Making big strides a question of faith for Brendan Lawlor
Brendan Lawlor (Dundalk) in action in the 2016 North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Portstewart. Picture: Thos Caffrey /

Brendan Lawlor (Dundalk) in action in the 2016 North of Ireland Amateur Open Championship at Portstewart. Picture: Thos Caffrey /

Making your way in the big bad world of tour golf is a challenge for even the best-funded young golfers on the planet.

But when the player in question is also battling a physical disability, reaching the higher echelons of the game takes some superhuman mental strength.

That's what makes 21-year old Dundalk golfer Brendan Lawlor so impressive. 

While playing off a handicap of one might not seem like a remarkable feat, Lawlor has Ellis-Van Creveld Syndrome — a bone growth disorder that leads to shorter limbs — but has such determination that he made Dundalk Golf Club's Senior Cup squad this year and won all his matches.

When you are just 4'11" in the age of the long bombers, holding your own with some of the best scratch golfers in Ireland is no mean feat. So it's little wonder that Lawlor is proud that he was a member of the Dundalk squad that won Leinster Barton Shield title, reached the semi-final of the Leinster Senior Cup and was beaten in the All-Ireland Barton Shield final.

His quest now is to put Disability Golf on the map in Ireland and he will have a chance to make a big splash and push its case for inclusion on the 2024 Paralympics programme in France (and boost his hopes of creating  an Irish Disabled Golfers Association) when he plays in the 54-hole Australian All Abilities Championships later this month.

Backed by the IGF and the R&A, he is one of 12 players who will tee it up alongside the professionals during the Emirates Australian Open at The Lakes Golf Club in Sydney from November 16-18.

Brendan Lawlor with the Czech Masters

Brendan Lawlor with the Czech Masters

A win would see the Dundalk Senior Cup player become world No 1. But he will also get to meet his Irish heroes Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne when he plays in a two-day Ryder Cup-style match between Europe and Australia, which will be conducted as an integral part of the ISPS Handa Melbourne World Cup of Golf the following week.

“This is the very first time it has happened,” Lawlor said of the Australian All Abilities Championship's inclusion in the Emirates Australian Open. 

“There was a display at the Portuguese Masters but nothing like this where we will be playing competitively in the same field as the professionals.

"Ours is a three-day event, theirs is a four-day event. But when the cut is made, you will be paired with a pro golfer and playing the same course.

“If I win in Australia, I can go to world number one, so that’s my goal. I’m number three at the moment and getting to number one would be huge for me.”

Lawlor joined the European Disabled Golfers Tour late last year, but he settled quickly, winning three of his five events to shoot up both the European and World rankings.

"It’s been fantastic," he said. "The talent that’s out there on tour is amazing. I couldn’t get over it the first time I played. There were people with one leg and one arm hitting it 260 yards. You wouldn’t see able-bodied people doing that.

“What helps me is probably competing at able-bodied golf all my life and playing with Dundalk and also in Ardee at the start. I’ve played able-bodied golf all my life, and I knew I had the game and the confidence to succeed in it.

"At club level, I’m competing against Caolan Rafferty off plus five and Aaron Grant off plus three so it doesn’t really get better than that. 

"When you are going out there on tour, knowing you’ve been playing against Caolan or Aaron, it gives you confidence.”

Martin Slumbers, Chief Executive of the R&A, is thrilled to Disabled Golfers will get the chance to compete with the world stars in Australia.

“We’re delighted (the tournament can) showcase the leading golfers with disability and use the Rankings For Golfers with a Disability (R4GD) in the qualification process,” Slumbers said.

“The Australian All Abilities Championship will do much to promote the inclusive nature of golf to a global audience and to demonstrate that golf is a game for all, for life.”

Excited to head to Australia on November 10, he's looking forward to his date with the pros in Sydney and that Ryder Cup-style match between Europe and Australia in Melbourne.

“It’s a great buzz," he said. "If I stuck at able-bodied golf my whole life I’d never get this opportunity, so it is opening massive doors for me.”

With the International Golf Federation backing Disabled Golf, he hopes it will be included in the 2024 Paralympics in France.  

“I am third in the world, and I want to be competing in the Paralympics,” said Lawlor, who is keen to put Disabled Golf on the map in Ireland.

"It's non-existent in Ireland right now. There's only myself and another disabled golfer, Gareth McNeely competing. But we are working with the GUI to try and set up an Irish Disabled Golfers Association at the moment.

"Since I started competing and having success on the European Disabled Golfers Tour, we are beginning to get some traction and make progress.

"The GUI has realised how big it is in other countries and thanks to Pat Finn, they have been able to help out with some funding towards my flights and accommodation costs for Australia, which is fantastic.

"They have also kitted me out in all the Under Armour gear the Irish teams wear — tee shirts, shirts, wet gear, the lot — so that was a lovely touch.

"My dad is caddying for me, and the GUI has arranged for us to join Shane Lowry and Paul Dunne for a meal when they get to the World Cup, so we get to know them before the event, which is fantastic."

Lawlor is hoping that his increased profile will help him attract a sponsor, which will make it easier for him to compete on the European Disabled Golfers Tour.

"My dad has been my main sponsor so far, but it is very hard to get a sponsor on board, so that's my goal," he said. "It's a massive opportunity for me, and I can't wait."

Golf Australia national inclusion manager Christian Hamilton is excited that players with a disability will have the opportunity to share the global spotlight.

“This is far from an exhibition event," he said. "These are some of the world's best players, as determined by the R4GD, and they'll face the same test as all the champions who'll be battling for the Aussie Open.

"One of the sport's great advantages is its capacity to include; these tournaments combined will not only inspire the public to see that but also encourage other golfing federations to follow Australia's lead in making the game accessible to all."