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Golfers First Profiles

Every golfer has a story of the putt they holed, the chance they missed, and of the drive that was long and straight. Not every golfer, however, has a backstory that grabs one’s attention, that shows the human spirit and can fuel the can-do attitude that is inside every one of us.

The Golfers First Profiles came from a deep belief that everyone has a story, that is not only worth telling, but also worth sharing. Perhaps you or someone that you know is in need of a boost of inspiration or a signpost to what can be achieved.

001 José Bagnarelli

 

EDGA golfer José Bagnarelli talks with Tony Bennett about his life before and after his motorcycle accident.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with José Bagnarelli

From his early career as a DJ in the late 70’s with a pirate radio station, José has spent most of his working career within the radio and TV industry. In his early days, José worked with NRC, Radio Luna and Radio Montestella which was one of Milan’s most popular radio stations.

For most of the 80’s, Jose worked in the USA hosting and directing weekly music, sports and entertainment reports aired inside a popular music show called “Popcorn”.

José now runs an award-winning audio production company based in Milan called Eccetera which specialises in voice-over recording and sound design for Radio and TV commercials. Clients include advertising Agencies and Production companies in Italy, France, The Netherlands, UK and USA. José also holds workshops and seminars on communication for the radio and effective use of audio.

Q&A with José Bagnarelli

I always thought that you were from Italy, but recently I realised that you had dual nationality. Can you tell me something about how that came about?
My dad was from Naples, my mum is from Paris. I presume they coped with the differences by living in the middle, as I grew up both in Nice and Milan. I then gained double nationality, two languages and French and Italian culture.

Did you spend much time playing sport when at school?
I have been playing sports since I was 6 years old. Gymnastics, then competitive swimming for 5 years. At 14 I entered in the Inter of Milan youth team, until they found out (very quickly) I wasn’t able to play football… I then played basketball, reaching quite a good level (Italian third division) playing as a playmaker and guard.

Can you remember what you first wanted to do for a living when leaving school?
I was a 16-year-old high school student when I started my radio DJ career in Milan’s first pirate radio. After more than 40 years I’m still having fun with audio production and communication.

Tell me about your work in prime-time radio and TV hosting?
Well, that was a lot of fun! As portrayed in the motion picture ‘The boat that rocked’, in the late seventies pirate radios were a revolution all over Europe, compared to the boring national radios. My radio show was airing daily from 14:30 to 19:00, leading me to be quite successful among young listeners. This is the reason why the Italian tv network Canale-5 proposed a few years later that I host and direct weekly music, sports and entertainment reports from the USA, aired inside a popular music show called “Popcorn”. I therefore lived in the following 4 years between New York and Los Angeles interviewing stars like Frank Zappa, Mohammed Ali, Al Jarreau, Sylvester Stallone, Magic Johnson, Barry White and many more.

Then came a motorcycle accident and with the knock-on consequences. Can you talk me through what happened and how it affected your life?
It happened as I now understand happens very often with motorcycles accidents: the guy in the car ahead of me decided to make a U-turn in the very moment I was passing him. A crash was unavoidable as I didn’t even have time to touch the brakes. The impact was tough: I lost some phalanx of the right hand, but most of all the plexus brachial, the main nerve of my right arm was severed in the crash with a complete paralysis as a consequence. Murphy’s law: obviously I was totally right-handed… I still remember when I learned how to take a shower trying to fill my glass from a bottle of water with my left hand! Three microsurgeries later some of the severed nerves were restored, at least enough to grab a beer from the fridge. The glass half-full of what happened is that I learned to be a leftie and that I probably would never have done things I did afterwards, including golf.

You talk about a “Gimme 3 and 1/2!” attitude, please explain what this means to you.
If you’re used to high-five with friends and then you lose 2 or 3 fingers, why should you stop greeting your buddies when you meet them afterwards? Actually, since the very first days after my accident, self-mockery helped me to go through the new course of my life. In a certain sense it is a sort of self-defence, it’s like saying “you don’t need to be embarrassed (or worse) since I’m the one who is making jokes on myself…”.

