ROCHESTER (AP) -- Research under way at the Mayo Clinic seeks a cure for a neurological disorder and improve golf scores in the process.
Aynsley Smith and others at the clinic's sport psychology and sports medicine center are out to help devoted duffers get rid of the yips, that spastic putting stroke that at appears at the worst possible moment.
Smith describes the yips as sudden tremors, jerking or freezing while putting. But those who have suffered from it describe sometimes horrible and mind-altering symptoms.
"There was a one-year year period when I got physically ill when I walked onto the green," said David Rovick, an amateur golfer who has a fistful of Minnesota senior tournament victories in his back pocket. He said that when the yips struck, he could not control his hands, eyes or body.
"I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy," he said.
Smith, director of sports medicine research at the clinic, published a survey this week of 1,000 Minnesota golfers in the journal Sports Medicine in which half said they suffered from the dreaded yips.
She said the phenomenon is most likely to result from both anxiety and the same neuromuscular problem called dystonia that sometimes affects musicians, dentists and others who assume awkward postures for long periods of time.
Smith sent her survey to 2,630 tournament players listed with the Minnesota Golf Association, and 39 percent -- or 1,031 returned them.
Of those, 52 percent said they experienced the yips, though Smith said the results might be somewhat inflated because golfers with yips might be more inclined to respond to the questionnaire.
Further analysis showed that for golfers with handicaps that are below 12, between 32 and 48 percent had the yips.
Her survey showed that certain conditions were most likely to initiate the onset of yips -- fast, downhill, left-to-right breaking putts, tournament play, and playing certain opponents.
Smith suspects that nerves may be largely to blame. Sometimes the yips are a neurological problem made worse by anxiety, and sometimes they are purely a neuromuscular problem brought on by overuse of putting muscles and that awkward putting stance.
The next phase of her research will take place on the green. She and other researchers from the Rochester clinic as well as the Mayo facilities in Arizona and Florida, are planning a putting tournament in August at the World Golf Village in Jacksonville, Fla.
They plan to stick electrodes on golfers to measure the electrical activity in their hands, wrists and hearts. They will measure brain waves, stress hormones and grip force in hopes of finding that missing link between neurology and sports psychology, and whether medications may help.
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