There’s nothing like your Granny to bring you back down to Earth with an almighty wallop…
No sooner had Brendan Lawlor picked up his third Tour title under the bright lights of the EDGA Dubai finale when his Granny had him running errands in Louth village.
“I visited Granny a couple of days after winning in Dubai,” recalls a smiling Lawlor.
“She was like ‘jeez Brendan, I don’t have any milk’. I was like, ‘here we go! Do you want me to go down to the shop for ya?’
“So she said yeah and sure I didn’t get home for an hour with people congratulating me. I grew up in Louth Village and everyone’s so supportive. It’s a big Gaelic community so for a footballing village to recognise what you’re doing is incredible, I love it.
“Anyway, I get back to Granny’s and put the milk on the table and she goes ‘what took ya so long?’
“I said ‘Granny, did ya not just see I won a tournament there?!’
“’Ah I didn’t even think,’ she says. ‘I didn’t even think!’”
Granny could be forgiven for forgetting that the family suddenly has a celebrity on its hands. It was only three years ago we sat down with a little-known Brendan Lawlor in Carton House who shared his vision for putting Disability Golf on the global map. Fast-forward to present day and the 4foot 11inch larger than life character is making his presence felt on the biggest stage of European golf.
It was a landmark year for the world’s best Disability golfer who grabbed the few competitive opportunities he had by the scruff of the neck. Victories at the European Disabled Golfer’s Association [EDGA] Cazoo Open and the ISPS HANDA World Disability Invitational – which he hosted – launched him to the top of the world rankings and the 24-year old confirmed his status as the game’s top talent with a crushing four-shot win at the Dubai curtain closer.
Despite entering the week with little game-time under his belt, Lawlor was the only player to break par on the opening day with a two-under 70. Having turned pro off scratch, Lawlor finished the 36-hole tournament in the red at one-under on the 6,900-yard Earth Course setup at Jumeriah Estates where he shared the stage with some of the game’s biggest stars as their equal.
“Professionals are recognising us for our talent at tournaments now and not our disability,” Lawlor says. “Rory McIlroy made it his business to come over to me and gave me a hug after my round in Dubai and said ‘super scoring’. It wasn’t ‘well done’. It was ‘super scoring’.
“One-under on one of the hardest courses in the world. Yes we’re disability golfers, but we’re still golfers. We’ve been embraced as peers and I love that.”
As Lawlor lay claim to the EDGA crown, Collin Morikawa completed an exceptional year of his own, winning the DP World Tour title and Race to Dubai double. As the two TaylorMade Ambassadors awaited the prize-giving, the pair chatted like pals; Lawlor not one bit overawed by a man he’s convinced is the heir apparent to Tiger Woods’ throne.
“I feel like I should be there, and although I enjoy being there in the moment, I know in my head it won’t be the last time,” Lawlor says.
“I have every faith in my ability and with the strides Disability Golf is making that we’re going to be in these situations a lot more.
“That said, Morikawa’s the same age as me but he has a wise head on his shoulders. You’d put him at 40! He has the presence of Tiger. The swagger. He was walking on air coming onto the putting green when I first met him. It was crazy. I just turned around to Dad and said ‘he is the next Tiger Woods’. If there’s anyone with that aura about them, I think he had it.”
Although he may be small in stature, Lawlor gives off an aura of his own that shouldn’t be underestimated. A captivating speaker and one hell of a good player, Lawlor carries as much self-belief as anyone on Tour. Game recognises game, and although McIlroy and Morikawa had front-row seats to what the Louth man was achieving in Dubai, another of golf’s great influencers, Bryson DeChambeau also felt compelled to reach out to Brendan and show his appreciation for his work.
“Bryson text me: ‘Congrats dude, love everything that’s going on’,” Lawlor reveals. “That’s massive. We’re reaching people we never thought we would.
“He might see me as hitting it far for my size, and there’s someone like him hitting it absolutely miles. Hopefully I get to see him pretty soon and we can have a wee driving contest!”
Billy Horschel and Richard Bland were just some of the other Tour stalwarts saluting Lawlor’s play in Dubai while Belgium’s Thomas Pieters took to Twitter to ask, ‘Does Brandon ever lose?’
The former Ryder Cupper might’ve got Brendan’s name wrong but Lawlor could have a hearty chuckle about that, not least because he’s been known to commit crimes of mistaken identity himself from time to time.
“I remember I was on the putting green practicing down in Dubai and Keith Duffy was there,” he smiles. “I said ‘Keith, my mother’s a big fan’. He went along with it for a while but I said ‘Keith’ again and he turns to me and says ‘Brendan, my name’s Brian.’ It was Brian McFadden! I was like ‘aw f*ck!’