Had you played any golf before your accident?
No, I even lived next to a golf course for a few years, but at that time of my life it wasn’t really my cup of tea…

Golf then came along to replace some other sports that were now no longer suitable for you…
Well, at first I obviously wanted to play sports I used to practice before my accident. However, I soon realized that swimming without a functioning arm would probably have been like having a stuck helm, spinning in the middle of the pool! I kept playing basketball for a while, with some other long-time friends of mine, but it frustrated my competitive expectations. In fact, my game was quite predictable as I was always dribbling only on the left side of the court and when on rebound I was feeling like I was Qbert, the funny jumping video game character of the eighties.

What was it about golf that made you think that this might just be the game for you?
Let’s say golf bumped into me!

Who or what got you started to play?
During a vacation in southern France with my wife Sabina I stopped in a golf hotel to spend the night. I wanted to drink a beer and I went to the clubhouse nearby. An older English man, probably in his eighties, was sitting at a table next to mine, smiling at me. I wasn’t sure that telling him I didn’t know anything about golf was a good way to break the ice, but it was indeed! The old man bewitched me in just a few minutes revealing the essence of golf: “The only sport where a rookie can beat the world champion by just playing at his best!”. With or without disability, I added to myself… I was excited, and two days later I was taking my first golf lesson.

Have you had any coach to help you reach your potential?
Not when I started. That was ten years ago, and I didn’t know about the existence of disabled golf associations and their coaching programs towards handigolfers. At that time the pro at the driving range was showing me Tiger Woods videos instead, asking to superimpose my swing to his! Quite difficult for an almost one armed player, isn’t it? Luckily enough a few years later I had the chance to enter Handigolf France and meet the French Federation Golf (FFG) coach Frederic Cupillard who works, like other coaches around Europe, on specific training for handigolfers according to their disabilities.

Are there any specific moments on the course that are particularly difficult?
Not really, besides the lack of circulation on my wounded arm which gets very sensitive when it’s cold outside. The solution to this problem is easy anyway, as I just have to wear an arm warmer like anybody else would. Probably a bad angle to reach the green is more annoying to me…

What have your learned about yourself by playing golf?
To cope with my imperfections. Any wrong shot (unfortunately there are still more than a few on each round I play) teaches me something for the next one. As Nelson Mandela said once: “I don’t lose, I either win or learn”.

What does golf mean to you?
Let me answer with another quote. This one is from Arnold Palmer and fits perfectly all golfers, including disabled: “There is no king of golf. Never has been, never will be. Golf is the most democratic game on Earth… It punishes and exalts us all with splendid equal opportunity.”

What heroes or role models have you looked to as you progress through your career as a golfer?
I found them on my first EDGA Open appearances, two or three years ago. Their names are Charles-Henri Quelin, Juan Postigo Arce, Cedric Lescut, Manuel Dos Santos, Adem Whabi, Joakim Bjorkman, George Groves and there are many more. Having the chance to see playing high-level disabled golfers like them has been an incredible source of motivation for my career as a golfer. All of them play superb golf which is above all the result of their hard work and determination regardless of their disability, in most cases much worse than mine.

Of all the things that you learned from playing golf there what would be two or three takeaways that you think others might be able to learn from?
Find a goal and work hard for it, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Leave your comfort zones, but never forget to have fun on everything you do. At the end it’s all a matter of balance and levity.

Are there any goals or objectives that you have in golf that you would be prepared to share?
As my playing HCP is high compared to the “scratch guys” I’m focused on lowering it during the next European Opens, in order to climb the EDGA Nett ranking. I’m also very excited about the venue of the next European Individual disabled championship in June. Hope I’ll be at my best at that time!

Are there any adjustments that would make golf more user friendly for golfers with disability and why?
I would only restore the anchoring putt stroke rule, banned in 2016. This rule doesn’t affect my golf at all, but I think it would be fair for those golfers whose disability requires long putters.

Competition and philosophy: EDGA and its golf highlanders?
There are golfers who go beyond competition and become heroes. I’m not talking about Tiger, Rory, Justin, Lee, Sergio, Erik or Padraig… I’m talking about Jean-Marie, Sebas, Terry, Christophe, Jurgen, Ze Pedro, Christian, Ivgi, Jens, Roberto and many others who play on a Paragolfer. These brave athletes playing golf on an adapted wheelchair are amazing and lead any other golfer to understand what dedication to sport and competition means. Furthermore, they show many others that nothing can stop one’s will.

