Ireland’s Brendan Lawlor began a unique golfing odyssey in Australia last week and the 21-year-old Louth talent hit the headlines not long after his arrival at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney.
Born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, Lawlor suffers from a rare bone growth disorder that leads to shorter limbs but he has not let this physical disability come between him and his sporting dreams. Standing 4’11, what he concedes in height matters less than it might because he has developed a golf game good enough to compete with all-comers. His current playing handicap of two reflects as much and since he started playing disability golf 12 months ago, Lawlor has established himself among the best in the world.
Last week The R&A and the USGA revealed that they will administer a World Ranking for Golfers with Disability, beginning 1st of January, and that announcement neatly coincided with Lawlor’s arrival Down Under.
Competing in Australia for the first time, Lawlor finished second in the Australian All Abilities Championship, which was played alongside the Emirates Australian Open won by Abraham Ancer from Mexico last Sunday. Ancer will lead the Mexican team in this week’s World Cup of Golf at The Metropolitan Club, Melbourne, the same location for Lawlor’s next assignment.
Lawlor has been included in the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) team that plays Australia in a Ryder Cup-style match during the World Cup of Golf at The Metropolitan. In preparation for that match, Lawlor got to play a practice round with Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne.
In Melbourne this week, they are the boys in green and Lawlor’s journey through the game has been just as compelling.
Aged four, he started off playing pitch and putt with a cut-down driver engineered by his grandfather Bill. Off the tee, Lawlor could get 80 yards with that homemade club. His wedge and putter took care of the rest.
Lawlor honed his pitch and putt game at Channonrock, not far from his hometown of Ardee, and collected All-Ireland titles at Under 16 and Senior level along the way. He won the Senior crown aged 17.
“I was the youngest player ever to win the Senior,” Lawlor recalls. “They had just brought in a rule that year to allow players over 16 participate. I shot 12 under for two rounds at Rock Lodge in Cork and won it by four shots.”
Those skills would stand to him when he tried his hand at golf.
“When I started golf, I didn’t have the power so I had to rely on my short game a lot,” he says. “I would get the ball within 100 yards and get it up and down from there.”
With practice, he figured a way to hit the ball further, increasing his drive from 170 yards to 260. As his handicap tumbled he gave thought to college scholarships in the US. Two years away from home at the Darren Clarke Golf School in Antrim disabused him of that notion.
“I’m a home bird at heart plus it’s a different standard of golf in America,” he says.
He has mixed it with the best at club level in Ireland, featuring on the Dundalk team that took provincial honours in the AIG Barton Shield this year. He gets a kick from winning matches.
“I could be up against a player who is 6’5,” says Lawlor. “He’s looking at me thinking it will be an easy match and next thing he knows I’m beating him on the 15th. It feels good to do that.”
It is only in the last 12 months that he has started competing in disability golf. Until then, all of his competitive golf was at home playing in regular club competitions or GUI championships. Lawlor has won three times on the European Disabled Golf Association (EDGA) tour this season and that run of results brought him into consideration for the trip to Australia.
The Golfing Union of Ireland have supported Lawlor with a player grant and equipped him with official Ireland Golf playing apparel, which he will wear in competition.
During his Antipodean adventure, Lawlor is growing accustomed to the company of professionals, soaking up applause, savouring the atmosphere.
“Playing in front of 5,000 people was incredible and when I put it into five feet on the last the crowd went nuts,” he said of his final round at the Australian All Abilities Championship. “When you shoot the same score as some of the pros you know you did okay.”
And while his golf is garnering attention right now, it’s his attitude that will resonate with a wider audience.
“I don’t let my condition inhibit me,” he says. “I don’t see it as a disability in any way. If I was giving advice to anyone like myself or anyone with a disability: ‘Just be yourself and try find a game that you’re comfortable with.'”
Still, he continues to seek escape from his comfort zone, and that courage has taken him to the far side of the world.
“It will be some change from Ireland,” said Lawlor before departing for Australia. Then again, he’s been breaking the norm for quite some time.
Brendan Coffey – Golfing Union of Ireland