- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 23, 2003

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) — Bob Jensen’s nickname is “No Way” — a moniker derived from his inability to sink 1-foot putts under pressure.

Mr. Jensen suffers from what golfers call the yips, a tendency to flinch, jerk and twitch during a stroke that turns even routine tap-ins into torture. An otherwise talented golfer with the yips can send a ball several feet off the mark on even the simplest putts.

The yips bothered Mr. Jensen so much he quit playing for 25 years, until he picked up his clubs again about a year ago.

This week he was one of 16 golfers taking part in a two-day “tournament” as part of a Mayo Clinic study of the phenomenon. Researchers hope to determine whether yips are psychological or neurological, and are testing the effects of drugs called beta blockers — which slow the heart rate — on golfers with the yips.

The yips also can affect other athletes, as well as musicians, artists and physicians. The researchers say understanding the yips could help in treating disorders such as facial tics, writer’s cramp and repetitive-stress injuries.

Jay Smith, the study’s medical director, said many golfers are afraid to admit they have the yips. Some are so superstitious they won’t golf in the same party as a yipper. Others believe they can get the yips just by talking about it.

The yips typically affect older golfers with at least 10 or 20 years of experience. But Mr. Jensen first caught them in a practice round for his high school golf squad at age 17.

“I couldn’t even make a 1-foot putt,” said Mr. Jensen, a computer consultant from Louisville, Ky. “I three-putted every single hole after that.”

Like many yippers, Mr. Jensen has tried with some success to alter his game.

Sometimes, researchers believe, the yips are caused by golfers “wearing out” their motor systems for a particular activity. If that’s the case, small tinkering can put them almost back to where they were to start.

Other potential remedies include using a long putter, putting from the opposite side, or using a cross-handed grip so the tics in one’s dominant hand have less control over the shot.

During Mayo’s two-day “tournament” that began Monday, the golfers were fitted with electrodes to monitor and record heart rate and given special putters that measured their grip strength. Two video cameras recorded each golfer’s swing. Three “rounds” were played on a nine-hole putting green; nine golfers who don’t suffer yips played to serve as a control group.

Both the experiment and the control groups were alternatively given beta blockers and placebos.

“This is the first time I’ve gone to a tournament where they expect you to do bad,” Mr. Jensen joked.

Most of the golfers, who came from as far away as Scotland and as nearby as the Twin Cities, said they found out about the research project on the Internet. All paid their own hotel and travel expenses.

“I want to help out in finding a cure,” Mr. Jensen said. “It’s a lot more important for a surgeon or dentist than it is to find a cure for me.”

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