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What Causes “Yips” on the Golf Course?

June 2, 2023

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Anxiety is perhaps an overused and misunderstood explanation as to what causes the “Yips” both on and off the golf course. Although a golfer’s anxiety on the tee box or green is considered to be a normal emotional reaction, the science behind the sport has started to recognize dozens of mental, emotional and physical factors that can affect a golfer’s performance.

Studies suggest that a golfer’s attentional focus may be related to his or her achievement motivation and their level of competence at performing under the pressures of a competition. Yep, it sounds like the yips are related to the same internal mechanisms as “choking under pressure” when you yank a clutch putt for an eagle. But, if it were that easy, there should be a one-size fits all solution.

No doubt the yips can be a frustrating and debilitating condition, but sports psychologist say that by better understanding an individual golfer’s cause-and-effect scenario can allow most golfers to overcome the yips and return to addressing shots off the tee box, out of the sand trap, or on the green without fear. Oddly enough, that likely will require accepting your imperfections as well as gaining a better understanding as to how golf clubs physically work with a recreational golfer's swing.

Science Says Yips Are Multifactorial

Performing under pressure in any sport presents both opportunities and threats where the athlete (or golfer) must execute the skills they have attained. Whereas the cause of the yips is not fully understood, it is thought to be the result of a combination of factors, including:

Athletic Anxiety: The yips are often triggered by performance anxiety, which is a type of stress that can occur when a golfer is under pressure to perform well. This can be especially common in golfers who are playing in tournaments or trying to kill a drive off the first tee.

Achievement Motivation: People with a strong achievement motivation are more likely to set challenging goals, break goals into small steps, work hard to achieve them, and persist in the face of setbacks. In addition, they are more likely to be satisfied with their shot.

Gaze Behavior: Research has shown that anxiety, arousal and visual attention are linked. Some people who are anxious alter their gaze behavior. So, training your body, eyes, and mind off the golf course may be key to eliminating the yips with steady-handed success on the course.

Overuse On-or-Off Course: The yips can also be caused by overuse of a particular muscle or muscle group. This is often the case with golfers who spend a lot of time on the range or putting green. Muscles in the wrist, forearms and legs can become fatigued leading to twitches or spasms.

Neurological Conditions: In some cases, the yips may be a symptom of a neurological condition, such as focal dystonia. This disorder causes muscle contractions involuntary, which can make it difficult to perform specific tasks. But, many aging or disable golfers have found work-around solutions.

Achievement motivation is a valuable asset that can help you to succeed in many areas of your life. And yes, some people are simply born with a higher level of motivation than others. But, you also need to consider how the equipment in your bag could be impacting the results you see on the course.

It’s More than Overcoming Golfing Nerves

Anxiety in any sport is a normal but your game doesn’t have to be stressful, especially not every round you play. Regardless of skill level or physical conditioning, your success from tee to green is impacted by your mental game. And using stress as a super power to control your cognitive and somatic anxiety with breathing exercises and visual attention training may help but.... 

Most of us have played a round with an older silver-haired golfer who enjoyed poking their ball around the links, then putted lights out on the green, and after eighteen holes had the winning scorecard. After years of forcefully playing the game, what many senior golfers have figured out – is to level the playing field and have more fun every time they play a round.

“Here’s the problem,” says Lance Reader, the founder of Krank Golf, “only one percent of golfers swing a club 115 mph or faster; and unless you do, you are not taking full advantage of the latest driver technology.” But, optimal distance and accuracy are attainable for today’s recreational golfers with Krank’s precision engineering and attention to detail in building a driver that matches your swing.

It was once thought that the yips were always associated with performance anxiety but now we know they’re multifactorial causes that lead to our frustration. For decades, Krank Golf has been helping recreational golfers enjoy the game by leveling the playing field. Stop dreading and start enjoying your driver on every tee box – use Krank's driver fitting tool and build a club that matches your swing.