Battling the Yips, A Plague Upon Every Golfer

Unexplained jitters when tackling easy tap-ins have befallen even the most legendary pros. Now, a group of scientists hopes to reveal which sections of the brain are responsible for choking

On the Green, No Place For Choking
Agnes Csondor

On the greens of the lovely Bethpage Black for this weekend's U.S. Open and golf courses across the nation, it's a taboo never spoken about yet easily identified – the yips. Talented, sometimes elite-level golfers, suddenly unable to hold their putter straight for seemingly simple tap-ins. It's like a virus infecting the golfer's mind, causing involuntary reflexes with no warning and no mercy. Cures for the yips are as unknown as its very cause. But two researchers are recruiting the inflicted and hoping that an MRI will shed light on a disease devastating weekend warriors everywhere.

Nobody is suggesting you can blame your choking on a torn meniscus or a weak labrum. Neuroradiologist Yair Safriel and Nick Dewan, a psychiatrist specializing in sports and neuropsychiatry, are planning to administer functional MRIs (fMRI) to look at the minds of golfers in Dunedin, Florida. Each subject will be placed in the fMRI and told to think about tapping in what should be a gimmie putt. The hope is that different parts of the brain will light up on those with the yips suggesting the 'choke' sector of the mind. Dewan hopes to start by analyzing 10 golfers, five with the yips and five without. We hear Southwest has cheap flights, so book now.

"Nobody has done a study like this," said Dewan to the St. Petersburg Times.

Dewan went on to express hope that the research can extend beyond golf to other sports where coughing it up under pressure is commonplace. Safriel even thinks the data could be used by professional teams to pre-screen for potential chokers. We can hear the player's association calling their lawyers now.

Exactly what to do for golfers if and when such a region can be isolated is still unknown. Until a magic drug or therapy is created, those currently suffering might want to consider some Botox. Nope, not for the stress wrinkles on the forehead from shanking all the tap-ins: previous research suggests it might provide some temporary relief.