Three years ago, he was acclimatizing to his new life as a professional athlete. Since then, the 25-year-old has become the first disabled golfer to compete on the European Tour, winning three consecutive disabled events through 2021 and rising to the top of the World Disabled Golf Rankings.
Over the past few weeks, he’s helped Prince Harry improve his swing and headlined a historic new Tour for disabled golf – but perhaps Lawlor’s most treasured moment came during final trials of the European Disabled Golf Championships team of his country.
“It’s pretty crazy – last year in Ireland we didn’t have any disabled golfers and this year we had a final trial with seven players – all below three handicaps which is amazing,” said Lawlor told CNN.
“They’re all saying, ‘we started this because…we saw you play The Belfry (on Lawlor’s European tour debut), we see you do this,” he added. “It’s a good feeling in your stomach when people try something because you’re creating the path for them.
“I don’t really care about rankings – I just want to go out and win as many events as possible and change the lives of as many people as possible.”
A new dawn
From his hometown of Dundalk, north Dublin, Lawlor was chatting before the start of the first Golf for the Disabled (G4D) tour at the British Masters.
Four-time Ryder Cup host in Warwickshire, England, The Belfry provided an iconic setting for the launch of the Tour, which will be contested by the world’s 10 highest-ranked disabled golfers across seven events in six countries.
Where disability-related events were once swallowed up between European Tour events, the new G4D Tour will run in conjunction with – and over two days immediately before – the European Tour. With each tournament featured in a feature documentary shown on Sky Sports, disabled golf enjoys greater visibility than ever before.
World No. 2 Kipp Popert won the first event, with Lawlor finishing four strokes behind the Englishman in fourth.
“If we can continue to send that message, if we can impact the lives of 10 people, that’s huge,” said Lawlor, who already dreams of expanding the Tour to 50 players. “It’s going to have a ripple effect on disabled golf.”
“Golf is for everyone”
Lawlor’s recent outing to Belfry marked a return to the course he made headlines on in 2020 when he competed alongside big winners Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer – as well as the former world No 1 Lee Westwood – at the ISPS Handa UK Championship – the first time a disabled golfer has competed in a professional European Tour event.
Born with Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, a rare genetic condition characterized by short limb dwarfism, Lawlor has no knuckles on the tops of his fingers. While hailing his platform as a leading disabled golfer and the opportunities it brings, the Irishman is keen that he and his fellow players are not defined by their disabilities.
“We get these huge opportunities because we do 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 those opportunities because we’re disabled athletes, but I don’t like people categorizing you and putting you in a disability category, because golf is for everyone – you play at any level. “
“That’s the beauty of our game,” he added. “Yes, we play disabled golf on a disabled tour, but if you’re good enough to play on the European tour with able-bodied golfers, you’ve got that chance.”
Go in the right direction
Lawlor turned pro in September 2019 and signed with Modest! Golf Management, a company founded by fellow Irishman and singer-songwriter Niall Horan. An advocate for disabled golf, the former One Direction star is now a close friend.
“He’s really changed my life – since signing, he’s brought me amazing sponsorship deals and really embraced golf for the disabled,” Lawlor said. “He’s just a really nice guy and he’ll do anything to help you.”
And as if a wildly successful music career wasn’t enough, Horan is also an impressive golfer, currently playing with an eight handicap.
prince of golf
Horan isn’t the only famous face to pick up a club with Lawlor. In April, the Irishman gave swing advice to the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Lawlor was promoting the fifth edition of the Invictus Games, an international event for injured service members and veterans, with Prince Harry as a patron of the Games Foundation.
Using a golf simulation room, Lawlor spent the day teaching veterans around the world who shared their stories of various battles, both physical and mental.
“These guys were trying golf for the first time and making contact with the ball,” Lawlor said. “It only takes one person to get involved and start the game and it can attract more people.”
And how was the Duke of Sussex’s swing? Not bad at all, Lawlor said.
“He grabbed the club and I just tweaked a thing or two and he hit it really well,” Lawlor added. “He was a really nice guy.”
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