Don’t you hate it when you have a full weekend of golf planned and you come down with a severe case of the yips? That just takes all the fun out of it, doesn’t it? For those that aren’t familiar with the term, “the yips” is the name given to a neurological or muscular misfire that golfers experience when making short putts that normally are easy shots, especially for professionals. According to Golf Digest, the term was coined by the Scottish golfer Tommy Armour, who said it was a "brain spasm that impairs the short game." It’s been called by other names, including freezing, the waggles, the staggers, the jerks and even whiskey fingers. While it’s often attributed to stress and anxiety, researchers at the Mayo Clinic think there is a neurological component to it as well and are conducting research on possible treatments for the yips.
The term “focal dystonia” is used to describe specific muscles that get overworked. Much like writer’s cramp or carpal tunnel from overuse, it’s believed that the muscles in the hands and forearms, which are used extensively in golf, go into spasm, usually because of fatigue and repetitive motion. While performance anxiety can worsen the yips, it’s believed that the cause is overloading of nerve signals to these muscles that present as twitches or tics at the precise moment a ball is being hit or chipped in the “short game,” i.e., strokes used near the putting green and hole. There are many exercises and grips that golfers use to avoid the yips, but it’s all about the signals from the brain, so it’s best to have periods of rest and make sure muscles are relaxed with stretching before and after a game.