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 Standly'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
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.
June 2, 1996
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
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
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.
The severe mood swings go hand in hand with the scoring
fluctuations. Two years ago at the Honda Classic, Standly walked
off the course, withdrawing in mid-round. This year he again
withdrew from the Honda in mid-tournament, but because of an
injured hand. Nicole wondered if he had hurt himself in anger.
"I have to ask," she says. The answer was no; Standly said he
had sprained something on a mishit. But he has been known to
break clubs like kindling. "Actually, he's gotten a lot better,"
says Charlie Epps, Standly's swing coach. "He used to break them
about every hole."
Frustration is a major by-product of ADD. Most people with the
disorder who reach adulthood without ADD being diagnosed tend to
experience fits of anger and bouts of depression because they
have lived for so long with the mystery of their behavior.
Standly's case is typical. Experts tell him he was born with the
condition--he probably inherited it from his father, Billy, who
owns a men's clothing store in Abilene, Texas--and may well have
passed it on to his three-year-old daughter, Suzanne, and
perhaps even his seven-year-old son, C.A.
As a fifth-grader in Abilene, Standly was briefly treated for
hyperactivity, and Ritalin was prescribed on the advice of the
family doctor. He had forgotten that episode until one evening
when he and Nicole were watching the TV news magazine show
20/20, which included a segment on adults with ADD. In the midst
of the program Mike and Nicole turned to each other. "Man, that
looks awfully familiar," Standly said.
Near the end of the show, 20/20 gave out an 800 number. The next
day Nicole called. She began buying books on the subject and
contacting experts. Suddenly whole patterns of her husband's
behavior became clear. Like the way Mike would start to take out
the garbage and end up sorting through fishing equipment in the
garage. Or the time Mike failed to give Nicole a Christmas
present. When she asked him how he could have done such a thing,
he said he wanted to buy her a gold watch, but when he got to
the store he was overwhelmed by all the choices. "I couldn't
pick one out," he said, so he left.
After seeing 20/20 Standly sought out Dr. Lynn Weiss, a Bastrop,
Texas, psychotherapist, author and ADD expert. Weiss confirmed
that Standly suffers from ADD. The diagnosis lessened the
tension that had crept into the Standly marriage. "It was good
for Nicole to know it wasn't me," Mike says. "Or, it was me, but
a little something wasn't firing quite right."
Pirozzolo, who has worked with Evander Holyfield and NASA
personnel, tested Standly's comprehension skills. He found that
in certain spatial tasks--such as completing puzzles in a
certain amount of time--Standly graded as high as some
astronauts, but in tasks that involved listening to and carrying
out orders, he had striking deficiencies. "He showed areas of
brilliance in terms of figuring things out with pictures and
motor response," Pirozzolo says. "In other areas he was brutally
The more Standly learned about ADD, the more he was able to make
sense of his past. He wasn't dumb by any stretch, but he never
felt smart, either. He sweated out a C average at Abilene Cooper
High, having trouble in odd areas, like shop. He couldn't
concentrate long enough to build anything. In all of his
classes, sitting was hard. Some of his teachers simply assumed
that he didn't care. "People decided that about me pretty
quick," he says. "It can hurt you pretty good."
But in golf, curiously, Standly found something that held his
attention. It was an outdoor, physical activity, so he wasn't
cooped up, yet it had a structure. The shifting conditions and
the varying pin placements forced him to concentrate. And he was
relatively free of the expectations of others. It was like
fishing, a solitary exercise with a comforting routine. "I was
my own man," he says. "It wasn't real organized. I didn't have
to answer to anybody. I was in control of my own destiny."
Standly was the most temperamental member of what might have
been the best high school golf team ever. The Abilene Cooper
squad included Bob Estes, now a Tour player; Kyle Coody, who is
the son of Masters champion Charles Coody and plays
professionally on the mini-tours; and Ron English and Cole
Thompson, who were good enough to play collegiately at TCU and
Stanford, respectively. They were coached by Estes's father,
Tommy, and won three straight state championships, beating teams
led by the likes of Jeff Maggert and Verplank.
When Bob Estes learned about Standly's ADD two years ago, he
felt as if a puzzle had been solved. For years Estes did not get
along with Standly. Estes was a hardworking, mannerly coach's
kid who couldn't understand what he viewed as Standly's
rudeness. Often when Estes tried to talk to Standly, Mike would
gaze off in the distance, not listening. Sometimes if Standly
got off to a bad start in a round, he would quit. That was a
cardinal sin as far as Estes was concerned. "He had the
reputation of being a hotheaded country club kid," Estes says.
"He was impatient, and there was a lack of attention he'd show
when you would try to talk to him. He had all this potential but
wasn't taking advantage of it. It helps to know what was going
on, to understand him better. You can forgive him for some
things he did and said."
Standly's temper often flared when he was playing for Abilene
Cooper. "There were times when he embarrassed me," says Tommy
Estes. But Standly also clearly possessed an enormous gift. As a
senior he barely lost the individual state title to Maggert.
"Mike hit the ball as good as any teenager I've ever seen," the
former coach says. "He might storm off, but he'd be back the
Standly's college career at Houston was marked by similarly
stormy relationships. He played on the 1985 national
championship team that included Steve Elkington and Billy Ray
Brown, but he didn't get along with the coaches. Standly had
trouble absorbing and obeying instructions, and people just
assumed he was ignoring them, as Epps did after Standly had left
Working with Standly was so frustrating that Epps often thought
of quitting. On the practice tee Standly's gaze would wander. On
the course he would stride up to the ball and hit a shot
seemingly without thought. "If you aren't going to try any
harder than that, I'll just leave," Epps said. Epps thought
Standly had the ability to be in the top 10 in the world but did
not have the commitment. "And I just couldn't understand all
that anger," Epps says. Then Nicole told Epps about the ADD. "It
was a relief to finally understand," says Epps, who came to
learn that Standly actually was making a considerable effort to
play golf. Standly's anger now seems to Epps "almost like
There are few aspects of Standly's life that ADD has not
touched. For instance, Suzanne has displayed some signs of the
disorder. Partly in compensation for the time she has spent
dwelling on Mike's problems, Nicole has begun to pursue a
singing career. Country singer Vince Gill is a family friend and
has introduced her to the Nashville music scene. She has
recorded demos of 14 songs, and in between tournaments she flies
to Nashville to pitch to record producers. "It gives her
something to think about besides me," Standly says.
While Pirozzolo serves as a long-term confidant, sports
psychologist Bob Rotella provides Standly with practical golf
advice. He has taught Standly to break the course into small
increments: get through four holes, then start another four. But
there is no quick fix or pat answer. Says Pirozzolo, "I wish it
were a nice neat package for him. It's not." Standly views his
career with mounting dissatisfaction. His lone victory "is
probably not enough," he says.
Others prefer to focus on the positive. "How many guys have gone
through the gypsy life to make it on Tour, have a successful
family and have won a tournament?" Epps says. "He's done a lot."