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Is CBD a Cure for the Yips?

A little sip of CBD may be just the thing to raise your mental game

A golfer’s “swing oil” traditionally comes in chilled 12-ounce cans, sold from beverage carts roaming the course. Beer seems to reduce anxiety and smooth out a swing. Optimal dosage varies from person to person.

Is CBD the new swing oil? The PGA Tour has been abuzz with speculation that superstars Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are chomping on CBD chewing gum. Tiger says chewing gum suppresses his appetite; Lefty says it helps his “cognitive function” so he can focus. Mickelson was also seen putting drops under his tongue at the Masters.

They haven’t publicly acknowledged CBD usage, but it’s legal. In 2018, the World Anti-Doping Agency removed CBD from its banned list, saying anything with less than 0.3% THC is not a performance-enhancing drug. The PGA Tour agreed, and several professionals have opened up about it, with some signing endorsement deals.

Bubba Watson, a famously twitchy guy and two-time green jacket wearer, now wears the cbdMD logo on his visor and swears by its products, which he says he used before signing with the company. Lucas Glover, the 2009 U.S. Open champ, endorses Medterra. Scott McCarron of the 50-plus PGA Tour Champion circuit signed with Functional Remedies and says there’s no question his recent success (three victories) was in part attributable to a CBD regimen.

Glover takes Medterra’s “CBD Good Morning” pill in the morning, puts its CBD Tincture under his tongue before playing, and CBD + Melatonin tablets before bed. The combined effect: “My sleep is the best it has been in years.” If he’s feeling achy, he’ll use the Topical Cooling Cream on sore spots.

“I have witnessed their effects not only mentally but physically,” he says. Like many players, he doesn’t say CBD is an in-the-moment fix for anxiety, but rather the result of a daily regimen.

The head of sports sales for Functional Remedies is Steve Patterson, the head pro at Hiwan Golf Club in Evergreen, CO. He says the real number of touring pros who use CBD products is about 50 on the PGA Tour and 60 on the Champions.

“We have multiple players out there, on the Tour, at state events, club events,” he says. “Some of these guys say, ‘My gosh, I’ve never felt so clear and focused.’”

Players tend to emphasize the physical, anti-inflammatory benefits of the creams and tinctures—fewer aches and pains after hours on the course and practice range, better sleep despite their nomadic lives, and quicker recovery.

Removing soreness from their list of worries naturally helps them focus on the game, proponents say. There’s no bracing for shoulder pain at the top of the swing, for instance.

What about anxiety? Nerves over a 4-foot putt? Maybe CBD helps, but many aren’t eager to connect it to in-the-moment play. After all, the PGA Tour long ago banned beta blockers because the blood pressure meds also slow your heart rate and can reduce the anxiety and shaky hands that yank putts off line. Maybe CBD helps with that, but it’s secondary—or feels like a result of—the physical relief.

The PGA has warned players that it’s on them to make sure products don’t have too much THC. Tests have shown that some do. A PGA official also notes that the anti-anxiety claims come from manufacturers and aren’t supported by “substantive research.”

There’s research for naysayers and boosters, take your pick. One study said “there is limited evidence” that CBD helped people with social anxiety who took a public-speaking test. Another says evidence “strongly supports CBD as a treatment for generalized anxiety disorder” and a host of other conditions—but only in big dosages, not the slow-and-steady regimen most people use.

See Also Can CBD Be Used for Anxiety?

But the mechanism is there, proven in studies of rats, mice and some humans: CBD hits the nerve receptors that would indicate it is anxiolytic, or calming. Not surprisingly (for anyone who has had too many beers or joints), the response is “biphasic,” meaning a low dose is calming but a high dose increases anxiety.

Randy Salisbury, a spokesman for the PureSwing line of CBD products marketed to golfers, happily says CBD can “have a focusing effect, like a cold beer might.”

It’s clear that CBD helps with inflammation and soreness, says Jay Hartenbach, CEO of Medterra, “but it also has this other effect on a neurological level. We’re just starting to get that data.” What’s tantalizing is that CBD is known to reduce the tryptophan degradation in the brain, and tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. The more serotonin, the calmer you’ll be.

The calming properties of CBD can be useful off the course, too. “I cold-sweat tremendously any time I speak publicly,” says Anna Symonds, education director at East Fork Cultivars, a hemp grower in Oregon. “It’s a social anxiety, and CBD eases that.” She views CBD as “a buffer from stress. It supports my ability to be calm and have less of a knee-jerk response to stressors.”

And if you remain skeptical about cannabis and golf, just remember: Willie Nelson is a golfer.

Tiger Woods Illustration
Illustration by Dylan Fowler

What CBD is Tiger Woods Using? 

Tiger Woods won the 2019 Masters tournament, earning him the right to don the honorary green jacket. Golf is all about green, after all. The fairways. The putting greens. And maybe even the green-infused gum champions chew to keep calm and curb pain. Let’s acknowledge upfront: It’s only speculation that CBD gum comforted Tiger during his triumphant comeback at Augusta National last spring. But consider these points:

1. One of the most closely watched Tigers on the planet has suddenly developed a chewing habit after years of not chewing.

2. Tiger’s golfing rivals Phil Mickelson and Jordan Speith began chewing gum (Juicyfruit, or something more potent?) after studies showed that mastication can add focus and calm.

3. The PGA follows the drug recommendations of the World Anti-Doping Agency, which recently cleared the use of CBD (but not THC) by athletes. 4. CBD is known to reduce stress and inflammation, which sore-backed Tiger has experienced a lot of since his career went off the rails in 2009. So was CBD gum his ace in the hole at the Masters? Only Tiger knows for sure. But if it wasn’t, maybe it should have been. 

Try it: Endoca CBD Chewing gum. Organic. Sugar free. 15mg CBD per piece; 150mg per box. $15