“I’m still trying to find out about my disability,” could be the motto that sums up Brendan Lawlor’s journey from local pitch and putt player to European Tour star at the Belfry. The young Louth man’s approach to his perceived limitations does not involve overcoming physical restrictions, but is entirely rooted in a mindset that doesn’t even see disability. It only sees drive and having started in his teens, Brendan’s passion for the game was almost instant.
“I was sixteen when I started,” Lawlor recalled. “Started playing pitch and putt, played every day, all Ireland and Leinster. I just got an addiction, hours on end on courses, putting greens. If you’ve a passion for something you just want to get better. I always thought of it as a hobby up until the last few years. I never really thought about making a living out of it but that’s the beauty of disability golf and the doors it can open.”
Born with the rare bone disorder Ellis-Van Creveld Syndrome, Brendan’s physical growth was noticeably different when he moved into his teens, but his ability to face the disorder without stress signifies the mindset that has pushed his professional progress.
“Honestly, any challenge that came up in my life I took head on and I never found myself as any different. The way I look at it, there’s no one perfect in the world. People have insecurities and it’s how you deal with them at the end of the day.
“Yes, I was slightly smaller than the average bear but playing a sport made me separate myself from my disability because knowing that I could beat able bodied people on the same field made me forget I had any kind of disability. My parents have the attitude that if there’s something I could do there’s no point focusing on the negative things that I couldn’t. We never had shorter shelves in the house, I got a chair to reach things. Anything I needed to do, I did myself.”
Lawlor’s drive, coupled with the golf world’s professional appreciation for Brendan’s skill resulted in an invite to his first European Tour event at the Belfry in 2020 where he rubbed shoulders with the golfing elite in an experience that Brendan believes is a big step for disability golf.
“It was huge,” he said. “First of all, the pros accepted me as a pro and not a disability golfer which was huge. I was having conversations with Lee Westwood, Rory McIlroy, the best golfers in the world about golf. It wasn’t like ‘ah here’s Brendan to make up the numbers’, it wasn’t like that.
“That’s what I loved as well. It’s nice to feel included and to see that they were so accepting of me made me feel it could happen again cause you’re not holding things up. That’s the biggest fear they had. What if it’s too slow? What if he’s holding up play? That didn’t happen, so hopefully that opens doors for other disability golfers like George Groves, the world number 1 in disability golf.”
Being the first disability golfer to feature in a European Tour event was a massive honour for Brendan and the invite was a very welcome surprise when it came.
“It wasn’t last minute,” he remembered. “I got two months’ notice. I got the call in the pub while I was away on a golf trip in Lahinch with some friends and it was my manager saying ‘Do you fancy playing in a European Tour event?’ and of course I was like ‘yeah definitely’ but then we had the NI Open the following week so I had a nice two week stretch there where you were just off the back of your biggest tournament of the year and then straight into golf again.
“I actually competed better at the NI Open cause there wasn’t as much pressure or interviews and it was more relaxed whereas the European tour was absolutely nuts. I think I done about nine interviews a day between morning and evening and you’ve also got to practice. But it was the first one and it was unbelievable, but mentally draining.”
So how exactly does a young man from Louth village come to be teeing off with the cream of world golf at the Belfry, you may ask? Brendan’s position within International Sports Promotion Society (ISPS Handa) was the catalyst for his inclusion.
“ISPS Handa believe in the power of sport, they believe in equal prize money for men and women and they have many different Ambassadors throughout the world,” Lawlor explained.
“They have Lee Westwood, Padraig Harrington, and Dan Carter from the All Blacks, so they’ve people from all angles and they asked me to be an Ambassador on the disability side which was a massive honour cause it’s never been done before and it’s something I had a passion about promoting.
“There were eight UK swing events and ISPS Handa sponsored two of them and they extended an invite for me. In the future they’re extending more invitations but also they’re inviting the best ten disability golfers to compete in their own event alongside that event.”
As an Ambassador for disability golf, Brendan is eager to grow his game and influence by becoming a recognisable name within golf and big event exposure is something he feels will make that a reality.
“I feed off that sort of stuff,” he says. “I love crowds. We’re there to show people what we can do. People are like ‘are you not nervous with the big crowds?’ I tell them no one knows what I look like if there’s no crowds there and no one knows what I can do.
“That’s the great thing about social media, there didn’t have to be crowds there for the message to get out everywhere. It was just crazy with Twitter and Instagram, it threw out such a great message. Greg Norman text me, Rory McIlroy text me, Bryson DeChambeau, the amount of people that got onto me that week and got in touch was just ridiculous.”
While inclusion on big competitions is one thing, there is a sizeable difference between previous events and the big show at the Belfry. From Brendan’s perspective, it’s all about preparation:
“I did prepare myself for a hectic week. I was with my Dad and as busy as it was, it was quite relaxed as well. You can’t go anywhere, you’re in a bubble, completely separated. You’re working 8-9 hour days between practice and interviews but then you’re resting so the 9 hours are full on but then you’ve 10-12 hours when you’re sleeping, watching movies in your room.
“You do have to mentally prepare yourself for the type of tournament you go to. Like a disability event, I’ve been to 4-5 of them and you arrive, there’s no media hype, there’s no nothing. That’s great, and it’s probably why I’ve performed so well. No pressure. Loving it. But then you go to the European tour event, and all eyes are on you which is fantastic, and you just see how you cope with it. I love it, but it is scary.”
