A real competitor

Cerebral Palsy doesn't deter Adam Sahmel from his dream to be the best amateur putter around

Cerebral Palsy doesn't deter Adam Sahmel from his dream to be the best amateur putter around

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Adam Sahmel and some of his many trophies, medals and other awards Courtesy of Adam Sahmel
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Sahmel prepares for the putt. Courtesy of Adam Sahmel
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Sahmel and friend enjoying a Houston Rockets game Courtesy of Adam Sahmel
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News_Jayme_Adam Sahmel_golf_putting_Putt Putt
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So there’s this awesome guy I know with an awesome story to tell. His name is Adam and he’s your quintessential 31-year-old dude living in Houston. He’s constantly texting or talking about his flavor of the week lady friend, obsessing over Houston sports (including but not limited to Texans cheerleaders, with a strong preference for the blondes), eating twice as many calories as any other human, and carving as much time as possible to hit the putting green.

Adam is currently competing (and has since 1998) in the Amateur Putters Association (APA) traveling across the United States in hopes of becoming the best amateur putter around. He plays 15-20 state events, four national regional tournaments and a week of nationals each year.

 “When I first started playing, a lot of the guys looked like they felt sorry for me. They babied me, almost. Now I’m just one of the guys, which is why I play. I’m treated as an equal – they’re there to win just like I am, no difference." 

The only thing slightly different about Adam is that he has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get from point A to B; except when he’s on the putting green; he uses his walker.

Cerebral Palsy is a loss or impairment of motor functions which can affect body movement, muscle coordination, muscle control, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance – all things which are undoubtedly imperative for a golfer/putter.

Commonly known as “CP," it is caused by brain injury or abnormal development in early stages, either before birth, during birth or directly after birth. Adam was born with CP, but it has never affected his love of both watching and playing sports.    

"Those who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it." - George Bernard Shaw

Adam Sahmel picked up a putter for the first time at the age of 12 over at Gulf Freeway Putt Putt (now closed). Not being able to use his right hand due to his disability, he used only his left hand in a one-handed back swing, which just felt natural to him. From then on, he was hooked. And not just because of his natural ability (his best score was a 23, which means he sank 15 aces out of 18 holes, not too shabby), but because it’s one of the few places he feels like “one of the guys.”

The APA season starts this weekend and Adam has been training hard. The tournament format is 3 rounds, and each round is comprised of 18 holes. The rounds are played back to back, where stamina becomes a bit of an issue for Adam. He is more focused on staying upright than he is on his actual putting. 

As for his stats? I mentioned above his best score was an impressive 23, with an average of 30-31 (which equates to about 5-6 under par). Each hole is a par 2 — your hope is to sink an ace (a hole-in-one) on every hole, making the best possible score an 18. Only 3 people have ever scored a perfect 18 since the PPA (Professional Putters Association) started in the 50’s.

Adam has multiple state victories and a National Doubles Title in Webster in 2008 (alongside his longtime partner Mickey DeLucca who hails from Baton Rouge). He has 10 wins under his belt and also won the 2007 APA Sportsmanship Award.

No handicaps

Before you think those stats are somehow inflated or weighted with point favorings because of Adam’s disability, know this: Adam chooses to play in a league with all putters, not simply disabled ones. This means he gets no literal handicaps to boost his score far above his able bodied opponents, which is one of the reasons he loves the game. He’s on an even playing field, and sometimes, even for a guy with this kind of uplifting attitude, that leaves him at the bottom of said playing field after a bad day of play which anyone and everyone in the industry inevitably faces from time to time.

 Before you think those stats are somehow inflated or weighted with point favorings because of Adam’s disability, know this: Adam chooses to play in a league with all putters, not simply disabled ones. 

 But stats and numbers aside, it’s his attitude that really draws people in. I’ve witnessed firsthand that this league and their tournaments aren’t nearly as glitzy and glamorous as a miniature golf double date in Galveston with bright colored balls and merlot.

This is hardcore, especially for Adam as he chooses to use his walker during tournaments to walk to each hole (as it’s not wheel chair friendly), and putts one-handed using his walker for balance. While that may not seem like much to the Average Joe, this is pretty much the only time Adam uses his walker, which means he’s using muscles on the course he doesn’t typically use.

“When I first started playing, a lot of the guys looked like they felt sorry for me. They babied me, almost. Now I’m just one of the guys, which is why I play. I’m treated as an equal – they’re there to win just like I am, no difference. If I miss a putt, they give me a hard time like they would anyone else. That’s the kind of competition I like. Plus, I like being able to beat them from time to time. It puts an even bigger smile on my face,” Adam admits laughing.

Sports are as much a part of Adam’s DNA as they are quite possibly Tiger Woods. He is a Rockets, Astros and Texans season ticket holder, has interned both with the Texans and Astros front offices and is obsessed with sports. But the best part about him and his story is his attitude. It's on an entirely different level — like a Disney level, except cool at our age.

And if for some reason after reading the above, you are still the cold-hearted snake that Paula Abdul once sang about, here’s the main reason I wanted to tell Adam’s story. When I asked why his story was worth telling, here was his response:

“In my view, it's not. If that makes sense? I just love to play against my friends and competitors. Yes, I do have challenges and circumstances to overcome, but I expect to post the same or better results.  I am always told I inspire them with my positive attitude and smile. That's great and all. I'm glad I can inspire them, but I want to beat them more.”