Former PGA Tour golfer Billy Mayfair reveals autism diagnosis

Jack Baer
·Writer
·3 min read

Billy Mayfair spent more than three decades on the PGA Tour, won five tournaments and still holds the distinction of being the only man to beat Tiger Woods in a PGA Tour playoff. He recently learned he did it all under a unique circumstance.

The golfer, now competing on the Champions Tour, revealed to Sports Illustrated's Stephanie Apstein that he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in 2019. He said he functions at a high level, but with some challenges that he's now working on.

Here's how Mayfair described his condition:

Mayfair says his primary issue is one of processing speed. “My brain gets going so quick that what I’m thinking and what comes out of my mouth could be two different things, and that’s why people sometimes misunderstand where I’m coming from,” he says. He has long been a slow player, constantly at risk of being put on the clock; he says this stems in part from how long it takes him to sort through information. Worse, he believes that he has developed a reputation over his 33 years of professional golf as obstinate and defiant.

“I would come home and or go back to the hotel and lay there and 30 minutes later I’d go, ‘Why did I answer that way? That was a stupid answer, Billy,’ ” he says.

That issue with processing speed eventually resulted in the incident that pushed the 56-year-old Mayfair to finally get tested.

Billy Mayfair was disqualified from tournament in 2019

Billy Mayfair hits a shot from the tee box on the first hole during the first round of the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open golf tournament at TPC Summerlin on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2011, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)
Billy Mayfair was diagnosed in 2019. (AP Photo/Isaac Brekken)

More than 20 years after his last PGA Tour win, Mayfair made headlines with a bizarre incident at the 2019 Invesco QQQ Championship.

In the span of seven holes during the tournament's second round, Mayfair committed two rules infractions. On the 11th hole , Mayfair gave an inaccurate recounting of his search for a lost ball to a rules official. On the 17th hole, he was again inaccurate while telling a rules official about a ball that had been moved in the rough.

In both cases, the issue was communication, and Mayfair had seemingly lied to an official. He was disqualified before the third round of the tournament. He says he would have handled it all differently if he knew what he knows now:

If he knew then what he knows now, he says, “I would not have let the Tour—and not just the Tour but TV—take advantage of me. They bullied me and they took advantage of the situation. I would have argued with them. I would have stood up for myself. I would have said, ‘No, I did everything correctly.’” (A PGA Tour Champions spokesman says, "The TOUR remains confident in the ruling applied to Billy at the Invesco QQQ Championship in 2019.")

After that, Mayfair's wife Tami pushed him — "kicking and screaming" according to her, per SI — to get tested, and he was then diagnosed.

Mayfair told SI that he is revealing his diagnosis for a few reasons. He said he is now working with the Champions Tour on accommodations to help with his condition, namely having officials to only approach him about slow play before his tee shot, as he says interruptions during the hole make him play more slowly. 

He also said he wants to do charity work for autistic athletes, and provide a good example for people in similar situations:

“Look at what I’ve done in my career,” he says. “Not only am I a very good athlete, I’m also a good husband. I have a great wife. I’m happily married. I have a wonderful son. I have lived, and I am living, the dream life. And just because I have this disability doesn’t mean that I can’t have that.”

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