To Brendan Lawlor, the score was immaterial, although when he birdied the fifth to move to one-under the pulse inevitably quickened up considerably. It was simply the experience that meant everything as the 22-year-old from Dundalk became the first disabled professional to compete on the European Tour.
After playing so well at the start of his first round in the ISPS Handa UK Championship at the Belfry, Lawlor tailed off to shoot a 12-over 84. Of course the competitor within the golfer ranked fourth on the European Disabled Golf Association was disappointed but it was what the day signified that resonated most.
“I’m just so grateful to be competing on the same stage as these guys and getting opportunities like this,” Lawlor said “The coverage over the last few days, people texting and on Instagram, looking at EDGA – that’s the reason why I’m here this week.
“The back nine was a bit tough. I didn’t shoot the best score but it’s not about the score. It’s a week to change my life and other people’s lives, so just go out and enjoy it and that’s what I did. The nerves were fine, just the usual first tee nerves. I hit a good one down the middle on the first and sort of relaxed then. I really enjoyed myself today. It felt amazing, the company of Richard [McEvoy] and Jeff [Winther] was fantastic.”
Lawlor has a rare condition called Ellis–van Creveld syndrome, characterised by a shorter stature and shorter limbs, but it did not stop him becoming a scratch player and being highly regarded in the Irish amateur ranks before reaching world No 2 in the disabled rankings. He does not see himself as any different, but he concedes that his was not a normal upbringing.
“I’ve always embraced my disability, because everyone has things wrong with them, but I think it’s about how you accept it,” he said. “One aspect of my disability is that I don’t have any knuckles in the top of my fingers, which means it’s tough to grip the golf club. I can’t bend my fingers in or make a fist, so my two index fingers sort of hang off the club, but I’ve adapted because it’s all I’ve known.
“My family never stopped me doing anything and I think that’s why I’m here today. I also had open heart surgery when I was young because I was born with a hole in my heart and I was in hospital for about nine months, but I think I was just destined to live. I just want to thank ISPS Handa for the backing and this invite as this has been a dream come true and I will put everything I’ve got into the second round.”
When Lawlor might start that second round is a moot point after the downpours caused a premature end to the first day at the famous Ryder Cup course. South African Justin Walters is the leader in the clubhouse on eight-under following a 64, with three shots back to a group in second, including world No 30 Bernd Wiesberger.