For those who have never encountered this unwanted intruder, the yips present a sudden, involuntary jerk, twitch, tremor, or hitch in a golf motion. Although the yips most often attack a players putting stroke, they are nondiscriminatory and will interfere with a players chipping, pitching and full swing motions as well, as weve seen with Barkley.
Although novice observers often define the yips as choking under pressure, the yips are not necessarily a mental problem. As Haney has said about Barkley, Its not in his head. As a sport psychologist, I have to agree. Researchers have categorized the yips into two categories, Type I yips (caused by a neurological disorder called focal dystonia) and Type II yips (caused by choking). It is the psychological yips (Type II) that are mental in nature and more often get the credit for the uncontrollable movements that appear under pressure.
To remedy the psychological yips, mental techniques such as anxiety management and attention control strategies can be used to help golfers lower their heart rate and focus their attention effectively during competition.
Barkley, on the other hand, appears to be struggling with neurological yips (Type I) which, although triggered or enhanced in times of heightened anxiety, are neuromuscular (not mental) in nature. Neurological yips involve involuntary muscle contractions during a specific motor task (i.e., a golf swing), and likely result from the overuse of certain muscles while the body is in an abnormal position. In The Haney Project, Haney points out the flawed positions in Barkleys swing (e.g., head moving down toward the ball, the club being off-plane) as reasons for why Barkley stops in the early stages of his downswing. When asked why Barkley stops, Haney says, What would happen if he didnt? How could he hit the ball?
In experiences with players, both professional and amateur, who have struggled with the yips, the neurological yips are more difficult to extinguish. The process of remedying the neurological yips is analogous to fixing a broken telephone line by laying new telephone cable rather than repairing the existing one. Picture your neuromuscular system as a series of telephone cables that connect your brain to the muscles in your hands, arms, wrists, etc. Each time you command your body to hit a golf ball, your brain transmits an electrical impulse along these cables to your muscles. When the muscles receive and interpret the message, they fire, resulting in the execution of your golf swing. Now imagine if one of the cables was damaged, crimped, frayed, or worn out from overuse. As electrical impulses pass across this cable, they become distorted. The resulting interpretation of this scrambled message by the muscles would result in a neurological yip.
Often with the yips, players wont experience any symptoms under practice conditions, but will under tournament or pressure situations. This is equated to a damaged cable having the ability to withstand a low-voltage impulse (i.e., practice), but not being able to handle the high voltage impulse of playing under pressure.
Thus, the best solution for the neurological yips: Lay new cable. The reason why many players have never conquered the yips in their games is that theyve attempted to apply psychological solutions (e.g., relaxation strategies, breathing, preshot routines, positive thinking) to a neurological problem. In reference to his turning to hypnosis in an attempt to fix his yips, Barkley says, No offense to the hypnotists out there, but all I got was a good nap. To eliminate the hitch in Barkleys golf swing, Haney understands that he must create a new neuromuscular freeway.
What Im trying to do is get him going down a different road, some shape of his swing thats different, said Haney. On the road, its just a freeway. There are no stop signs; theres nothing but open road.
In putting, laying new cable to cure the yips has been shown to be successful by pros willing to put in the work necessary to master a new, uniquely different putting stroke. Players like Sam Snead, Bernhard Langer and Chris DiMarco abandoned their traditional putting strokes in search of a new freeway. Snead pioneered a croquet-style of putting, while Langer went to a long putter and DiMarco a claw grip.
For golfers, like Barkley, who have had the neurological yips invade their full swing, the road to improvement is much longer than it is for putting. The full swing yips can take touring pros completely out of contention as they did for Ian Baker-Finch, Seve Ballesteros and David Duval. Why? Laying new cable in the full swing is difficult.
With the full swing, a player has to rebuild the swing in a way that no longer relies on the previous neurological pathway (the damaged telephone cable) used in the past. This is a difficult task; this is the task that The Haney Project has embarked upon with Barkley.
Laying new cable is hard work, something that Barkley is accustomed to from his days in the NBA. When it comes to his golf game, Barkley is just as motivated. Im going to work as hard as I possibly can, I promise you, he says.
In the coming weeks, well see how Barkley responds when its time to lay new cable.
Rick Jensen, Ph.D., is a nationally recognized sport psychologist and author of Drive to the Top: 5 Timeless Business Lessons Learned from Golfs Greatest Champions. Dr. Jensens clients include more than 50 touring pros on the PGA, LPGA and Champions tours. For additional information, go to www.drrickjensen.com.