“We came back in after golf and I saw Brian having dinner with a few people and he stands up on the table and shouts over to me, ‘Come on and have a drink with Keith Duffy!’ He’s a nut. A very, very funny guy.”
Yet for all the laughs, the widespread recognition and his growing fame, Lawlor and the rest of the EDGA stars who competed at the Dubai finale find themselves a long way from fortune. As the Sky Sports cameras beamed pictures of Lawlor alongside Morikawa to the world at the closing ceremony, where the American jetted home with a sparkling new Rolex watch, two new trophies and millions of dollars, Lawlor left with a silver plate and a bank account four grand in the hole.
Although the three-time Tour winner in 2021 is hesitant to sound under-appreciative for how his life has changed, the glitz and glamour he’s experiencing at these high profile events remains far removed from the reality he’s living back home in Co. Louth.
“My sponsors are so good to me, so supportive, and it’s great to get expenses paid and play these tournaments, but the guys are so good and expenses alone won’t pay the bills at home,” Lawlor says after eight of the top-10 ranked Disability golfers in the world teed up in Dubai.
“If you want the best players to turn up, you need to start paying them. Guys aren’t going to do showcases forever. I’m privileged to be at every showcase there is but these guys have families and mortgages to pay. If the Tour really want to embrace it, then they have to make it a full-time job for some of these guys soon.”
Far from just looking out for his own financial welfare, Lawlor, who has become a true Ambassador for the EDGA brand, is determined to ensure his fellow players are properly rewarded for their talents.
“We forget I’m sort of the only Disability golfer in the world who’s making a living out of this so far,” Lawlor adds having repeatedly expressed his gratitude to his sponsors ISPS Handa, TaylorMade, Adidas, Kinetica, The Condor Club in France and American Golf throughout the interview.
“But I’m trying to create ladders up to the tree and get more players paid. There’s Juan Postigo from Spain, that guy is way too talented not to be making a living from the sport. Kurtis Barkley is so good too.
“I believe different is good. Change is good. And sometimes fans want to see something different. Someone on one leg hitting it 300 yards.. that stuff’s crazy. It mind boggles people.”
Thankfully, such discussions are now being had and it’s no surprise to learn that it’s Lawlor who’s leading the conversation.
“Disability Golf is only two or three years in the game, and maybe the European Tour didn’t think it would get this big this quickly, but fans are loving it. Sponsors are loving it,” he says.
“We might not have enough players to create a World Tour yet but as I said to Keith Pelley [DP World Tour CEO], even if you have a solid eight players, you still have to acknowledge how good they are and organise some sort of prize fund for them because they’ve worked their ass off to get there, putting their money and time into the game, and they should be rewarded.”
You easily forget listening to Brendan that he’s only 24. He might put Morikawa at forty but when it comes to fighting for his fellow EDGA players, Lawlor speaks with an authority far beyond his years. It’s no wonder the likes of Sky Sports on-course interviewer Tim Barter seeks him out for microphone duties at every given chance. Lawlor represents the EDGA brand better than anyone. In fact, if Disability Golf didn’t have his talent to call upon, you’d wonder if this journey of inclusion would’ve taken flight at all.
“People ask how I’m so good at promoting Disability Golf but it’s easy, I’ve such a passion for it. It’s my everyday life,” Lawlor says.
“I want to bring people into the game. I want to help people. It’s my nature.”
By breaking down doors, Lawlor’s not only carving his own path through the sport but paving the way for others to follow. After he made history in becoming the first Disability Golfer to tee-up at a European Tour event at The Belfry, Tommaso Perrino received an invite to compete at the following week’s Italian Open. It’s a domino-effect triggered by Lawlor’s success, the ripples of which have been felt far beyond the main tours of golf.
It was a chance meeting with a young fan that brought Lawlor’s life full circle; 14-year old Matt from Galway living with Ellis Van Crevelde syndrome, the same bone growth disorder that Lawlor has lived with since birth.
“It brought me back to my younger years,” Brendan admits. “He was a confident chap but what was the most incredible thing was that his whole process in life, year to year, was the exact same as mine.
“He got his fingers chopped off at two. He had bowed legs like me so he had his knees done at 11, same as me. He missed school going into secondary school. It was the exact same process so to see him deal with it as well as I dealt with it… I know he’s only 14, but he’s destined for greatness.
“It was emotional meeting him. He’s playing golf now. We set him up with clubs and that’s what it’s all about. You see the European Tour advertising meaningful stories every week. We’re doing that on a daily basis and nobody really sees it.
“But we’re not looking for the recognition. We’re doing it to provide the platform to bring people into the game, see what we can do and ultimately help them.”
