Brendan Lawlor on training Prince Harry and making Tour history
Brendan Lawlor is a man of his word.
In October 2020, the Irishman told CNN Sports he hoped to “keep the ball rolling” for the next generation golfers with a handicap.
Now No. 1 in the World ranking for golfers with disabilitiesLawlor hit that ball over the fairway and over the crest – and it doesn’t look like he’s going to land anytime soon.
Three years ago he was getting used to his new life as a top athlete. Since then, the 25-year-old has become the first disabled golfer to join the European Tour, winning three handicap events in a row until 2021 and rocketing to the top of the handicap golf world rankings.
Brendan Lawlor: Irish pioneer paving the way for golfers with disabilities
In recent weeks he has helped Prince Harry improve his swing and headlined a groundbreaking new Tour for disabled golf – but perhaps Lawlor’s most cherished moment was the final trials for his country’s European Championships for disabled golf.
“It’s pretty crazy – last year in Ireland we had no disabled golfers and this year we had a final trial with seven players – all under the three handicap, which is amazing,” Lawlor told CNN.
“They all say, ‘we started this because… we saw you play The Belfry (on Lawlor’s debut on the European Tour), we see you doing this,’ he added. “It’s a good feeling in your belly when people try something because you create the path for them.
“I don’t really care about rankings – I just want to go out and win as many events as I can, and change the lives of as many people as possible.”
From his hometown of Dundalk, north of Dublin, Lawlor was chatting ahead of the start of the inaugural Golf for the Disabled (G4D) Tour at the British Masters.
The Belfry, four-time host of the Ryder Cup in Warwickshire, England, provided an iconic backdrop for the launch of the Tour, which will see the world’s top 10 ranked golfers with disabilities compete in seven events in six countries.
Where disability events were once swallowed up between European Tour events, the new G4D Tour will run in conjunction with – and for two days immediately preceding – the European Tour. With each tournament being the subject of a full Sky Sports broadcast documentary, disabled golf is enjoying more attention than ever before.
World No. 2 Kipp Popert was victorious in the first event, with Lawlor finishing four shots at the Englishman in fourth.
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“If we can continue to send this message, if we can impact even 10 people’s lives, that’s huge,” said Lawlor, who already dreams of expanding the Tour to as many as 50 players. “This is going to have a roll-on effect for disability golf.”
Lawlor’s recent performance at Belfort marked a return to the track he made headlines on in 2020 when he competed alongside big winners Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer – as well as former world No. 1 Lee Westwood – in the ISPS Handa UK Championship – the first time that a golfer with a handicap played in a professional European Tour event.
Born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by short-limbed dwarfism, Lawlor has no knuckles on the tips of his fingers. While he welcomes his platform as a leading handicap golfer and the opportunities it brings, the Irishman wants him and his fellow players not to be defined by their handicap.
“We get these huge opportunities because we’re doing abnormal things — we shouldn’t be able to do what we can do with a golf club or a golf ball,” he said.
“So we get these opportunities because we’re athletes with a disability, but I don’t like when people categorize you and put you in a category with a disability, because golf is for everyone — you play at any level.”
“That’s the beauty of our game,” he added. “Yes, we play handicap golf on a handicap tour, but if you’re good enough to play on the European Tour with able-bodied golfers, you’ll get that chance.”
Lawlor turned pro in September 2019 and signed with Modest! Golf Management, a company founded by fellow Irishman and singer-songwriter Niall Horan. The former One Direction star, an advocate for golf for the disabled, is now a close friend.
“He’s really changed my life — since I signed, he’s gotten me some incredible endorsement deals and really embraced golf for the disabled,” said Lawlor. “He’s just a genuinely nice guy and would do anything to help you.”
And if a hugely successful music career wasn’t enough, Horan is also an impressive golfer, currently holding an eight handicap.
Horan isn’t the only celebrity face a club has picked up with Lawlor. In April, the Irishman handed out swing tips to the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, in The Hague.
Lawlor promoted the fifth edition of the Invictus Games, an international event for wounded serving and veteran military personnel, with Prince Harry as the patron of the Games’ Foundation.
Using a golf simulator room, Lawlor spent the day teaching veterans from around the world sharing their stories of various battles, both physical and mental.
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“These guys tried golf for the first time and made contact with the ball,” said Lawlor. “It only takes one person to join and start the game and that can bring in more people.”
And how was the Duke of Sussex’s swing? Not bad at all, says Lawlor.
“He grabbed the club and I just adjusted one or two things and he hit it really well,” added Lawlor. “He was a really nice guy.”