Following the release of its new Classic Collection, stylish golf clothing label Manors Golf has announced its first player sponsorship deal with Adem Wahbi.
Adem, 20, was born with spastic diplegia (a form a cerebral palsy) and is known for his unique style, wicked sense of humour and a refreshing perspective on the game.
Adem is currently ranked fifth in the World Disabled Rankings and he recently shared the course with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Francesco Mollinari and fellow Belgian Thomas Pieters at the Scottish Open.
Cooling off from competition, the Manors team caught up with Adem for an informal Q&A over 18 holes at Wentworth Golf Club, to learn more about his unique journey into golf, his ambitions for the future and the importance of style to his game.
When did you start playing golf?
I got into golf when I was eight years old. With my diplegia, there is a disconnect between my brain, my hip bones and my legs, so my brain doesn’t automatically control my legs. I have to think about it just so I can walk a little bit normally. When I was younger, I had difficulties playing other sports due to my legs, so I started with tennis, did some basketball and stuff like that, but it was way too hard. One day I had a club in my hand and I hit the ball and it was an amazing ball... I was like okay, I’m going to get into this!
What’s the most difficult aspect of having cerebral palsy when playing golf?
Stability is so hard. It’s very difficult to get a consistent contact on the ball - so ball flight and my position. Those are what’s most difficult for me.
You said earlier that you don’t really see yourself as having a disability. Could you tell us more about that?
Yes of course. I was very lucky to fall in a family like mine, because they never told me I was disabled and “you can’t do this or that.” When I was little and everyone was racing to go the car with my brother and sister, in my head I could win and get to the car first. And in my brother’s mind, I could win too, so he gave everything and I gave everything. Of course, I had no chance but I’ve swum since I was four, I’ve cycled, I’ve tried every sport...so I’ve just felt normal since I was little.
Who was your golfing inspiration?
Tiger Woods. When I saw Tiger Woods I thought, okay, I want to be like him. Tiger Woods was black and because he was black it was hard for him. I saw my disability like this. At the time it was nearly a disability to be black and it’s kind of the same for me. It’s hard with a disability, just to live. I saw myself a bit in him.
If you could have grown up in a different era, immersed in the style, music and culture, what would it be?
I would go back to when Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan were at the top - the combination of style and sport was amazing.
And if you could play a round with anyone, I guess it would be with those two?
Yes, Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan...and also Rafael Nadal, he plays off scratch!
So style is quite important to you?
Of course. Playing golf just to put the ball on the fairway or on the green is not that fun... You got to do with some style too.
How does that translate into what you wear?
I try to mix it up and be a bit different from everyone else, like my legs are. So when I dress, my style is a little bit of old school, a bit of colour. I’m not really into big brands, so yeah, I like to take one piece from here and there.
What do you enjoy most about being out on the course?
The nicest thing is you forget all your problems. I don’t feel disabled at all on the golf course and because it’s grass, I don’t really feel my legs. The goal is the hole and nothing else.
And what’s the worst you’ve felt on the golf course? Has there been a time where you’ve thought, you know what, I might pack this in, it’s not worth it...?
Yeah, It’s happened two times. Once three years ago and again three weeks ago! I’m patient in life, but not at all in golf. Three weeks ago I called my Dad and said, “okay, it was cool, but I’m coming to work with you. I want to stop.” I’d had two really bad rounds and I was like okay, I can’t do this anymore, I’m stopping. The next tournament I played amazing and I thought to myself, “okay, I’m not stopping!”
And when you’re up on the tee, what do you focus on? Do you go for yardage or a nice looking shot?!
Yeah, I’m going for the Tiger Woods shot... even if it doesn’t work!
What are you aspirations and ambitions? What level do you want to push yourself to in golf?
My main goal is to be Number 1 in the world in Disabled Golf World Rankings. That’s my golf goal. But my main goal, in life, is to show people that just because you have a disability, it doesn’t mean you can’t play sport at a high level. You can do it.
Your personal ambition is in tune with changing perceptions. Do you think attitudes towards golf are changing and the sport is becoming more accessible?
Yes of course. Golf doesn’t have the best image in sport - a lot of people see it as a rich person’s sport and golf really isn’t like this at all. People think the same about disabled people, that we can’t do anything. So I think it’s a good thing to grow it all together, using golf and using disability.
Thank you Adem. It’s a pleasure to welcome you to the Manor’s Team and we can’t wait to see you grip it and rip it on the Tour this summer.
Thank you guys, it’s great to be part of the team.