Yippers conclude with relaxation 'ballet'
By Jeff Hansel
A tournament to determine the cause of "yips," or involuntary movement during golf putts, ended with the 16 participants taking part in a sort of golfers ballet.
The pirouette came during relaxation training offered by sports psychologist Aynsley Smith of the Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine program.
Relaxation techniques can help and are common for athletes in many different sports, she said. Smith and other health professionals gave advice to yippers who paid their own way to Rochester to take part in the tournament.
According to Mayo, yips is "on a continuum between a focal dystonia, a neurological problem and choking, an extreme response to high performance anxiety."
Kyle Sabot, 21, of Arden Hills, Minn., was the youngest yipper in the tournament. His handicap is 2.5, and he didn't yip during the tournament.
"When I feel it happen, I just twist. My right hand just kind of turns over," Sabot said. Others, though, did yip.
The oldest player, Jack Thurnblad, 81, of Northfield, Minn., said his handicap has slipped in recent years. He's at 15 now.
"I think I had one yip and one choke in my own mind (during the tournament)," he said.
Health professionals told the golfers, all of whom gathered for a roundtable and educational seminar about the latest scientific evidence, that relaxation techniques can help.
Making body muscles tighten before putting and then "letting go" can produce a period of five to six seconds during which the muscles are relaxed.
Relaxation techniques include sitting in a comfortable position, pulling toes up while contracting calf muscles and holding for a count of 10. Relax. Hold for a count of 10 after each muscle group and then relax after each.
Next tighten quadriceps.
In turn, Mayo officials say, tighten abdominals as hard as possible, biceps and back muscles with shoulders toward your ears. This is the only exercise sequence that might be hard to disguise on the golf course, Smith said, because it requires clenched fists and arms held up in the air to tighten the biceps.
After tightening each muscle for a count of 10 (20 if you need more relaxation, five if you need less) and relaxing, do deep breathing. Take air deep into the lungs and exhale slowly. Mayo says continue this process for 10 minutes, concentrating on nothing but movement of air in and out of your lungs.
Practice this muscle and breathing process once a day, gradually using it as a form of emotional control for sports or stressful life situations, Mayo says.
Variations of such techniques can be used during training, while on the golf course and prior to putts, Smith said.