finger motions were followed with a specialized device, the CyberGlove II.

In addition, all the putts were videotaped and later scored for involuntary movements.

When the participants were analyzed according to their subjective history, there were no significant differences either on the electromyography or CyberGlove results, Adler reported.