Shrink Rap


Since waxing prosaic on the subject of confidence in golf in my Monday column on this website, I stumbled across a fascinating article in the October issue of Clinics in Sports Medicine.
One of the subjects tackled in the article was the dreaded yips, which, in the parlance of the golf shrinks, is called focal dystonia.
And I quote: When an athlete experiences the yips, or a focal dystonia, the pathways that govern the inhibition of competing motor programs break down. This results in the overriding of the original motor program. Therefore, instead of the individual making one smooth stroke engaging the appropriate motor program, the smooth stroke is interrupted with a twitch. Two motor programs are operating simultaneously, leading to miss-hit shots.
Sure, by now, youre scratching your head and thinking somewhere Harvey Penick is spinning wildly in his grave.
But theres more..
.The neuroanatomy of the basal ganglia and concomitant neurophysiology are currently of great research interest in the neuroscience community. It appears clear that stress causes release of the activating neurotransmitter glutamate, which in turn causes release of dopamine in basal ganglia pathways that may result in the disinhibition of competing motor programs. This is the reason why yips become more stressful under stressful circumstances.
Hoo boy!.....And here I thought all these years Basil Ganglia was the coach of the Hungarian national soccer team and competing motor programs were NASCAR and Indy.
In defense of the articles authors'Terrence P. Clark, Ian Tofler and Michael Lardon'they make a lot of terrific points. Lord knows theyve done their homework.
A round of golf, they point out, usually takes four to five hours to play yet the golf swing usually takes less than three seconds. Which means the swings that count over the course of a round for a touring pro last about three and a half minutes.
The excessive down time, the authors say, can lead to obsessive thinking and distraction, as well as amplification of pre-existing negative self-perceptions, performance anxiety, panic and affective overarousal.
I know exactly what theyre talking about. Its just that I never would have chosen those exact words. Obsessive thinking and distraction, I would have guessed, is what a lot of the guys I know engage in when the cart girl approaches.
But the authors are bang on when they get around to talking about confidence in golf. They define it as a state of mind marked by freedom from uncertainty coupled with a sense that a desired task will be accomplished.
The much coveted zone in golf is, they say, a kind of flow. Flow is a state experienced in a task-oriented activity. The individual may experience a sense of absorption, loss of self-consciousness, an almost dissociative detachment, power, pleasure altered perception of time (usually slowing) and a sense of control and unity.
Think, for a second, how much an entrepreneur could make if he ever found a way to bottle this flow.
The authors also get around to the subject of choking. They posit the notion that Jean Van de Velde turned in one of the greatest chokes of all-time at the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie.
They do not discuss the number of people who wanted to choke Van de Velde more recently when he said he would shave his legs and wear a kilt if thats what it took to get the Frenchman into the field at the Womens British Open.
There are a lot of those people at the moment.
Of that I am confident.
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