Aside from mental preparation and constant practice, Lawlor is always exploring ways to gain an advantage when it comes time to step onto the tee.
“I do a lot of yoga to get into the peaceful side,” he says. “If you’re in a difficult stretch you can put yourself into that mind set of relaxation and even good thoughts, if you’re having a bad day you can put yourself into good form very easy.
“Before yoga I would have been very fiery on the course and I felt yoga calmed me down in different ways. I thought it helped me cope with a bad situation on the golf course; instead of losing three or four shots, I minimised it to one because I kept my head. There’s so many ways apart from practicing.
“I’m in the gym 3-4 days a week. Diet, I eat quite well. There’s a lot more to golf than hitting a ball. Golf is my life, I have simulator in the house I’m never off. People see the lovely pictures on my Instagram and see me with pros, celebrities, but they don’t see the blood, sweat and tears that is going to the gym, being up past midnight on the simulator repeatedly hitting balls trying to get that extra yardage with a 7 iron or driver.
“This lockdown I took a different mental focus into my game. I just want to have a step above my competitors going into the game. If you want to be the best, you have to be a step ahead of the rest. That’s my attitude. During lockdown I’m doing 2-3 sessions a day, I’m walking 12km a day, things will come back at some stage so I’m training my body and I don’t want to be unfamiliar to the game when I do go back.
“I want every aspect to be the same if not better. You can see everyone trying to hit the ball miles and that’s what I’m trying to do, trying to get swing speed up as well. Trying to do a DeChambeau on it!”
With the pressures of stepping up to the big leagues, Brendan also employs diversity in his practice and utilises the best facilities available to him when working on his game.
“I like to bounce between links and parkland,” he added. “I’m actually a member up in Carton House in Maynooth and I find that fantastic because the National Academy is there where you don’t even need to go to the golf course, but also it has two golf courses, one parkland and one very links like, so being a member there you’re really being a member of a parkland and links course so you’re getting the best of both worlds.”
The confidence gained from his ascension in golf speaks volumes about how committed he is to his goals and his path, but what does confidence mean to a sportsman on a journey like Brendan Lawlor’s?
“Confidence in yourself. You have your own mind and whatever works for you is what works. I felt yoga was great because I was going to competitions and losing them because my temper was wrong. When I went to yoga I realised there’s more to life than golf and how privileged I am to be doing what I’m doing. Not many people get to play golf for their living.
“I have approached my game to appreciate how lucky I am and just love what I do and embrace every moment you do it and if you have those bad thoughts when you’re out there and start to lose the head you can take a deep breath and remember what you’re doing and how important it is for you to be doing it.”
How important is enhancing his mental fortitude to his overall competitive nature?
“Big time. Obviously you can’t win everything but you need to learn. Every situation in your life you need to learn from whether good or bad. I have that written down for myself in a diary from each event I’ve won and lost. I do a synopsis of every event and I’ll go through what I learned, what I took from the week, and what I could’ve done better.
“If you’re not winning, you’re learning. If you don’t learn from a loss you can’t fix it next time. If you learn from what you’ve done wrong, you’re going to do it right the next time and that’s important.”
While Brendan is the face of disability golf on the big stage, there is a lot of support from EDGA (European Disabled Golf Association) who fly the flag incredibly high for disability golf in Europe.
“They’re fantastic,” he said. “They help all kinds of disabled golf. Blind golf, wheelchair golf, and with disability golf they have it in two categories where you can be the elite side or you can be the stableford side and what’s great about that is you can progress.
“If you start from the bottom you can always climb your way up. It doesn’t matter what level you’re at. For the likes of myself who is playing at quite a high level and competing I think they’re very important for me and the likes of Juan Postigo in getting us into these big European events.”
Yet, what might catch the media’s attention other than Brendan’s unique rise is the kind of superstar company he keeps. Having Niall Horan’s number in his phone probably wasn’t in his plans but being taken on by Modest! Golf brought the global music phenomenon and this young Louth man together. So how did that happen ?
“Peter Finnan from Irish Golfer Magazine” Brendan recalled. “I love Peter. I had an interview with Peter maybe in March 2018 and he knew about me and how disability golf was growing but he never got the full story. He never actually sat down and talked about it so we sat down for about two hours and went through everything, he said, ‘ever heard of Modest! Golf?’
“I actually hadn’t at the time. I didn’t know who they were and he explained they were an agency run by Niall Horan and he thought if he did an intro they would be interested. I didn’t take an awful lot of notice but Pete gave my number to Mark McDonnell, who’s the business manager and set up a meeting. Mark rang me that evening and said he would be in Belfast the next day and if I would meet him for a coffee and a chat.
“I was like, ‘F****n yeah!’ So I went up and told Mark all about me, all the visions I had for disability golf and how I want to grow things. I’ve started a YouTube channel for disability golf and putting up my story. It’s called Brendan Lawlor Disability Golf. I’m doing it myself so it’s a bit rough but it’s to keep reminding people that disability golf is out there and about what we’re doing. There’s new challenges all the time.”
Nothing you won’t rise to, Brendan.