Since earning his big break in 2019 when Niall Horan’s Modest! Golf Management signed him to his first professional contract, Lawlor has been doing his utmost to pay it forward. Now, if there’s such a thing as karma, perhaps more good juju is on its way in return with Lawlor setting his sights on a dream Irish Open date at Mount Juliet in 2022.
“It’s a major dream of mine,” he says. “It’s in your home country. All your friends and family will be there watching. With everything that’s gone on in terms of pushing inclusivity in golf, with my game where it is, I feel like I deserve a shot at it. It will be off the same tees, I know, but I’ve every faith in my abilities to go out and perform.
“It’s hard to leave out some great Irish professionals and invite me but that’s a decision the Tour will have to make.”
Indeed, it’s a big ask to expect a $6million tee-time two weeks out from the Open Championship but Brendan Lawlor doesn’t do half measures. You can’t break down barriers without pushing boundaries and although Lawlor remains realistic, he didn’t get to where he is today in such a short space of time by going quietly about his business.
“I’m just being myself,” he says. “Sometimes I feel like I’m Rory McIlroy – I’m not afraid to ask for what I want or chase what the perfect scenario might be.
“The way I look at it, if you aim for the highest apple on the tree and you only manage to get to the middle one, it’s better than the bottom one. We’re trying to push the biggest bar to Keith Pelley and if we only get the middle bar, we’ll take it.”
It came as no great shock to learn that Lawlor has been recruited to speak to many secondary schools around the country and share his story. His life to this point has been an inspiring one, not that Brendan sees himself any differently to you or me. And why would he? It’s not his disability that defines him. It never has been. An incredibly talented golfer, a skilled orator and an all-round sound lad, Lawlor is a lot of things to a lot of people. One of the most important voices in golf, and while the Paralympic Committee remain stubborn to his advances, the PGA Tour took notice with Lawlor headlining a fully-televised match-play event earlier this month running alongside the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii – the ISPS HANDA All-Abilities Champions Playoff.
“We didn’t think we’d be this far in two years. We didn’t think we’d be knocking on the PGA Tour’s door,” Lawlor says, admitting he still pinches himself sometimes to make sure it’s all real.
“The opportunity with Modest! Golf was the biggest break I’ve ever had. I’ll be forever grateful for all this. If it ends tomorrow I’ve had a hell of a three years with one hell of a management team. Helped hundreds of people and it’s been amazing. Obviously I don’t want it to end, but you have to recognise all that’s been done for you as well.
“That said, the amount we achieved in a Covid year. Imagine what we can achieve when we can make a full go at it? We’ve only had three events on the European Tour and they’ve received massive traction. If we can get a free run at it next year, we can drive Disability Golf to even greater heights.”
A WORD FROM THE SPONSORS
“We have for a long time offered equipment support to the best players in the world, so when the opportunity came to work with Brendan, one of the best disability golfers in the world, we took the opportunity without hesitation. He is a great guy and from day one has been an absolute pleasure to work with. Each of us in the team have had the chance to work with Brendan with his equipment needs and love having him around- his personality is infectious, and we all cheer him on from behind the scenes. To see him hit World No.1 this year was the icing on the cake and we feel beyond proud to partner Brendan and have played our small part in his success.”
– Mark Thistleton, European TaylorMade Tour representative.
“We’re incredibly proud of our partnership with Brendan. Not only does he represent our brand and its values so well, but he’s also a tremendous global ambassador for the sport. Everyone that associates with Brendan knows how much he’s dedicated to promoting the game and how it can be enjoyed by everyone. He’s an amazing person and athlete, and we’re honoured to have him as part of the adidas family.”
– Andrew Law, Managing Director adidas Golf EMEA
BUILDING FOR THE FUTURE
“Since the first time I met Brendan, I have loved every moment we have worked together. Brendan has helped to bring disability golf to such a wide audience and shows that in life, whatever challenges you may face you can overcome them. He really is an inspiration to us all at Modest! Golf and we are so proud to represent him.”
– Niall Horan, Modest! Golf
“Through our time working with Modest! Golf In 2021 we have seen Brendan’s career grow from strength to strength. When the opportunity came for us to become a sponsor, we were so proud to get involved. He is such an inspiration to so many and the team at The Condor
are so proud to be part of his journey.”
– Niall Carroll, General Manager at The Condor.
What is The Condor?
The Condor at Château du Coudreceau is an Irish owned luxury escape, steeped in a rich culture nestled quietly within the picturesque Loire Valley landscape, only 90 minutes from Paris. With its own exclusive 18th hole Championship golf course, the estate captures that classic French 18th century design with luxurious modern amenities, ensuring your stay is one of ultimate comfort and serenity. A trip to The Condor is truly the golfing estate experience of a lifetime.