Three years ago, he was adjusting 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, won three consecutive handicapped tournaments through 2021, and skyrocketed to the top of the world handicapped golf rankings.
In recent weeks, he’s helped Prince Harry improve his skills and spearheaded a landmark new handicapped golf tour, but perhaps Lawlor’s most cherished moment was his country’s final challenge at the European Handicapped Golf Championship.
“It’s just crazy – last year in Ireland we had no disabled golfers, and this year we had a final test with seven players – all with a handicap below three, which is amazing,” Lawlor told CNN.
“They all say, ‘We started this because… we saw you play The Belfry (during Lawlor’s European tour debut), we see you do it,'” he added. “It’s a good feeling in the stomach when people try something because you’re creating a path for them.
“I don’t really care about rankings – I just want to go out and win as many tournaments as possible and change the lives of as many people as possible.”
A new dawn
From his hometown of Dundalk, north of Dublin, Lawlor chatted before the start of the first round of Golf for the Disabled (G4D) at the British Masters.
A four-time host of the Ryder Cup in Warwickshire, England, the Belfry has become an iconic launch site for the Tour, which will see the world’s top 10 handicapped golfers compete in seven tournaments in six countries.
Where disability activities were once absorbed between European Tour events, the new G4D Tour will take place in conjunction with and for the two days immediately prior to the European Tour. With each tournament being the subject of a feature-length documentary broadcast on Sky Sports, golf for the disabled is more popular than ever before.
World No. 2 Kipp Popert won in the first moto and Lawlor landed four punches on the fourth placed Englishman.
“If we can continue to send this message, if we can make an impact in the lives of even 10 people, it will be huge,” said Lawlor, who already dreams of expanding the Tour to 50 players. “This will have a long-term effect on golf with disabilities.”
“Golf for All”
Lawlor’s recent performance at the Belfry marked a return to the circuit that made him headline in 2020, when he competed alongside big winners Danny Willett and Martin Kaimer, as well as the former world No. 1. 1 Lee Westwood – at the ISPS Handa UK Championship – A handicapped golfer took part in a European Tour professional tournament for the first time.
Born with Ellis-van Creveld Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder characterized by dwarfism of short limbs, Lawlor has no joints at his fingertips. Hailing his platform as a leading handicapped golfer and the opportunities it brings, the Irishman is committed to ensuring that he and other players are not defined by their disability.
“We’re getting these huge opportunities because we’re doing abnormal things – we shouldn’t be doing what we can do with a golf club or a golf ball,” he said.
“So we get these opportunities because we are athletes with a disability, but I don’t like it when people classify you and put you in the disability category because golf is for everyone – you play at any level.”
“It’s a beautiful thing in our game,” he added. “Yes, we play handicapped golf on the disabled tour, but if you’re good enough to play on the European tour with able-bodied golfers, you have that chance.”
Moving in the right direction
Lawlor turned professional in September 2019 and signed with Modest! Golf Management, a company founded by Irishman and singer-songwriter Niall Horan. A supporter of golf for people with disabilities, the former One Direction star is now a close friend.
“He really changed my life – since I signed on, he’s landed me some incredible deals and really embraced handicapped golf,” Lawlor said. “He’s just a really nice guy and he’ll do anything to help you.”
And as if a hugely successful musical career wasn’t enough, Horan is also an impressive golfer, currently playing with a handicap of eight.
Prince of Golf
Horan isn’t the only famous face to have taken the club with Lawlor. In April, the Irishman gave advice to the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, in The Hague in the Netherlands.
Lawlor promoted the fifth edition of the Invictus Games, an international event for wounded servicemen and veterans of the armed forces, with Prince Harry as patron of the Games Foundation.
Using a golf simulator room, Lawlor spent the day giving lessons to veterans from around the world who shared their stories of various battles, both physical and mental.
“These guys were playing golf for the first time and making contact with the ball,” said Lawlor. “It only takes one person to get involved and start the game, and that can get more people involved.”
And how did the Duke of Sussex swing? Not bad at all, says Lawlor.
“He grabbed the stick and I just tweaked a thing or two and he hit really well,” Lawlor added. “He was a really good guy.”