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Little Bubba, Big Bubba

Continued (page 3 of 5)

It's the sort of sustained and significant task encouraged by Watson's wife of five years, the former Angie Ball. An ex-college and professional basketball player, she has an inch on her husband in height and much more than that in the ability to calmly assess her next step and how to methodically achieve it. When shoulder injuries ended her basketball career in 2004, she took up golf, getting down to a 5-handicap and recently winning the women's club championship at Estancia in Scottsdale.

"Bubba is amazingly talented in almost everything he tries," Angie says. "I just try to help him direct his energy in a productive way." There's much restlessness to overcome. On a typical day on or off the tour, Watson might fill his spare time bouncing back and forth between playing video games like Call of Duty, watching his favorite parts of comedies like "Anchorman" and "Zoolander" or adding to his collection of more than 200 pairs of bright-colored athletic shoes. It's a life in search of constant stimulation.

When told that he sounds like he might have attention-deficit disorder (ADD), Watson says matter-of factly, "I'm sure I have it." To which Angie adds, "Oh, don't worry, you have it."

Turns out the condition is not uncommon among exceptional athletes and, perhaps, golfers in particular. Stewart, the golfer Watson most identified with, was acutely affected. "It's a lot of what used to be called the artistic temperament," says Dr. Richard Coop, the educational psychologist who worked with Stewart and says he has had eight golfers in 25 years who suffer from the condition. "In daily life, and even in regular golf tournaments, Payne was very impulsive and very distractible. But in high-stimulus situations, like the U.S. Open, he was often able to hyperfocus and achieve extraordinary performance."

Erik Compton played on the golf team with Watson at Georgia, and in addition to undergoing two heart transplants, also has been diagnosed with ADD.

"ADD is great when you're in a zone, but it's bad when you're out of the zone," says Compton. "I know when Bubba is in the zone, he gets so intense it's like his eyes turn black. But when you get distracted, it's harder to get refocused. And that's what Bubba struggles with. In that way, he's had it harder than I have with ADD."

Psychiatrist Dr. Edward Hallowell is a leading expert on ADD, with three best-selling books on the subject, and he has the condition. Informed about Watson, he says, "I would love to meet with him. I know I can help him."

Hallowell suspects that some of the greatest minds in history -- including Einstein, Edison, Shakepeare, Mozart -- had the condition, and that it enhanced their creativity. "The ADD gene is what made this country great," he says. "It's been the engine for inventors, innovators, entrepreneurs, pioneers, all kinds of achievers."

The reason, says Hallowell, is that people with ADD live their everyday existence in a state of jagged disorder -- including a general restlessness and inability to sustain concentration -- and thus hunger for structure in life. When they find an enjoyable endeavor that provides structure, they often take to it with a passion that leads them to excel. Because they are so used to adapting to disorder, they develop a heightened ability to make connections, which when unleashed within a structure can lead to extraordinary insights, solutions and innovations.

"Without structure there is chaos, which is where a lot of ADD people live," Hallowell says. "But once they have structure in place, they can run wild within it. Golf is the perfect ADD sport. It combines structure and novelty. Wherever you find those two coming together, ADD people thrive. Golf has all this structure -- the rules and etiquette, the difficulty of play, the exactness of the swing, the meticulousness required to put a small ball in the little hole. But it always gives you a new shot, a chance to start over, new stimulation. And that's what creates focus." Of course, it's the other obstacles presented by ADD -- including distractibility, impatience and anger -- that hold people, and golfers, back. And the less a person is aware of the condition, the more likely he or she will remain mired in unproductive patterns.

"The key symptom of adult ADD is unexplained underachievement," says Hallowell. "Bubba has been successful, but given his talent, he's underachieving because he hasn't won. But it sounds like he could be a champion in the making. He has a gift, one that he probably thinks no one else can understand, but he can enhance it. Wouldn't it be great if a diagnosis of ADD turned him into Tiger's rival instead of Tiger's sparring partner?"

Told of Hallowell's ideas, Watson, not surprisingly, is resistant. "I don't really want to know about it," he says. "I think it's one of those things that if we all looked, we all have some kind of issue going on. I don't see that it's a bother now. I don't like to deal with doctors. Because doctors might have issues, too. It's no big deal to me. I have to do things my way, and I'll figure it out."

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