Golfers used to underestimate me for my disability – not any more

What I Do: Brendan Lawlor (26) is one of the top disability golfers in the world

In my younger days, when I rocked up to the golf tee, a lot of people expected an easy match because of my image: I was born with a condition called Ellis-van Creveld syndrome, characterised by shorter limbs and a shorter stature. They’d sort of laugh, thinking they’d have it easy, but that’s me one up already on the first hole. They underestimated me – not any more.

I’m 26, from Louth village, and play at the highest level of disability golf. I’m now number two globally but used to hold the top spot. My goal is to get back to number one.

Life was pretty severe from the get-go. I was also born with a hole in my heart and had a life-threatening operation at eight weeks old. I spent a couple of weeks in a coma and the first two years of my life in hospital; had a lot of operations on my knees over the years; went to the doctor five times a year until the age of 18; and I’m 100 per cent now.

When I was about four or five years old my grandad had a golf club in my hand. I played pitch and putt at first, winning competitions across the country and making All-Ireland teams as I got older. I also played a lot of Gaelic football, but around the age of 15 everyone kind of outgrew me. With my condition I was always smaller than everyone else and was getting a lot of injuries.


Around then, after reaching the pinnacle of my pitch and putt career, I took up golf for the first time. Mam and dad were saying I needed to find a sport that suited me with less contact – one I could practice hard at. A lot of my friends started to play golf and I didn’t want to be left behind. I wanted to play as well.

I joined Ardee Golf Club in 2014, got my handicap after a few weeks, kept practising and got addicted to getting better and better. Suddenly I was making the local team at a high level. My name got well known pretty quick because of the people I used to beat. So when you start doing that, word gets round and people gain a lot of respect for you. Life becomes a little easier.

If you watch me and some professionals play golf, you wouldn’t notice a massive difference

My family supported me to pursue disability golf long before Golf Ireland did. But then I won a few events, got some funding and now there’s a full organisation for disabilities in Golf Ireland. We went from not having a team for the European Championship for Golfers with Disability to winning it by 30 shots with some of the best players in the world. We’ve finally been welcomed with open arms. Previously the sport wasn’t really known or funded to the same extent as the professionals. It’s great we’ve turned it into a mainstream sport.

If you watch me and some professionals play golf, you wouldn’t notice a massive difference. I hit about 260 yards off the tee, which is long for a disability golfer, and the professionals are hitting it 320. That’s the main difference. But for pitching and putting, you wouldn’t see much difference.

When I was a teenager, I would watch the guys on TV wishing I would be there one day. To be honest, if I didn’t categorise myself as a disability golfer, I wouldn’t be here. You’re a big fish in a small pond with disability golf, and if you put yourself out with the top pros in the world, you would get swallowed up pretty quick and your name forgotten. But I’ve learned it’s important to do what you do well, and that’s perform against my guys and make an impact on the disability world.

Recently I received some abuse online after one of my golfing achievements was shared around. The way I look at it is: I’ve grown up all my life with this stuff. At school, people were looking, people were laughing. But I have a platform to help other disability golfers in this position, so I wrote a blog talking about my experiences. There’s a lot of disability golfers who will be in the limelight pretty soon, and some of them might be suffering mentally – I’m fit enough to handle it – but if you’re suffering mentally and you’re reading these comments, it puts you down pretty quick.

It got really good feedback. I got messages from some of the biggest sporting icons in the world, such as Rory McIlroy, Shane Lowry, Sonia O’Sullivan and Lando Norris. I didn’t do it for the recognition, I did it for awareness – but it’s good it was received well. I’ve had many chats with some of the top sportspeople. One guy the other day put me on a pedestal with some of the greatest names in the world of golf, and that kind of took me back.

If young people can see a path carved before, it will give them the confidence to follow it as well. I didn’t have that at first, but in the past few years that’s finally changed.

– In conversation with Conor Capplis