If ever you’re a bit sad and have the feeling that everything is working against you, may we advise you an hour in the company of young golfer Adem Wahbi?
Adem is one breath of energy and lust for life, extremely charming and very smart. On top of that, he plays scratch – 0,3 hcp – despite a couple of legs that don’t collaborate. Because his legs don’t work automatically, he’s in the gym at 6:30 in the morning. “I have to, for golf. Otherwise I can’t play.”, he says when he arrives perfectly on time for coffee in the heart of his home town, Brussels.
WAMP: Can you describe what is exactly wrong with your legs?
ADEM: Cerebral palsy. The part in my brain that should automatically steer my leg movements, doesn’t work. Which means I have to steer every movement consciously. Now left foot, now right foot. Otherwise, nothing happens. For you it would be hard, but for me it is normal. I never knew anything else. I never felt handicapped. It is how my body works. And I live a great life with it.
WAMP: At this moment, you’re the world’s number twelve in the EGDA. What does EDGA stand for?
ADEM: EDGA is European Disabled Golf Association. The global federation for people with a physical disability. That disability should cause a mechanical restriction in your swing. George Groves, for instance, currently N°1, has a normal and a short arm.
WAMP: “Currently” you say.
ADAM: Yes, currently (smiles). I’m training like hell. Around the green I can take on Tiger Woods (laugh). Logic, I’ve always done everything with my upper body. My hands are deadly precise. But from the tee I’m weak. If everything goes well, I hit no further than 25O yards, maximum.
WAMP: When we, ordinary mortals, shoot 250, we celebrate.
ADAM: Sure. But to become N°1 in the world, it is not enough.
WAMP: So what do you train?
ADEM: My hips don’t turn. Everything comes from the upper body.
WAMP: Like most amateurs.
ADEM: Exactly. For long time I’ve been thinking that this hip movement was not within my possibilities. But now I found a coach in England who’s willing to work with me, Marcus Bell. He has an electronic mat that shows on a screen where you weight is during your swing. It appeared that in my down swing, I didn’t leave room for my hips to turn. So the cause wasn’t my disability, it was the way I stood in the back swing. Now I’m gaining distance.
WAMP: How does a kid like you discover golf?
ADEM: Indeed. Most of my peers want to play football. Marocco is all about foot or basket. But I realized very early that I would never become Ronaldo or Bryant. (big laugh). Yet I wanted to play sports. I tried everything. One time we were on a holiday in Marrakech with the whole family. In a hotel. Golf was one of the activities offered and my brother and I have tried it, out of curiosity. We were on the mat, and I felt that I could be better at this than other kids. I was eight. Back home, I told my mama I wanted to play golf. She had a client who was golf pro in an indoor, in the basement of a big hotel in Brussels. I could go and practice as much as I wanted. Against a screen. After one year, I wanted to play outside, on a real course. My parents have found a club that is very family minded and great for kids. Rigenée. It was great.
WAMP: Children can cruel, for the unusual. You were different from them. How was that?
ADEM: Never a problem. People were very nice. We fell at home immediately. I never had the feeling something was wrong with me. But of course, I was getting good at golf. That helps. Now I’m playing in 7Fontaines. Beautiful club. Everything present to get better and better.
WAMP: Up to the N°1 spot in the world?
ADEM: I have to. I’m twenty one, still studying, and totally depending on my parents. My mama is accountant en my dad works for an employment company. But they have three children, and I don’t wanna be dependant for eternity. When I’m N°1, I can get income from advertising. I already have three great sponsors. Srixon for all my golf material, Tapptic for my website en my clothing is paid by Manors. That is a brilliant young English brand who wants to re-introduce some style in golf clothing. However, golf should help me earn a living. Someday.
When I was a little kid, my dad used to say: “Kid, you’re Arab and you are physically disabled. That makes two handicaps in this world. If you don’t become something in life, you’ll be a double wretch. People will only feel pity for you.” Sounds hard, but it kept me motivated. Even now, when I have to wake at five in the morning to drive to the gym. I come from behind, so I have to work harder. But I’m happy. Last year I plaid the President’s Cup in Australia – EDGA organized a tournament parallel to the professional one – and there I stood, a couple of steps away from Tiger. What golfer of my age can say that?
WAMP: Do you ever think, I could have been Tiger or Thomas Pieters, if I was born differently?
ADEM: (sigh). Sure. The thought came across my mind. But what good is it? And you know, without my disability I may not have become the person I am today. I had to fight, my whole life. It shaped me into how I am today.
WAMP: A role model?
ADEM: Who knows. If people ask me, I will tour and give keynotes. I’d love to show to children with a disability that the world can be there for them too. Especially their parents should know. Too many people think that a disability excludes you from having an exciting life. Wrong. It can be your strength. That is what I want to world to know.
WAMP: We’ll spread the word, Adem Wahbi. You’re a great example, not just for disabled people.
ADEM: That’s nice. Thank you.