Send Mike Standly to the store for groceries and he might come back with a bagful of fishing worms instead. A tendency to set out for the supermarket and wind up in a bait shop is one of the less troubling manifestations of attention deficit disorder for Standly, although it can be an annoying one if you are his wife. The triple bogeys are the real problem. Standly starts out trying to make birdie, but just like going to the store, somewhere along the way his neurons make a U-turn. Pretty soon he has a bagful of extra strokes.
To the average person ADD is a topic for daytime talk shows, another overdiagnosed disorder du jour. It is that thing the problem child had in kindergarten that made the teacher sit him in the manners chair. But in the case of Standly, a 32-year-old struggler on the PGA Tour who discovered he had ADD three years ago, it is a very real adult disability. A lot of people with ADD have trouble holding their jobs, and Standly is one of them.
Consider the range of tests any Tour pro must cope with every day: wind, hazards, slow play, decisions on every stroke. Now imagine trying to play with Standby's uncooperative mind, which can veer off at any moment like a hummingbird. "The fundamental issue with ADD is the inability to pay attention to the task at hand, and in golf that can be fairly catastrophic," says Dr. Fran Pirozzolo, a Houston neuropsychologist who has treated Standly.
In laymen's terms ADD is faulty brain wiring that appears to be genetic. Standly's thoughts skip like stones. "I don't get too deep into anything," he says. Reading often gives him a headache, and sometimes after closing a book he can't remember a word. He cannot sit still for long periods, which makes traveling difficult. He has bursts of rapid-boil anger and trouble following instructions. When Standly goes on errands, Nicole, his wife of eight years, must write everything down or suffer the consequences.
Although the most common medication for ADD is the drug Ritalin, Standly does not take it. He used it for about three months in 1994 but felt it mellowed him almost to the point of numbness and dulled his competitive instinct. Since then he has tried to control the disorder with everything from biofeedback to meditation and consulted a host of therapists and sports psychologists. Standly refuses to use ADD as a rationalization for poor play, especially this year when he has finished no better than 26th and ranks 168th on the money list. He has generally kept his condition a secret from the other players on Tour because he doesn't want it to be an issue. "Once I figured out I had it, I was always thinking about it," Standly says. "I don't want to blame something. If I don't feel good, I'm not going to say it's because of ADD. I don't want an excuse. A bad round is a bad round."
That approach can produce an exasperating secondary effect: Standly is perceived as sullen, unmotivated, even dumb, by some of his peers. And in the past he sometimes agreed with those assessments because another side effect of ADD is a sense of inadequacy. "He was seen as a guy with an attitude," Nicole says. "I always knew there was something different about him, I just didn't know what. I thought it might be something in his childhood. The way he'd be really distant, the short temper, the erratic golf."
Outwardly Standly appears to be a burly, hot-tempered, long-hitting Texan whose achievements thus far have not matched the promise he showed as a senior at Houston when he was the runner-up to Scott Verplank in the 1986 NCAA Championship. In six years on Tour he has just seven top-10 finishes. His one victory came in 1993, at the Freeport-McMoRan Classic in New Orleans. "I don't feel like I've conquered much of anything," he says.
Others see his accomplishments as nothing short of remarkable. After leaving college without a degree in '86 and spending four hard years on the mini-tours, in 1991 he won the Q school, which is considered the most pressure-packed tournament in golf. More impressive, he has kept his Tour card, although the last two seasons have been a struggle. Standly was 99th on the money list in 1994. He was 105th in '95, thanks to a clutch performance in the Texas Open, the last event of the season, at which he tied for sixth to jump from 132nd on the money list. (Only the top 125 Tour members are exempt.) "A lot of people thought I was lazy, that I didn't care, that I gave up last year," Standly says. "I might seem like I'm not real driven. I might not seem like other people, but I never gave up."
The most cursory examination of Standly's playing patterns—his round-by-round scoring average—suggests an ADD road map. Going into last week's Kemper Open, in which he missed the cut, Standly was fourth in final-round scoring average, at 69.2, but was 113th (71.8) in the third round. "Every three to five rounds he will have that triple bogey," says Nicole. "Take away the triple and maybe my husband is Greg Norman."
Standly had a typical experience earlier this season during the Doral-Ryder Open. He shot 76-70 to miss the cut, and his erratic play featured a memorable triple bogey. It came in the second round on the 4th hole, a 233-yard par-3. Standly, his mind momentarily wandering, pulled a four-iron shot into a pond. Livid, he hurled the offending club into the water too, the four-iron following the same sickly flight path as the ball. "Definitely an ADD hole," Nicole says.