Attention, Bubba


I have ADHD. I am also a specialist in the condition, an M.D., the author of the best selling books on ADHD, Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction. I've been treating people with ADHD for 30 years and have been living with it my whole life, 64 years. I know how profoundly the right treatment can improve a life, no matter how successful the person might happen to be.

Bubba (who has acknowledged having the condition) has been proving to the world what I've been saying for decades, that ADHD need not cripple a person, that it can be associated with success at the very highest levels. Just look at Bubba's two Masters victories in the past three years for proof.

But look more deeply and you see why Bubba has also been driving me nuts. He could do even better! As well as he has done -- and he has done spectacularly well -- I know he could have succeeded, and still could succeed, at even higher levels with less stress, if only he'd take learning about ADHD seriously.

I am told he doesn't want to because he fears that treatment, especially treatment with medication, might cost him his special gifts, gifts that often appear in people who have ADHD.

These gifts include many of Bubba's strengths: creativity, an uncanny ability to innovate and hyperfocus under pressure, tenacity to the point of being stubborn, high energy, an entrepreneurial spirit, a generous heart, spontaneity, independence of mind and a general joie de vivre. The people who colonized this country and who continued to come over in the waves of immigration had those qualities, which is why our gene pool is loaded for ADHD. I now call ADHD, "the American Edge."

But the challenges that come with these gifts can lead to underachievement, even if a person is achieving at the highest levels, like Bubba. These include a tendency to: lose focus when the pressure is not on; get sidetracked by a joke, a conversation, or even a passing cloud; be candid to a fault; have trouble staying organized and on top of all of life's tedious details; and finally, reject help, preferring to "do it my way," no matter what the negative consequences might be.

The pluses and the minuses usually combine in the same person. What determines success or failure is the individual's ability to control the downside and take advantage of the upside.

The analogy I use is this: Having ADHD is like having a Ferrari engine for a brain, but with bicycle brakes. The trick is to strengthen those brakes, to take control of the enormous and unusual power of your mind.

Bubba's control comes and goes. True to his ADHD, he is one of the most creative shotmakers in all of golf. One of his heroes, Payne Stewart, also had ADHD and shared many qualities with Bubba. Both had lapses of attention but focused -- usually -- under pressure. Pressure increases adrenaline, which is chemically similar to the stimulants often used to treat ADHD. It's like nature's own Ritalin. But it's not reliable all the time.

If Bubba were more systematic about getting help to strengthen his brakes, he could become more consistent and not have to rely on chance so much. I am convinced he could play on a level with the greatest golfers of all time and become the best golfer of his generation. At age 35, it's far from too late.

His fear -- that treatment would rob him of his gifts -- is understandable but ill-founded. And treatment need not include medication. Other interventions can work just as well.

But the one intervention he needs the most is the one he rejects: learning about ADHD, and taking systematic steps to draw the most out of the prodigious talent he's blessed with.