FOR a life on the European Tour circus, Shane Lawlor has had to perfect his own juggling act.
His working life takes him across the globe and away from home for 24 weeks of the year. With a host of the game’s top professionals to manage, Lawlor has his hands full every time he stops off on Tour.
A sports chiropractor with ProGolf Health, Lawlor also operates a sports injury clinic in Portlaoise together with his wife, Karen. After completing a four-year degree in 2006, at what’s now called the University of South Wales, Lawlor spent two years working in Bristol before relocating to Ireland.
The Tralee native opened his Irish clinic in 2008, settling in Portlaoise as it served as a halfway house between Kerry and Derry, his wife’s home county. By April of the following year, Lawlor was making different travel plans. After applying for a job with Dale Richardson’s Pro-Golf Health, he spent 10 weeks of the year working abroad on the European Tour. His first stop was the Open Championship at Turnberry and from there he hasn’t looked back. In 2010 he worked 15 events and 22 in 2011. Last year he was on the road for 24 weeks and this year he’ll do the same although at 31, he still looks like a novice. In a short space of time he has become as important to a player as his caddy.
“In general on a Tour week, the players get five to six hours of contact with us – usually an hour a day of treatment,” said Lawlor at Carton House, where he was based for last week’s Irish Open. “It could be soft tissue work, manipulation, needling, acupuncture, exercise programmes or movement-pattern work – anything that we can do to make sure their body is working at optimum performance. It’s to make sure that if they do get a little niggle here or there that it’s squashed pretty quickly.”
On Sunday, the fourth and final day of this year’s Irish Open, Lawlor was already at work by 7.45am. Irish pro Michael Hoey was teeing off at 9.15am so he was on the treatment table 90 minutes beforehand, working through a rigorous stretching programme for half an hour. By the time Hoey began his round, he had already undergone two hours of preparation work. Physically, the 34-year-old looks more like a boxer than a professional golfer. With just 76kg on his muscular 6ft frame, Hoey is lean enough to stand in the ring with middleweights.
“We give the golfers a long-term approach to their golf health so we’ll give them a longer career,” said Lawlor, describing the new mentality among players on tour. “We want more and more players playing into their 40s.”
Lawlor’s working day depends on his players. His mornings are hectic but he has a light schedule while the players are out on the course although he remains on call in case he’s needed during the round. Traffic at the treatment room gets heavy again in the afternoon as the players come in from the course.
“Post round we’ll do checks and make sure everything is balanced. We won’t go too hard on the soft tissues. We flush the legs and make sure nothing has changed during their round,” said Lawlor, who has clocked up 100,000 air-miles already in 2013, having been to China and Malaysia earlier this year. His work is his life on tour.
As he says himself: “We’re not here to play golf and be on holidays.”
Lawlor spent last Sunday at home before travelling to Paris on Monday for the French Open. The dedication to craft includes up to 200 hours of continuing professional development each year while the Lawlor Clinic in Portlaoise is thriving in the hands of his wife Karen. Stephen Haslam, one of the clinic’s physios, worked with the Laois senior hurlers in 2013.
“There was an emphasis put on injury prevention and screening,” said Lawlor, recounting a meeting he had with Laois manager Seamus ‘Cheddar’ Plunkett before this season. “Stephen (Haslam) would know from screening the players, every player’s limitations. He would have a blueprint of every player. We gave it a full professional approach. Laois have done a lot of hard work that people wouldn’t have seen. Cheddar is very strict and made sure that no stone was unturned. They even have a part-time nutritionist who looks after the players, supplementation and diets. It’s very much a team approach.”
And because of the modern GAA-player’s lifestyle, Lawlor finds the same problems cropping up.
“GAA players have professional jobs whereas in the past they might have been doing more manual jobs like blocklaying, construction and farming which was probably good for them because they were lifting and bending. Now a lot of them, if they’re desk-based, 90 per cent of them will have hip-mobility issues, which can cause problems like back pain and hamstring tears.”
Lawlor leads his own, uniquely unconventional life so it’s golf rather GAA that will occupy him for most of the year although he’s not much nearer the game than those of us watching on TV.
“Although I get to see all these beautiful golf courses, I don’t get to play them,” he said with a wry smile.
His is the life of a circus act but his performances are behind the scenes.