In this week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Adem Wahbi gives a fascinating insight into what it’s like to play golf with a disability – the 20-year-old was born with spastic diplegia, a form of cerebral palsy.
The young Belgian, who regularly competes in European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) tournaments, will face Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor in a nine-hole exhibition match at this week’s Belgian Knockout, with the winner receiving an invite into next season’s KPMG Trophy, a European Challenge Tour event.
The best part about golf? When I’m on the course I don’t feel my disability. I’m just walking like everyone else.
When I explain my condition, I say the following. My brain doesn’t give the message to my legs. So, for normal people, people that walk normally, they have a phone. The brain phones to the legs and says, ‘walk like this, do it like this’ and I just don’t have a phone, so it doesn’t work. Because of that, I have to think about it, then I can walk normally, but really slowly.
I was three when my family knew I had a problem. I know that it was really hard for them because it’s hard to have a child who is handicapped, but they raised me just like my brother and sister – I think that’s had a huge influence on my life. My parents never told me ‘you can’t do this, you can’t do that’; they raised me like a normal young guy. My family are a sports family, so my siblings all run really fast, and although I can only run at two miles an hour, whenever we were small and used to race to the car in my head I thought ‘I can win this’. My brother also had the same thoughts in his head, and he would never let me win because I’m disabled. They have always treated me like a normal person, and that has made me who I am today.
I have always done things normally. I learnt to swim when I was four, I rode a bike as a child and I now drive a normal car, so I think it’s just because of my family and everything around me that I don’t feel disabled.
I tried a lot of sports, but I kept getting injured. My family love tennis, so first I played that, but I was always falling, coming back, falling, coming back. After my dad took me out of tennis, I wanted to play soccer, but I had exactly the same problem. Then I tried basketball, but it was also too hard for me – I got injuries and had to stop. I tried golf and it was great because if you fell, you fell softly on the grass – as a result there were no injuries, so it was all perfect for me.
It just came naturally to me. I played my first 18 holes when I was ten, and it was when I was 14 that I felt I could be really good. I entered a few disabled tournaments and did well, and I thought to myself ‘I can go around the world and do this’.
Eventually, my goal is to make it to the European Tour, go there without shame, and beat them all. At the moment I feel I am far away from either the European Tour or the Challenge Tour as I am young, but I think I’ve got a chance of making it on the Alps Tour soon. With one more year of good training I think I can make it on the Alps Tour – I just have to work really hard, especially as I am still studying. If I can beat Tony Bennett (president of the EDGA) then I’ll stop school!
I want to be the Rafael Nadal of golf. He is my sporting role model, because he has mental strength and an amazing work ethic. In golf my role model is Tiger Woods – because it’s Tiger Woods, what more can I say! If I could beat Tiger I would die happy.
Golf is my life. I eat for golf, I gym for golf and I work really hard on my physique as I’m trying to look like Brooks Koepka! With my condition my legs are really weak and I struggle with my balance, so I work really hard on my upper body as I know at some point during a round my legs will say ‘we can’t do that anymore’ and I have to be strong to keep going. If I have big arms I can hit the ball further too.
Because my legs aren’t stable, I can’t hit my driver too far, and although I struggle with distance I make up for it with my short game. That’s the area of my game which is strongest – last week I made 22 putts in 18 holes. I don’t really have a choice as it’s hard to have a long game with my legs, but I am really proud of how good my short game is now.
When I play golf, I have to take a golf buggy because I don’t want to injure myself. I can take my bag and walk 36 holes but I’m going to hurt myself and I don’t want to be in a wheelchair when I’m 35! I saw John Daly in a golf buggy with his McDonald’s cup the other week – that was quite funny.
Two weeks ago, I was asked to come and teach a group of children (who I didn’t know were just like me). The guy from the pro shop asked me to come and help teach eight children, I didn’t know what kind of kids they were, so I went and was really happy when I got there because I saw eight children with the same problem as me. When you see them practising or on the driving range, they don’t feel disabled at all. When they play tennis or soccer it is hard for them – but with golf it is much better for them.
It’s life-changing for us that the European Tour are supporting the EDGA. You have to prepare for big crowds, the media, and a lot more interest – something which is great for us. Last year we were in Australia when we played the Disabled World Cup, and it was mind-blowing. I met Matt Kuchar and a lot of the Belgian guys – Nicolas Colsaerts, Thomas Pieters and Thomas Detry. We did a lot of chipping together and they couldn’t have been nicer.
We were treated like professionals that week. It was amazing because so many people were happy to see us and were impressed. It can only be a good thing for golf and disabled people.
I can’t wait for the match this week. Brendan and I started playing against one another last year after Brendan sent me a message on Facebook. He saw that I was playing with the EDGA and he asked me ‘how could I enter?’ and now we are playing against each other a lot as we are at a similar level, so are always in the same group. He has an amazing family, his dad and his mum are really great, and we are very good friends. At the moment, Brendan is playing better than me, although I’ll have home advantage. It’s about more than just us though – this match is more about disabled golf. Whoever wins, I’ll be happy!
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