A chorus of golfers and analysts led by Rocco Mediate
and Paul Azinger
claim they could fix Tiger Woods' golf game in a few minutes. That's probably a stretch, but Dr. Richard Crowley thinks a couple hours should do the trick -- and he can do it over the phone.
Crowley is the author of Mentalball: How to beat your invisible opponent at its own game and the San Francisco-based psychologist has worked with thousands of athletes. His specialty? Curing the yips.
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Most notably, Crowley helped Major League Baseball players like Steve Sax, Shawn Green and Mark Wohlers get over the problems that plagued them during their careers. For Sax, it was being able to make a routine throw to first base. For Green, it was breaking out of an awful hitting slump. For Wohlers, it was finding the strike zone again after it appeared he was destined to follow the path of Steve Blass -- for whom the term "Steve Blass Disease" was coined -- and have a premature exit from the game.
Those fixes had nothing to do with mechanics, which aren't the issue for someone suffering the yips. Crowley doesn't need to know anything about a particular sport to help an athlete, which is why his patients include everyone from baseball players to golfers to skateboarders. For the record, though, Crowley has never worked with a golfer as prominent as Woods -- or any tour player for that matter. But as he says, their level or sport is irrelevant.
"I never give any athlete advice," said Crowley, who posts many of his athlete's testimonials on his website, Sportsmaker.com. "All the advice aggravates the situation. Giving him advice is poison."
And no athlete gets more advice than Woods, who Crowley believes has never returned to his former greatness due to trauma he suffered during his 2009 scandal. But why are these pronounced short game problems just surfacing for the 14-time major winner?
David Owen wrote in a New Yorker story on the yips from last May, "No one understands for certain what causes any form of the yips, and no one yet has identified physical loci in the brain for focal dystonias." Crowley, though, is convinced the problem starts in the brain's right hemisphere.
"There's an extra thought in [the athlete's] head," Crowley said of Woods. "Every kid will call it 'weird.' 'The ball felt weird coming out of my hand.' That feeling comes from the unconscious and it comes from the middle of nowhere to a player. In a millisecond, they're disconnected."
That extra thought, Crowley says, can't be gotten rid of with a simple adjustment and can be triggered by a variety of things. But he believes finding the trigger isn't important and it isn't part of his solution. Instead, he treats athletes for these "invisible opponents" or "psychic viruses" by having them go through a series of mental exercises that shows them how to use their imaginations to fix themselves. This allows them to reconnect to the mindset that existed before the person encountered their problem. It sounds complicated, but Crowley claims to have a 95-percent success rate with athletes who spend five phone sessions with him.
Crowley acknowledged that the less an athlete has accomplished, the easier it is for them to believe it's not their fault and to buy into his method. He also says ego plays a large role since it's difficult to convince athletes they need a different kind of help.
"Most people will deny me and turn to a repeating pattern in which seeking instruction gives them false hope," Crowley said. "They think, 'I'll figure this thing out myself. I always have."
Yankees second baseman Chuck Knoblauch was one of those people. Despite Crowley's previous work with Sax, another troubled second baseman, and Yankees GM Brian Cashman reaching out to Crowley, Knoblauch never returned any of Crowley's messages. He also never fixed his problems on what is essentially the chip-shot throw of baseball. Knoblauch was eventually moved to the outfield -- where he could make the longer throw fine -- before being out of baseball at 32.
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The yips can be fixed, but any doctor would agree that first, they need to be acknowledged. That's something we haven't seen yet from Woods, who instead has blamed his short game woes on everything from a new "release pattern" under instructor Chris Como to rust to a new grind on his wedges.
Woods has been open to trying new things with his golf swing, but would he be open to doing drills that don't take place on a practice range? If so, Dr. Crowley is just a call away.