Meet the Golf Pros – Leonor Bessa

By Hugh Carslaw

Leonor Bessa may be a petit 1.63 metres, but as one of Portugal’s leading lady golfers, she packs a mighty punch. Her meteoric rise through the amateur ranks is truly astounding, so it will be no surprise if her professional career continues at a similar rate and she achieves her goal of competing on the Ladies European Tour. Her love affair with golf had a slow start. “My father started me off at the age of eight, but I found it too slow and boring. I was more into gymnastics, basketball and dance. Oh, and I played the guitar a bit also.”

At the age of 12, her competitive instincts kicked in as she saw the progress her older brother Tomas was making and the encouragement he was getting from the family. Once she got the golfing bug, her handicap plummeted. “I was lucky to be coached by Nelson Ribeiro, who is the national coach. Having such an experienced teacher made a big impact on me and really helped with my progress.”

By the age of 13, she was playing for the junior national squad and she then progressed to become the youngest member of the senior national team, which saw her representing Portugal in the world team championships in Turkey. Equally impressive is her winning the junior championship six times in a row and following these victories up with two consecutive victories in the senior amateur championship.

By the age of 19, her handicap was plus 4 and it was at this young age that she turned professional.

“I studied journalism at the University of Porto. I’ve completed two and a half years of the degree. The remaining six months I will complete at some stage. I delayed completion of my degree to allow myself to have a full year on tour.”

“I was brought up in Porto, but since there is not much golf in the area, the only logical place to base myself at the moment, therefore, is in the Algarve where there are so many courses and, most importantly for me, the practise and coaching facilities.” Until a few months ago, Leonor was working with European tour coach Steve Bainbridge, but with him electing to move back to England, she is now working with Goncalo Pinto, who has taken on five professional players since the departure of Steve.

Now aged 22, Leonor splits her time between the Spanish Satellite Tour and the Access Tour –the ladies challenge tour equivalent.

I asked her for her memorable moments – two events spring immediately to mind. “I found myself in a playoff for a mixed ladies/ gents competition with my boyfriend, Tomas Gouveia. I won!!”

“The other achievement of which I am very proud is to have won the ladies PGA National Championship (2020). My brother Tomas won the men’s championship in the same year, so we are very proud of each other.”

I ask Leonor how difficult it is to find the necessary support to allow her to maintain her career. She concedes that it is tough. “I am lucky in that I have two sponsors. I am an Ambassador for Golfland in Alvor. It’s a complex with simulators, restaurants and bars and offers the opportunity for a family day out, or for the more serious golfer, the opportunity to work on their swings using trackman. I teach there in the offseason between November and April. My other sponsor is the watch brand Reconvilier. Their watches are reversible, with one face acting as a watch and when turned over, acts as a GPS for checking yardages. I’m very grateful to both.”

Although we had never met prior to this interview I had seen her practising and working with her coach. What struck me was, that like many of her professional colleagues, her practise method was not one of just hitting hundreds of balls. It was of the repetition of a particular drill over and over again before hitting full shots. As a professional musician for many years, the advice of don’t practise when you’re playing and don’t play when you’re practising seems just as applicable to golf as it is to music. The combination of talent, concentration and work ethic of Leonor Bessa seems destined to propel her further up the ladies golf ladder and this writer looks forward to following her progress.

Leonor is available for tuition.


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