What “Good first take!” means to you?
This is my contribution to a book published a few years ago where I was asked to write my early epitaph along with other personalities. I thought of this phrase as a synthetic combination of my work (I am now director in my audio production company) and my fulfilled life.

Some general questions:

Is there anything about you that might surprise us? (For example, you play electric guitar in a heavy rock band)?
I have two lovely and funny dogs: Rosina and Pinella.

Which piece of your golf equipment gives you the most joy?
Driver on Mondays and Thursdays, 5 Iron the first weekend in Spring and putter in months with an “R”, like for the oysters.

If you could play a four-ball with anyone, dead or alive who would be your three playing companions and why?
1. My Dad, who never played golf in his life but would have loved it.
2. my beloved wife Sabina, who wanted to play golf with me until we got married.
3. lggy_Pop, who is a fine golfer, but just to hear him singing ‘Louie Louie’ on the course.

If you could magically be with someone who has a similar disability as you, what advice would you want to offer him?
I would pour a “finger” of scotch in a glass and make a toast to him as he’s still alive.

If people would like to reach you how can they find you?
Telepathy, or by email: jose@eccetera.it

 

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Brendan Lawlor

Tony Bennett talks with EDGA golfer Brendan Lawlor who has a rare condition called Ellis–van Creveld syndrome, characterised by a shorter stature and shorter limbs.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Brendan Lawler

Aspiring Irish golfer, Brendan Lawlor, has won many competitions in Ireland at the provincial level, in the juniors when aged 16, and at the adult level when he turned 17, which makes him the youngest person to win that championship at the time.

Brendan has a rare condition called Ellis–van Creveld syndrome, characterised by a shorter stature and shorter limbs. However, despite his disability, he expresses with confidence that he is still able to lead a normal, happy and healthy life.

Although he is new to playing golf on the EDGA tour, Brendan is not new to competition. He is certainly one to watch as he shares his aspirations to compete and win more tournaments in the near future.

Q&A Interview with Brendan Lawlor

How did you get involved in pitch and putt Brendan?

When I was younger, I played a lot of pitch and putt. I didn’t have the strength for golf. When I was around five years old I had a club in my hand and I was hitting it up and down the garden, and then there was a local club which I joined and practised every day. The older I got, the more I started to enjoy golf because I started to win competitions.

You’ve won a few competitions and in Ireland, golf is set up with a national federation that has both Northern and Southern Ireland with different provinces. These can be thought of as regions. You won at the provincial level at 16, and when you turned 17, you won at the adult level as well.

That was in Cork. I was only one under in my first round. I was seven shots back after the first round, so it was a lot to catch up with. Then I shot 11 on my second round, which I won by 4 shots in the end so I was delighted. I won my All Ireland in Meath. That was one of my best achievements in pitch and putt, the adult All Ireland because there were a lot of fantastic pitch and putt players. I won all of my three majors for 12 under.

That was a big win because you were probably the youngest person to win that championship at the time.

I was the youngest. They made a rule that year to let under-18s in to get more young people playing to boost the game and create more competition, which is a good idea I think.

What is your disability and how would you describe it?

It’s a rare condition called Ellis–van Creveld syndrome. It’s when you are shorter in stature, with shorter fingers and shorter limbs. Not many people have it, but I wouldn’t really see it as a condition, but I’m happy enough as it doesn’t affect me. Golf helps me deal with it.

When you realised you were a little bit different, how did you deal with those feelings?

To be honest, my family was a good factor because they never treated me any differently. I’ve lived my whole life feeling normal and that was the key factor. Just be yourself in any situation and do the normal things that a normal person does.

Can you remember what you first wanted to do for a living when you left school?

When I left school at the age of 18, I worked in the family business as a salesman and I really enjoy that, but obviously golf is my main priority. I was playing golf to enjoy it but when I found the EDGA, it just makes me want to play more.

Tell me about the members of your family. Did any of them play golf?

My grandad was very much into golf. He wanted his grandchildren to take the sport up, and I was the one who did. Also, my cousin plays golf off scratch and he’s actually coming to watch me play in Troia in June.

Are you a member in a golf club?

I joined Dundalk last year. It’s more convenient as I work in Dundalk, so I after work I can go and play.

What about pitch and putt? Are you still playing any of that at all?

