For PGA pro Gregor McDonald, a disability is not an obstacle to success

He was the unheralded club pro from California who finished 15th in the PGA championship last week, sending the golf media into a frenzy like the entire industry had just had half a bottle of Prosecco on an empty stomach.

For club pros around the world, Block’s Oak Hill story was an uplifting, inspirational tale as one of her own had to go head-to-head with the game’s global superstars, while generating the kind of drooling, blanket coverage that usually marks the birth of a royal reserved is baby.

“We should be shouting about it from the rooftops,” said Scottish PGA professional Craig Donnelly. But he’s not talking about Block’s blockbuster efforts. He reflects on an encouraging performance much closer to home that deserves much credit.

Donnelly has just helped one of his assistants, Gregor McDonald, progress through the PGA study program and become a fully qualified professional. Of course there is nothing new there. Donnelly has mentored over a dozen young trainees over the course of the season and watched them graduate, but McDonald’s achievement is a particular source of pride.

McDonald suffers from cerebral palsy, but the 27-year-old’s disability has never diminished his drive and determination to succeed in the game that is his passion.

“I’m very proud of myself,” said McDonald, who works at Donnelly’s Cluny Clays facility in Kirkcaldy. “I never thought I would do something like this, especially when I was younger and faced with all the difficulties. But I’ve proven that a disability shouldn’t stop you from pursuing your goals. I’m one of the very few disabled PGA professionals and I hope to inspire a few more to follow this path. The degree is a nice reward for all the hard work I have put in, but also for those who have helped me.”

Donnelly, who operates three golf courses in Scotland and one in Spain’s Murcia region, has been part of McDonald’s golf career for well over a decade. It has not been an easy journey at times, but it has been marked by courage, enthusiasm and great spirit.

“Gregor has spent his whole life just pushing on and he’s never shrunk from a challenge,” Donnelly recalled. “I first met him over 10 years ago. His mother said, “Just treat him like a normal kid and he’ll get it all open.” Sure enough, he did.

“Because of his physical handicap he plays with his hand and at the time we built a swing and a golf game on that. We’ve packed more hybrids and loft woods in his bag. We just had to make a few small adjustments to make it a little easier for him. At first it wasn’t about making him a pro, it was just about making him a better golfer, but we just kept evolving to the point where I had him enrolled in the PGA system.”

The PGA degree includes all sorts of modules, from coaching, racquet repairs and customization to sports science, business principles and finance. Here is practical work, there is essay writing, while students are tested on their mental and physical abilities like a participant in the Krypton factor.

Due to McDonald’s physical limitations, jobs such as club repairs – which he had to carry out with one hand – presented significant challenges, but he tackled it all with defiant diligence and was able to develop the multi-tasking skills that are a much-cherished trait McDonald’s are a PGA professional.

“Determination is one of his great strengths,” Donnelly added. “And he’s also the most likeable person ever. Nobody has a bad word to say about him. He also has a lot of patience and so do all the people he’s coached. This is a great trait for life, not just for golf. We all love him more than anything. We always say he should shout out what he’s achieved, but he’s not that kind of guy.”

It’s up to those around him to do their bit. “He’s a PGA icon,” said Donnelly. “I suppose so,” the humble McDonald replied with an appreciative laugh.

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