Adem Wahbi, professional golfer and much-loved Manors ambassador, finished last season with a whimper. After two months at a training camp in Dubai, the Belgian carded a 14 over par, placing last in the Dubai finale tournament. The loss was heavy enough to see him take a leave of absence from the game.
“I felt really bad,” says Wahbi. “I was totally lost. For the first time I realised I was struggling mentally. I think I had been for a long time, but for me — it was not possible. I just thought, ‘It will be good — no problem — let’s work harder.’ And then I sat down and realised, ‘You are not feeling good and it’s not a shame to say it’.”
It’s been four months since Adem last swung a club, and we’re currently sitting in the clubhouse of Royal County Down; home to what is said to be the best opening nine holes in golf. It’s the stage for Manors’ latest Classic Collection photoshoot, our interview and Adem’s return to the sport. I suggest that if this doesn’t remind him of his love for the game, nothing will.
“I never fell out of love with golf,” says the sportsman, “but if I didn’t come to play this week — I don’t think I would have picked the clubs back up for a long time. But then I go out with you guys and I’m chipping and the ball goes close to the hole. That’s like drugs. It feels so good.”
Golf is a sport of fine margins, and even the world’s best players expect a few nightmare rounds. So for Adem to walk away from the thing he loves most, suggests he was dealing with more than just a bad day. I ask Adem whether golf was to blame for his difficulties.
“No,” he says. “It was my life but golf is my life, so it came into my golf. I always considered myself as someone able. But I’m not. You see? I just didn’t realise I’m disabled. I grew up with the mindset that I could do anything. But the last two years I’ve had some dark moments.”
Behind him, clouds roll over the Slieve Donard mountain. I feel obliged to ask Adem about the round he’s just played — but we’ve stumbled on something more in depth.
“People like to say now that it’s not disabled,” he considers, “but I think you have to go with it. I am disabled. You have to realise it and do whatever the f*** you want anyway. Now I say things like, ‘I’m disabled — I walk like your dad after two or three beers’. Back in the day, I’d never say something like that, but now there’s ownership.”
I laugh at the thought of my Dad and Adem stumbling home together drunk, before asking him whether he’s feeling better, now that he’s taken ownership and some time to himself.
“When the European tour posted about me,” he reveals, “I received more than 200 messages from disabled people, parents of disabled people and abled people. At this moment I realised something was possible to do. Since I realised this mental health thing I want to go up there and f*** up everything.”
This seems slightly out of context with the sentiment of the conversation so far, so I ask Adem to clarify what he means when he says he’s going to ‘f*** up everything’.
“There’s no-one I can look at and think ‘wow’,” he explains. “There’s no-one for disabled people to look up to. You watch TV, you go outside, you see superheroes — and there’s no-one. [Disabled people] need role models. Now I want to be a role model. Forget about disability, forget about golf — right now with the world we live in, with social media, and all the pressure and comparison to each other, it’s so hard. You just have to be yourself”.
When Adem mentions the golf, I remember I ought to ask him something about the day he’s just had on a golf course of pilgrimage status. I try to get him to think about the round for a moment, but right now he’s Adem the person — not Adem the professional golfer.
“Just playing with friends felt so good,” he says. “The vibe is so good. Me, with golf, I’m often alone and stressed and don’t see friends a lot — I’m not at home. The fact that I met people and was just having fun, outside my normal circle — for me, you guys really became friends. I feel like Manors is a big family. You guys are like my big brothers”.
It’s at this point I remember Adem is just 23-years-old. As one of the most charming, charismatic and likeable people I’ve met, it easily slips the mind. At Manors we genuinely believe in and love Adem. When he tells us he’s going to be successful, he does it with absolute conviction, and we believe him.
But, the reality is, we don’t care. It’s his character we were drawn to. Adem is part of Manors’ DNA, whether he decides to continue playing golf professionally or not. But we have a hunch he’ll be teeing off when the season starts. It’s a game that keeps pulling you in. Not my words…
“I can have 100 bad shots and one good shot — I’m back…”