Bee Epstein-Shepherd claims that she can cure the yips. "Not 100
percent of the time," she says, "but 95 percent, and in two
hours." How? Through hypnosis. Epstein-Shepherd, the author of
Mental Management for Great Golf, has hypnotized such Tour pros
as Woody Austin, Brian Barnes and Beth Daniel but specializes in
helping amateur golfers, who make up two thirds of her clients.
"Pros are harder because they tend not to be as open to
hypnosis," she says. "They think they know how to fix their
Amateurs of all handicaps and ages--Epstein-Shepherd's youngest
client was a seven-year-old who said her putting stroke had
broken down--come to her Carmel Valley, Calif., office seeking
help for 1st-tee jitters, the inability to hit a long iron and
the fear of bunkers, among other golfing phobias.
Epstein-Shepherd, 60, says her fascination with how the mind
impacts behavior began when, at age 12, she read a book on
psychosomatic medicine. In subsequent years she earned a B.A. in
psychology at Cal, a master's in human resources at Goddard, a
Ph.D. in industrial psychology at International College, in Los
Angeles, as well as a doctorate in hypnosis at the American
Institute of Hypnotherapy, in Irvine, Calif.
The power of subconscious suggestion is often manifested in
golf, according to Epstein-Shepherd. "When people play well,
they say they are in the zone," she says. "The zone is simply a
state of self-hypnosis." As are slumps. "A slump is
self-hypnosis reinforcing negative thoughts," she says. "When
you tell yourself, I'm in a slump, the subconscious simply gives
you what you ask for."
For $200 an hour Epstein-Shepherd teaches techniques to help
golfers get into the zone on command. "In most sports you're
reacting to an opponent, so you don't have time to stop and
focus," she says. "In golf you control the pace. There are
numerous opportunities in a round to put yourself in a state of
self-hypnosis, like right before you putt or when you are about
to tee off."
Epstein-Shepherd's office is downstairs in the condo she shares
with a Yorkie named Tiger and a calico cat, Topaz. The shades
are drawn and the room is dark, but a visitor's eyes are drawn
to the white leather recliner in the corner, the hypnosis chair.
It looks like a dentist's chair, only there are no blinding
lights and drills overhead.
Just as patients go to the dentist anticipating pain, most
clients come to Epstein-Shepherd with preconceived notions about
hypnosis, half expecting her to dangle a pocket watch in front
of them ("You are getting sleepy...") or fearing that they'll
wind up cackling like a rooster every time they stand over a
three-footer. The fact is, no one can be made to do something
against his or her will, and hypnosis only works on those who
will let it. Epstein-Shepherd puts her clients under with a
relaxation technique that focuses on their breathing. She tapes
the sessions and clients are told to listen to the tapes once a
What sets Epstein-Shepherd apart from other sports
psychologists, say, someone like Bob... "Rotella?" she says,
finishing the question. "His thing is that you need to develop
confidence. He's not sure where you get confidence, but he knows
you need it. I know where you get it. I can create it. One top
LPGA player told me that she got more out of just reading my
book than her one-on-one sessions with Rotella."
Epstein-Shepherd admits that hypnosis isn't for everyone, nor is
it a magic potion. "I would never say that I can make somebody
win," she says, "but if a pro comes to work with me, his or her
earnings will go up, and amateurs with a handicap in the high
teens will shave 10 to 15 strokes."
O.K., but if Epstein-Shepherd can cure the yips, how come
Bernhard Langer hasn't called? She smiles. "He doesn't know
about me," she says. "Yet."