Thursday, May 30, 2024

The G4D Open: Conor Stone relishing chance to compete against best golfers with disabilities again on return to action at Woburn – Irish Golfer Magazine

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Golf has long played an important role in the life of Conor Stone but the pain it was causing on his body couldn’t continue.

The Irishman first started to play the game at 13 and became a scratch golfer four years later. Everything appeared in front of him, with hopes of forging a career as a professional, but it wasn’t to be.

Stone was diagnosed with a progressive form of Kyphoscoliosis and by 20 he was unable to play golf due to the severity of the curvature in his spine and associated pain. Around the time of his 22nd birthday, the Irishman underwent a 15-hour operation to insert two metal rods and 60 pieces of metal in his spine to have the curvature corrected.

While his passion for the game diminished in the years that followed, perhaps only inevitably, he reconnected with the game after seeing events organised by EDGA (formerly known as the European Disabled Golf Association).

Silverware soon followed, before he made his G4D Tour debut in its inaugural season in Northern Ireland in 2022 and then played a further five last year.

But following last year’s G4D Tour stop at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth, Stone knew he needed to prioritise his quality of life over hopes of competing full time around the world.

“I didn’t get the surgery on my back to help me play golf again,” he tells the DP World Tour. “It was to give me a quality of life for the rest of my life. I never meant to come back and play golf.

“The amount of golf I have played over the last few years has put so much wear and tear on my spine,” “My body is just not able to cope with it.

“I literally put the clubs away after that and didn’t pick one up again until about four weeks ago.”

Almost eight months on, he is returning to competitive action at The G4D Open. Staged in partnership by The R&A and the DP World Tour and supported by EDGA, this week’s second edition of the championship again features 80 male and female players golfers with disabilities from across the world.

Despite his inactivity at golf for the disabled’s top table over recent months, Stone arrives in England optimistic he can challenge the best over Woburn’s Duchess Course.

“If I play well, I know I can compete,” he says. “Their games will be in much better shape than mine will be because they are playing full time, but I still wanted to play and test myself.”

Even when struggling with his body, Stone was competitive. He finished runner-up to Kipp Popert, the world’s leading player with a disability, at the U.S. Adaptive Open at Pinehurst No. 6 last July.

“I am just going in with no expectations and see where it goes,” he adds. “I don’t care whether I come first or tenth or 20th.

A few months earlier, he finished in the top five at the inaugural G4D Open when far from at his best by his own standards.

“I putted very badly last year, that is a memory of mine from Woburn,” he reflects, having finished in a tie for fourth 12 months ago. “I feel like if I can putt that bit better this year, I might challenge.”

Brendan Lawlor is the reigning champion having edged out Popert to win the inaugural event last year, with Stone, who like his countryman is a member at Carton House, impressed by the platform he and other leading golfers with a disability are given to showcase their talent.

“At Woburn last year, it felt like a major championship for us, and everyone treated it like it was,” the 29-year-old says.

“The set up of the course was great, the hospitality we received from the staff made it feel that extra bit special.

“Between the G4D Open and the U.S. Adaptive Open, they feel that bit more superior than all the other events. They feel like they have a nice aura around them.”

While looking forward to the opportunity to compete again on a world-class stage, Stone is content with his decision step back from the sport.

Thriving in his career at McGuirks Golf, a leading golf equipment provider in his home country, he admits the friendships he formed at G4D events was another incentive to make a return at the G4D Open.

“If I didn’t play in any events this year, I would miss the camaraderie more so than the events per se,” he admits.

“It is very competitive, but at the end there is a very good social element and we [as players] have always got on very well.”

Like so many others who have a disability, Stone is a person full of perspective.

“I gave up my job in a big American financial firm three years ago and I didn’t have a penny to my name,” he says.

“My parents were very good to me and helped me out the best they could. I had a sponsor too and he allowed me to do what I loved, play in as many tournaments as I wanted to play in.

“When I decided last September to pack it in, my parents and sponsor were very understanding.

“Everyone knew what was very important and what I needed to do. I realised I wasn’t going to make a career out of it and focusing elsewhere was more important.”

But even with that knowledge, Stone does know one thing.

“I would hate to give up golf completely,” he says.

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