Confessions of a Golf Prodigy with ADHD
In golf, Luke Kohl found an effective outlet for his ADHD impulses.
At age six, I was diagnosed with ADHD and given Ritalin, a medication that evened out my behavior considerably. Yet I still found myself in the school principal’s office nearly every day. School mattered little to me. However, around this time, I developed a consuming interest in an inanimate object that would eventually save my life — the ball.
After years of people complaining about my hyperactivity and unruly behavior, my mom and dad couldn’t help but see my newfound fascination as constructive. So they got me involved with sports, specifically baseball, early on. My mom would tell you I could throw a ball before I could crawl. Baseball became my true love, the purpose for my young life.
By age 13, I was a Missouri Little League standout, already eyed by major league scouts. I ate, drank, and slept baseball. My parents were determined to let me become the best pitcher I could through hard work, great instruction, and serious competition.
However, during one game, in early summer, my pitch count neared one hundred (far too many for any pitcher), but the coaches — one of whom was my dad — did not call for a reliever. I was going for a no-hitter. As I threw that final pitch, the rotator cuff and ligaments in my arm popped, and I fell to the ground screaming. I had struck out the batter, pitching a complete no-hit shutout, but it was the last baseball game I would ever play.
A deep sadness followed. What would I do with myself? I thought of two possible scenarios: mowing lawns, or going back to the small, white ball — this time, the golf ball. It looked like golf and caddying were the answer.
I located a course where I could learn to caddy, and I caught on quickly. After one summer caddying, I decided to try my luck at securing a bag at the annual Senior PGA Tour stop in Kansas City.
I signed on with the gentlemanly Freddie Haas. As I watched this old-schooler use both the toe and heel of his putter to putt, and blast drives all of 230 yards (in other words, not very far), I was sure last place was in sight. Five days and several bad scores later, I accepted a $50 check and a dozen used golf balls in payment for my week of toting the largest bag imaginable. (Did I mention, we finished dead last?) Although underpaid by hundreds of dollars, I was hooked.
I worked on my own game using the clubs available at the putting range. By the time I was 14, I was an up-and-coming golfer and caddy. Year after year, the PGA tour came through, and I worked for different pros, as I was needed. It was the first time I had ever been accepted by a large group of people, and I always got work, earning endearing nicknames along the way. Lee Trevino, for whom I first caddied at age 15, referred to me as the “Kansas City Kid” or “Kid” for short. Walter Zembriski called me “The Duke.” Walter Morgan liked calling me “Vandross,” after Luther Vandross. Fellow caddies called me anything from “Sky Kid” to “Skywalker.”
As I got older, I yearned to go on the road and travel full time with the tour. The summer before my first year in college, my mom consented, and I traveled by car over 8,000 miles, pocketing more than $15,000.
While in high school, I played tournament golf against the best golfers throughout the country. My performance was only average, and I questioned whether I was in the right sport. The ups and downs of golf are tremendous and depressed feelings are common when play is not consistent. I’d like to tell you about the first and last time I allowed my ADHD to make an appearance on the links.
It was early summer, 1997, and I was caught up in a whirlwind schedule, with 17 tournaments to play around the country. The first was the Missouri Junior Amateur. I wish I had stayed home that day.
From the start, it was a bad round. After several bad shots, I glanced over at my mom, who seemed totally disinterested. I decided that my flinging a golf club might pique her interest, so I pulled out several clubs and hurled them into a tree — where they stuck. The tree was not climbable, so I shook it vigorously in an attempt to retrieve the clubs. It didn’t work. I then pulled out my five iron and snapped it over my knee. My playing partners were shocked.
A tournament official who witnessed all this questioned me about my tirade. “Sir, I was getting bored out here and I was not playing well,” I said. “What is ‘not playing well?'” he asked. “I am two over par, Sir.” The official shook his head. “Son, you are one out of the lead, but I am going to have to ask you to withdraw because of your actions. I do not want to have to kick you out of this tournament.”
My mom was distressed over my behavior and said I would never play golf again. Yet I knew that I would be on the plane to Florida the next week for the Junior World Championships. I vowed never again to throw another golf club. I also pledged never to allow the game to get the best of me — and to do my best to keep it fun.
When my game is not at its peak, I think back to that embarrassing day and remember that it’s only a game. Years ago my mom told me that if I would go out to the course to enjoy the walk and the time spent with other players, I would perform better. It works.
Later in 1997, I did well in several tournaments and got some heavy exposure. When I returned home, a pile of college and university offers awaited me. In the end, I chose Grinnell College, a top-notch school in Iowa.
My dedication to sports helped me to develop self-confidence. I was a child with severe ADHD, but I was able to release tension and energy through constructive behavior. I was fortunate to have parents who enabled me to play these sports and who acknowledged their therapeutic importance in my life.
Organized sports can make a critical difference for kids who might otherwise use their energy in detrimental ways. Having ADHD is hard enough. Let your child break out and focus his energy on playing hard and having fun. A sport that fits your child’s personality can be a key to lifelong success.