Very little pitch and putt, but I think I’m going to go back because my short game used to be phenomenal, but now, it’s not where I want it to be at the moment. Pitch and putt helps you on your short game and distance control. I might get involved in pitch and putt competitions, not to win but to have a bit of fun.

Do you see golf as fun? Is that the way you approach it?

I love golf and I find that it is very fun. When you see your handicap dropping and you see an improvement, it makes you love the game even more as you’re seeing results.

Have you had any coach to help you reach your potential? And are there any particular shots that are causing you difficulty at the moment?

I’ve never had a coach and I didn’t get a lesson prior to this. I’m planning to get lessons in my short game. I find from 60 yards difficult. In Troia, I was laying up 60 yards every time, and I didn’t get up and down which was getting a bit frustrating. So I think I’m going to practise working on the 40 to 80 yard range for the next tournament.

What about heroes or role models that you’ve looked up to as you progress through your career so far as a golfer?

I’d say Pádraig Harrington. I met him in Baltray when Shane Lowry won the Irish Open in 2009. He comes across as a lovely guy.

What would it feel like if golf was taken away from you?

That would be tough, but if you took golf away from me, I’d just have to find any hobby that I’d have to get good at because I like moving.

Do you have any goals in mind that you would be prepared to share?

I’ve just started in the EDGA and I want to reach a high level at that. I want to get up the ranking system and win more events and continue competing.

What would you do to change golf for the better?

EDGA is doing a lot for golf and it’s giving people with disabilities a chance to reach a high level, which is fantastic. For example, the adaptations on the wheelchair buggies – they are amazing!

What the people are doing at EDGA is very inspiring because people are facing their challenges and getting fulfilled doing what they love to do.

At the beginning of this year you went out and won the golf course at EDGA. What do you think about the golf course there?

I think it’s unbelievable and it’s not easy at all…on the first day, we had lovely conditions and I shot a 74, which is a good score as it is a tough course. I’m really looking forward to going over in June – I’m curious to see who wins it.

Which piece of equipment brings you the most joy?

I love my driver. I’m more accurate with a driver from 250 yards than I am with a wedge at 80 yards.

You’ve been to the Darren Clarke Golf Academy and you’ve made the team there, but of all the things you’ve learned, are there any takeaways that you think others can learn from?

The big thing is to never have a score in your head when you go out in the golf course because any score can win. Keep in mind that everyone can have a bad day, and if it’s going bad don’t panic.

If you could play a four ball whom would you pick and why?

Harrington because he’s Irish and obviously Tiger Woods – I think he is the best of all time. I’d also pick Kevin Hart, the funny actor; I’d like to play golf with him too!

For somebody who has a similar disability to yourself, what advice would you offer them about golf and life in general?

Be yourself. Act normal because you are normal. You may look different but you still have the same emotions and you’re still living your life the same.

If people want to get in touch, how can they find you?

They can reach me by email at brendan.lawlor1997@gmail.com or I’m on social media if anyone wants to get in touch.

To Summarise

Brendan Lawlor is a relatable young man whose confidence shines through as he shares his early achievements and aspirations to win in the game of golf and life.

The sport has helped him to deal with his disability as he shares some sound advice: remember to be yourself, and just because you may look different, you can still lead a normal and fulfilling life.

 

 

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George Groves

EDGA golfer George Groves talks with Tony Bennett about his life and the challenges of coping with Erbs Palsy.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with George Groves
George Groves

I caught up with George Groves in the South East corner of Portugal, at a training camp put on by his golf college. With a month of training and study ahead of him, and also the prospect of graduating in July, we talked about how he is working on his game, his hopes for a career in the golf industry and how he intends to achieve a goal which eludes 99.9% of all golfers. That goal – is to reach a plus handicap.

So George is on a mission, a mission to become the best player he can become. George has devoted the last couple of years at the golf college to achieve his goal. He recognises that golf has given him much needed confidence with the people that he meets. The Erbs Palsy, which is the result of a medical accident at birth “doesn’t really affect” George, and he says that he “can do anything really”. With only 20% movement and perhaps a little higher percentage of strength, there must be some movements that are impossible or at best extremely difficult I ask. George responds with a couple of light-hearted comments saying that, his teammates can recognise his swing due to the lack of extension, and that the moves for the “YMCA” dance are thankfully beyond him.

