Golfer Brendan Lawlor
When you meet some people you just know you have to write about them. What a pleasure it was to meet Louth man Brendan Lawlor, who is soon to be the world’s top disability golfer.
Brendan made history for becoming the first golfer with disabilities to compete in a European Tour event last year. He is currently number four in the world for disability golf and is vying to make it to the top spot.
Brendan is also signed with Modest Golf Management, set up by Mullingar pop idol Niall Horan, who is also a seriously big player in the world of golf and is playing a huge part in the game’s growth.
Horan believes in the power of sport to unite communities and break down barriers. After setting up Modest Golf five years ago, his mission is to change the face of golf by making it more diverse and inclusive, working hard to grow both the junior and women’s games.
Brendan is one of Modest’s top stars. He was born with a rare genetic disorder called Ellis-Van Creveld syndrome. This is characterised by short limb dwarfism, abnormal development of fingers and or toes and, often with congenital heart defects.
However, Brendan has not let any of that get in the way of a budding professional career and is actively using his voice and platform to try achieve better working conditions for disability golfers, who often can’t afford to attend competitive events because of lack of sponsorship.
Here is a glimpse into Brendan’s world…
Brendan you’re quite famous! You are the first disability golfer in the world to complete the European Tour.
It was a fabulous experience. Disability golf only took off three years ago. The leaps and bounds disability golf has taken in those three years has been incredible. My sponsors ISPS HANDA extended the invite to play on the European Tour and naturally I accepted.
On the first day of the tour, I had 400 messages of congratulations on my phone. It hit home everywhere, not just people with a disability, but it brought more women and children into golf. Even boys and girls that were struggling with mental health problems were getting onto to me and telling me that they are considering entering the game.
It wasn’t just on the course where the golf did the talking, it was everywhere. That was the beautiful thing about that week.
You climbed the ranks pretty quickly for a sport you took up at the age of 16 playing pitch and putt.
My grandad always had a massive passion for golf and sport in general. He always wanted one of his grandsons to aspire to play golf. I was never big or strong enough to play at the age of eight or nine, which is the usual age people start. I didn’t start until I was 16 and I played at quite a high amateur level until I was 20.
My Aunty Ann found disability golf when I was 21 and thought it would be a great road to go down. Things started happening from there, I climbed the ranks pretty quickly and I got up to number four in the world. I got a management company and sponsors and it all started rolling in.
How did Niall Horan and Modest Golf come across you?
A guy called Peter Finnan, who runs Irish Golf Magazine, sat me down for a three-hour interview. No one had done that before, but he was intrigued and really wanted to hear my story.
Peter thought I would be a good fit for Modest Golf, the same company that signed winning female golfer Leona Maguire in 2018. Peter put me in touch with Mark McDonnell and Jack Barber who run the agency. I was signed two years ago to their management company and I have never looked back.
Have you played golf with Niall?
I have. He is a good golfer, and the craic was good too!
Niall is a busy man with his music and stuff, but he loves playing in the pro-ams when he can. He tries to give some much back and he is always looking to help people. His vision is to help up and coming athletes that can’t get funding and are struggling to get on the main tour.
His idea was to employ the best amateur, let them grow up in the game and give them a platform to perform with no worries of money. He has all that covered, which is incredible.
Can you explain what form of disability and dwarfism you have?
It’s a condition called Ellis-Van Creveld syndrome, which predominately is a shorter limb and shorter stature. I was also born with a hole in my heart and at six weeks old that had to be operated on. So the chances of survival was very slim, the doctors said I wouldn’t be able to walk, talk or drink.
I was also born with extra digits on my hands, so I had 10 fingers and two thumbs. They since have been removed.
You could say I defeated all the odds of the things I wasn’t supposed to do and I brought that attitude into everyday life. I went to school and I made friends. It could have been tough, especially in secondary, but I have the type of energy where I wasn’t going to make it tough on myself.
Well you did kind of make it tough on yourself. You picked up a sport that requires a certain grip. How hard or easy is that for you?
Yes, the grip is tough because I’m missing knuckles on my hands, but I’m using a Taylormade glove which gives me an extra grip. I did struggle in the past with grip, but Taylormade look at every angle and they will focus on everything to make you better.
You are an inspirational young man who is smashing golf’s stereotypes and making the game more inclusive and representative.
I have lots of plans. I want to achieve world number one spot. Another big ambition of mine is changing sponsorships.
I’ve been very lucky with sponsorship in the last two years, being able to travel the world and making a living from it. I want this opportunity for more disability athletes. There’s some really good players out there that should be making a living from it and we want to have a world tour running alongside the European Tour.
Disability events are out of your own pocket and you also need someone to come with you to carry the bags. My dad normally comes with me which is double the money. You are talking €1,500 to €2,000 a trip.
To top it off, even if you do win there’s no prize money in the disability events. So that’s what we are working on at the minute. I think it’s time for disability golfers to start earning a living from golf because there are some really serious players out there.
The Paralympics is also in the pipeline. We are working on disability golf being recognised by 2025.
You are certainly going to shake things up! Any advice for young golfers Brendan?
Just enjoy the game. Golf can be played at any age. It’s a level field, disability or not because everyone has a handicap.
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