‘Golf was a life saver’: UAE pro Joshua Grenville-Wood on growing up with ADHD

Youngster speaks of being misunderstood, changing his allegiance, and life on tour

Joshua Grenville-Wood ahead of the International Series Oman at Al Mouj Golf course in Muscat. Photo: Asian Tour
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Joshua Grenville-Wood has every reason to wear a broad smile. The waves of the Gulf of Oman are gently lapping the shore beside the gorgeous Al Mouj Golf course in Muscat as he tees it up in the opening tournament of the International Series.

A recent switch of allegiance from England to the UAE has started to open more and more doors for the 25-year-old Els Club member.

And in five appearances on the DP World Tour to date, he has had two top-10 finishes. All in all, it feels like he is just where he has always wanted to be.

Yet the grin this time masks what should be a painful memory. Grenville-Wood is discussing growing up with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and the management of it by others. Or, more specifically, the mismanagement.

“I moved schools quite a lot, and got kicked out of a school for fighting,” Grenville-Wood said of his childhood.

“I was being picked on for being different. The one we always make fun of was when my head teacher used to try to bribe me to behave in school.

“Every day I behaved, I would get five pounds. That just summed it up. I never really fitted in. There was no one there to help me.

“I didn’t know how to deal with what I was going through, and the teachers didn’t know. Most of the time they didn’t really care.

“They couldn’t be bothered. It was a case of throwing him in the back of the classroom, tell him to be quiet, and get on with it.”

He was five years old, living in the United States, when he was diagnosed. It was no surprise to his family: his father has the condition, and his grandfather before that.

His parents were furious at the lack of understanding he so often faced. Then he was enrolled at More House in Surrey in the UK, a private school specialising in teaching boys with learning challenges.

“That changed everything for me,” he said. “Teachers actually understood me and took the time to care for me. That is when I started to become a bit more of a human being and fit in.”

According to World Health Organisation data, ADHD affects around 5 per cent of children and 2.5 per cent of adults worldwide. And yet there is research to suggest as many as 8 per cent of elite sportspeople have the condition.

Bubba Watson, the former Masters champion from the United States, and Charley Hull, the English Solheim Cup star, are two prominent golfers who have ADHD.

Grenville-Wood describes the characteristics as being “a lot of energy, very little attention span, [making] things extremely hard to focus on.”

As such, golf does not seem like an obvious pursuit. He accepts it has its challenges.

“It is tough,” Grenville-Wood said. “You need attention and focus in golf, so it can be quite hard.

“But I quite enjoy the challenge of it. It is a mental challenge, and can obviously be a physical challenge when you are playing in warm countries for four or five days in a row.

“There is never a dull day on the golf course. There is always something interesting or crazy happening with me. It keeps me interested in playing.”

He has been playing the sport since being not much more than a toddler, when he would be taken to the range by his father, Gavin, who is a golf pro-turned-coach.

“Golf was a life saver in many respects,” Grenville-Wood Sr said of his son. “It allowed him to channel his energies.

“He basically took himself off medication when he was 17. He said he knew who he was and that he would deal with the situations.

“Since then he has made plenty of mistakes but learnt so much about life and himself. Now he’s hyper focused and determined to succeed. Those are his strengths.”

Having made regular trips to Dubai since 2017, he moved permanently in 2021. Six months ago was offered the chance to take up citizenship and represent the UAE.

At the International Series Oman, he has a miniature UAE flag woven into the right sleeve of his shirts. “It was a no-brainer for me,” he said of the switch.

“It means being able to get into events like this, and I have had a good start on the DP World Tour with a few invites, which made a good impact.

“Changing to the UAE, I became one of the best players. I was getting all sorts of invites to play in big events, and was able to push my own career forward. It was just a simple ‘yes’.”

Updated: February 23, 2024, 6:21 AM