Performance Anxiety and Golf Putting Yips

Golfers who are labeled with the yips experience a condition that causes muscular contractions or jerking at impact. They are seen by others as golfers who choke under pressure. Research shows that anxiety and stress accelerates the involuntary movements in many neurologic disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, and Tourette’s syndrome. This information lead sports psychology researchers to look at the relationship between performance anxiety and symptoms of the yips in professional golfers.

Their study suggested that performance anxiety increases both choking and dystonia. A study by Smith et al., (2003) examined both the mental and physical aspects of performance anxiety for professional golfer with and without the yips. They found that golfers with the yips reported that yips symptoms got worse with an increase in performance anxiety. A golfer’s personality characteristics, such as perfectionism and confidence in putting, go hand in hand with performance anxiety.

In the study of 435 golfers with the yips (with an average handicap of 4.5), golfers reported that the most high anxiety situations leading to poor putting were:

  • When leading tournaments
  • When putting tricky putts (those putts with difficult lies or more than one change in inclination)
  • When playing against specific competitors
  • When they feel they must make an easy putt
  • When they worry about embarrassment for missing

Most of these situations were specific to each golfer based on their personality, mental game factors. The golf-specific scenarios that caused high anxiety were specific to the individual golfer, but acted as a barrier to having a good putting round.

Golfers with the yips showed faster heart rate, greater grip tension, and putted worse than golfers who did not report having the yips. Faster heart rate and increased grip tension resulted from the golfers’ performance anxiety, which contributed to poor putting performances.

The study suggested that when performance anxiety is severe, it can lead to choking, which may result in the ‘yips’. Although some golfers with high performance anxiety showed yip symptoms, others executed putts without ‘yipping.’ Most choking symptoms related to the ‘yips’ during putting happens when golfers are affected by performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is closely related to fear of failure, fear of embarrassment, and perfectionism, which might be the underlying reasons golfers start with the yips.

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