As a schoolboy, Jim Ahern couldn't sit still. He grew bored easily. His eyes darted around the room. His mind drifted. His teacher would hand him a book to read, but he had so much trouble focusing that it may as well have been written in Sanskrit. Setbacks that might have seemed minor to other kids sent him into emotional tailspins that left him literally banging his head against the wall.
Then, at age 11, Ahern discovered golf—at long last a pursuit that kept him engaged, attentive, inspired. The jumpy kid from Yankton, S.D., spent nearly every waking hour at Hillcrest Country Club, the town's nine-holer. He never tired of the game and its myriad challenges, and he quickly improved. He excelled in junior tournaments and then in college, first at South Dakota State and then at Oklahoma State, where he studied turf management. In 1972, Ahern qualified for the PGA Tour.
The jitteriness never left him, though. He was so scattered that he would start to balance his checkbook before realizing two or three days later that he'd never completed the task. He struggled with impulse control, weaving in and out of traffic to blow by slower drivers, and he often lost his temper on the course. He rarely contended. In three full seasons on Tour, Ahern notched just one top-10 finish, tying for ninth at the 1973 John Deere Classic. Not until he was on the cusp of Champions Tour eligibility, in the late 1990s, did he learn the biological cause of his blend of skittishness and compulsiveness: He had attention-deficit disorder (ADD).
"I had never even heard of it, growing up in a little town in South Dakota," says Ahern, now 64 and a teaching pro in Scottsdale, Ariz. "But I had ADD pretty bad. Golf became my obsession. I would leave the house at sunup and come back at sundown, and I never got bored with it. I never got bored with practice."
Ahern sees himself in one of his students: Robert Garrigus, the long hitter who triple-bogeyed 18 to lose the 2010 St. Jude Classic in Memphis but bounced back to win at Disney later that year. Garrigus was an active child whose trouble in school made more sense when he was diagnosed with ADD. He tried medication but didn't like it, instead finding solace on the golf course and ultimately the PGA Tour. But he still sometimes struggles with the condition, and his feet and neck tell the story: If he's doing activities that don't interest him, like, say, shopping with his wife, his feet and neck ache. If he's playing golf or fishing, he's pain-free.
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