Unexpectedly George tells me that his heroes in golf are from three different eras. Gary Player, Nick Faldo and Jason Day, and when asked about his dream four-ball partners nominates “Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Sergio Garcia”. Here is a young man who knows not only about the current top players but also about those from the past. With his new found confidence he is at ease when saying that golf is about enjoyment, and he understands the see-saw nature of emotion that every player experiences.  “Some days you feel great, but on other days you hate yourself.” With such a perspective, it is likely that George will be very level-headed as he progresses as a player.

George recognises that it is an important year, but at no time do I get the feeling that he is putting himself under pressure. Far from it, he seems to be calm and looking forward to playing in events as he pursues his goal. With help from family and friends, he intends to play many tournaments in 2018 and recognises that without their support he could not afford to play. He embodies the advice that he is keen to pass onto others with similar disabilities, “Don’t let it [disability] stop you, just keep going.”

Good advice from a young player with a wise head.

For those who would like to contact George for advice, please call +44 07734 358214.

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Ashley Harris

EDGA golfer Ashley Harris talks with Tony Bennett about his life before and after his life was changed by rheumatoid arthritis.

Listen to EDGA’s Tony Bennett chatting with Ashley Harris

Cliche or not, but when Ashley Harris opened his heart to someone he didn’t know, he “felt a weight being lifted off his shoulders”. It was a turning point for a young man who had previously been active in sport and fully invested in college life, only to find himself as he says, “with a 60-year-old body – beneath a 22-year-old mind”.

A cocktail of prescription drugs to ease the constant pain of a progressive and chronic disease, coupled with a slow but sure decline into a gambling addiction led Ashley to a dark place that terrified him. One Halloween it all came to a head when he didn’t even have the money to pay for the traditional candies, pumpkin cake and mulled wine that many families enjoy as they celebrate trick or treat night.

He was just 22 but was carrying the world on his shoulders. Now a moment away from making a decision that would affect those people who meant most to him, Ashley stood at the side of a road ready to step off the pavement and in front of a passing car. He took that massive step. Just a few hours later Ashley found himself in a hospital room, opening his heart to that stranger. It is said that ‘when the student is ready – the teacher will appear’, perhaps it is true. There is no finer art than the ability to listen in a non-judgemental way and to be genuinely present when someone is opening their heart. The woman that Ashley was speaking with had such skills, a psychotherapist who evidently was trained for this very situation, was just the right person at the right time. Was this the turning point? Perhaps, indeed things looked brighter to Ashley only weeks later in November as he worked through several of the issues that had previously overwhelmed him, leading to that despairing step into the traffic.

Growing up, golf had been part of Ashley’s life since his Grandfather introduced him to the game as a teenager. Playing on the local par three course, was a joy for Ashley and it became more than a game to him. Golf became a passion, something that he thought could perhaps become a career. After a one-off caddying job at the Welsh Open at Celtic Manor, he started to have pain in his knee, which soon turned into a rendezvous with the operating table for keyhole surgery.  It was then doctors found evidence of Rheumatoid Arthritis in his knee, which eventually would spread to the other joints in his body. Some days, of course, were better than others – or perhaps more accurately – were significantly worse.

Soon it became evident that he was beginning to struggle, the Rheumatoid Arthritis, a persistent companion was exerting more influence on Ashley. Not only was his physical condition deteriorating as it spread throughout many of his joints, but also the effects of the disease started to negatively impact his social circle as he missed college activities, resulting in increased isolation. The gambling seemed like an innocent diversion, with the so-called ‘promise’ of turning his meagre benefit payments into substantially more, but the downward spiral had begun in earnest.

As Ashley started the long climb back, and with the realisation that there is, “always somebody worse off than you,” the thought of giving back to the game started to crystalise. After playing in his first Disabled Golf Association event, he scolded himself, “what am I moaning about?” He has created plenty of new friends in and around the game through enjoying golf, making that isolation issue a thing of the past. He currently works in a golf shop at Merrist Wood Golf Club, a job he loves as he meets and helps fellow golfers and shares common interests; he is an ambassador for the Emil foundation in the Czech Republic and is training to become the best player that he can become. He has regained that passion he felt for the game as a child with his Grandfather and a new season beckons.

Ashley has come a long way, and when asked for what advice he might give to someone in the same situation said, “Bad times never stick around.” Cliche or not? Ashley Harris has the real-life experience to know that they seldom do.

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