Three years ago, he was acclimatizing to his new life as a professional athlete. Since then, the 25-year-old has become the first golfer with a disability to compete on the European Tour, won three disability events in a row through 2021, and rocketed to the top of the disability golf world rankings.
In recent weeks, he has helped Prince Harry improve his swing and headlined a landmark new Tour for disability golf — yet perhaps Lawlor’s most cherished moment came at the final trials for his country’s disability golf European Championships team.
“It’s pretty crazy — last year in Ireland we had no disability golfers and this year we had a final trial with seven players — all below three-handicap, which is amazing,” Lawlor told CNN.
“They all say, ‘we started this because … we saw you playing The Belfry (on Lawlor’s European Tour debut), we see you doing this,” he added. “It’s a feel-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 I can, and change as many people’s lives as I can.”
A new dawn
From his hometown of Dundalk, north of Dublin, Lawlor was chatting ahead of the start of the inaugural Golf for the Disabled (G4D) Tour at the British Masters.
A four-time host of the Ryder Cup, in Warwickshire, England, The Belfry provided an iconic setting for the launch of the Tour, to be contested by the world’s 10 best-ranked golfers with disabilities in seven events across six countries.
Where disability events were once swallowed up between European Tour events, the new G4D Tour will run in association with — and across two days immediately prior to — the European Tour. With each tournament the subject of a full-length broadcast documentary on Sky Sports, disability golf is enjoying more exposure than ever before.
World No. 2 Kipp Popert was victorious in the maiden event, with Lawlor finishing four shots off the Englishman in fourth.
“If we can keep sending this message, if we can impact even 10 people’s lives, it’s massive,” said Lawlor, who already dreams of expanding the Tour to as many as 50 players. “This is going to have a roll-on effect for disability golf.”
“Golf is for all”
Lawlor’s recent Belfry outing marked a return to the course he made headlines at in 2020 when he competed alongside major winners Danny Willett and Martin Kaymer — as well as former world No. 1 Lee Westwood — at the ISPS Handa UK Championship — the first time a golfer with a disability played 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 top of his fingers. While welcoming his platform as a leading disability golfer and the opportunities it brings, the Irishman is keen for himself and fellow players not to be defined by their disabilities.
“We’re getting these massive opportunities because we’re doing 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’re getting these opportunities because we are disability athletes, but I don’t like it when people categorize you and put you in a disability category, because golf is for all — you play at any level.”
“That’s the beautiful thing about our game,” he added. “Yes, we play disability golf on a disability tour, but if you’re good enough to play on the European Tour with able-bodied golfers, you get that chance.”
Heading in the right direction
Lawlor turned professional in September 2019 and signed with Modest! Golf Management, a company founded by fellow Irishman and singer-songwriter Niall Horan. An advocate for disability golf, the former One Direction star is now a close friend.
“He’s changed my life really — ever since I signed, he’s brought me some incredible endorsement deals and has really embraced disability golf,” Lawlor said. “He’s just a genuinely nice chap and he’d do anything to help you.”
And as if a hugely successful music career wasn’t enough, Horan is also an impressive golfer, currently playing off an eight-handicap.
Prince of golf
Horan isn’t the only famous face to have picked up a club with Lawlor. In April, the Irishman dished out swing tips to the Duke of Sussex, Prince Harry, at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Lawlor was promoting the fifth edition of the Invictus Games, an international event for wounded serving and veteran military personnel, with Prince Harry a Patron of the Games’ Foundation.
Using a golf simulator room, Lawlor spent the day giving lessons to veterans from across the globe who shared their stories of various battles, both physical and mental.
“These guys were trying out 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 that can get more people into it.”
And how was the Duke of Sussex’s swing? Not bad at all, Lawlor says.
“He grabbed the club and I just tweaked one or two things and he hit it really well,” Lawlor added. “He was a really nice guy.”