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 games mechanically."
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 day.
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."