Date: November 16, 2018
Author: Mark Hayes

Wahbi calms nerves to lead #AAAC

Belgium’s Adem Wahbi was so stressed in the first four holes of today’s Australian All Abilities Championship, presented by ISPS Handa, that he “didn’t even know” the direction of his shots.

But befitting the courage of the inaugural integrated championship for golfers with a disability, he pushed that aside to lead the ground-breaking tournament after the first of three rounds at The Lakes.

Wahbi, who has cerebral palsy, peeled off nine consecutive pars from the fifth hole, eventually signing for a superb 77 to lead by a stroke from Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor and Sweden’s Johan Kammerstad.

New South Welshman Geoff Nicholas, a global legend in the amputee golf community, binned an 8m birdie putt on the ninth, his final hole, to card a 79 and sit well in touch just two behind.

But the day belonged to Wahbi, the world No.9, who gave more than the odd fist pump, clearly loving the experience in front of the generous Australian Open galleries.

“The first four holes I was completely stressed, I was not in my game and played really bad, but after that I finished OK and I’m really happy for today,” Wahbi said.

“I’m happy to be the leader today, but we have a lot of holes left and I have to keep concentration.

“My game is quite nice, I missed three holes early, but if I stay focused on the first couple of holes tomorrow, it will be nice.”

Kammerstad, who has a 20cm leg length difference, played almost the opposite round, having started on the 10th tee.

Two birdies in his opening eight holes had the bearded Swede one under, but he was “very disappointed” with his closing 10 holes.

“That front nine is tough,  a few tricky holes … but I just should have done it better,” Kammerstad said.

“But I’m confident I can push on. My ball-striking is strong and it’s going to be fun tomorrow.”

Lawlor, who has Ellis-van Creveld Syndrome, was ecstatic despite what he said were his only three bad shots each costing him a double-bogey.

“It’s been an unbelievable experience, especially with the crowds, I really like it,” said the affable Irishman, who had 13 pars and a birdie in a polished display.

“Just three bad shots all day, it’s all I had, but they cost me a double-bogey each time,” he said.

“So I played really solid for the rest, really happy with the whole thing.

“I putted good, but when you’re on greens like that, it’s hard not to.

“I’m definitely in a good spot, but I’m loving the whole experience and being here, so it’s a plus whether I win or don’t win.”