There is 7,803.6km separating Dundalk and Dubai where Louth golfer Brendan Lawlor will today contest the DP World Tour Championship as part of the European Tour’s Rolex Series.
But Lawlor will complete another remarkable journey when he tees off on the 454-yard par 4 opening hole. The 22-year-old will be completing one chapter and beginning a brand new one in a remarkable story of talent, resilience and determination.
Just a couple of months ago, Lawlor was earning his living in Louth’s county town where his family runs a business solutions company.
In the intervening weeks he has realised a long-term ambition by turning professional as a disability golfer. He has done so under the banner of Modest! Golf, a company part-owned by singer Niall Horan. Lawlor is now intent on using the impending exposure to raise the profile of disability golf domestically.
“Disability golf is still very fresh,” he says, “especially in Ireland. It could get bigger or it could go nowhere but this is the time to push it on as much as we can.’’
Therein lies the challenge, however to a man living with Van Creveld Syndrome, a bone growth disorder that leads to shorter limbs, pushing the boundaries is nothing new.
Currently ranked world number 3 in disability golf, Lawlor will compete at Jumeirah Golf Estate courtesy of a recent European Tour and EDGA-led initiative.
“The European Tour is starting to accept the top-level disability golfers to compete alongside the professionals at the Rolex series. The chances we are getting in the next few months are unbelievable. You have to keep your ranking up but if you are within the top 10 in the world, you’re going to be invited to all or almost all of these events. So, the plan is to play five or six events on the European Tour and probably three or four events on the disability calendar to keep up my ranking.”
Lawlor, who stands at just 4’11”, was encouraged by his parents to overcome the perceived limitations of his disability from an early age.
“Mam and Dad never really treated me any different, anything I wanted to do they would say, ‘belt on’. Even if it was something mad like rugby Mam would say ‘go on, see how it goes and if you get hurt it’s not our fault’.
“That was massive in my upbringing, I never really saw myself as different and nothing stopped me from doing anything. I played Gaelic football up to U12s when I began picking up injuries here and there, so it wasn’t really worth it anymore.”
His focus switched from the GAA field to the pitch and putt course where his talent proved superior to most of his able-bodied opponents. He picked up several Leinster and All-Ireland titles, honing a knack around the greens that went on to provide a solid foundation for his golf game.
He began to thrive on the club circuit. Lawlor was a member of the Dundalk squad that won the Leinster Barton Shield title, reached the semi-final of the Leinster Senior Cup and was beaten in the All-Ireland Barton Shield final.
As he embarks on the latest chapter of his ever-evolving story, Lawlor will draw on his experience to remain focused on the job at hand.
“My very first disability event was in November 2017 in Portugal, I was competing at a high enough level in able bodied golf and was thinking ‘this will be a walk in the park’. That was completely the wrong way of thinking, but it was the best eye-opening I ever got. The talent the guys had was incredible. I think I came fourth or something. It’s the most I ever got from a tournament, I had to kick myself and say ‘you know you are of the standard to compete at this level but if you go out thinking you are going to win it while hitting a poor score, it’s not going to happen’. It was a rude awakening.”
High-profile victories in the German Disabled Open and the inaugural EDGA Scotland Open on the disability golf circuit proved pivotal in securing a professional deal.
“I’d say the Scotland Open got the major recognition. It (turning professional) was in the back of my mind for a few months, I was offered a lot of stuff as an amateur but obviously you can’t take them, being an amateur. I wanted to promote the game as much as I could, but you need money behind you, it’s very hard to promote it with nothing.
“Mark (McDonnell of Modest! Golf) gave me the option and said, ‘what would you think of turning pro? The offers are there if you do it’.”
Although disappointed to be leaving his club golf behind, Lawlor acknowledges it makes sense for his career and will aid him in his quest to put disability golf on the map.
“The dream is to reach world number one and get as many people with disabilities out playing golf and to see them excel in what they love doing, that’s my main goal.
“I turned professional to be an ambassador for disability golf.”
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