If Leonor Guimaraes Bessa hadn't been a golfer, she would have wanted to be a chef. Have a restaurant, maybe. A signature restaurant, where gastronomy embraces healthy flavors, and the room would welcome great athletes. Maybe golfers...
But, bad luck for cooking, and good fortune for national golf, Leonor Bessa is a golfer. And, at 22, she is already one of the best in the country.
“I've won a lot of awards. In fact, I'm proud to say it,” says the Bessa, who was National Youth Champion for six consecutive years. Titles that added up to the two times she was Absolute National Champion and the three times she was Professional National Champion. She also has three appearances in World Championships, six participations in Europeans, one Mediterranean Games, and one victory in the United States. “I think I have a good record, and that makes me feel fulfilled. But not fully satisfied because there is still so much to achieve.”
This desire to win. This dedication to the game started very early. Born in Porto, Leonor started playing at the age of eight, at the Amarante golf course. It was her father, a passionate golfer, who took her. She and her brother, Tomás Bessa. “We both ended up pursuing a professional career,” she says, smiling. But first, they cemented their games in Miramar. It was there, at that iconic northern club, that Leonor grew up as a “person and as a player,” Often with her brother.
“I have a very good relationship with him. There is a lot of mutual help and sharing of experiences. We train together daily, so we are always in competition with each other. All healthy, but no one wants to lose.” This relationship, continues Leonor, has contributed to the evolution of both. We remain motivated and under constant competitive pressure.
Since she turned pro, Leonor has moved to the Algarve where she finds more conditions to training and evolve. “My home club is Quinta do Lago, but I train regularly at Laranjal,” she says, enthusiastically emphasizing: “It's great to be connected to a club with such prestige and with such good training conditions. I'm so grateful for that, and I couldn't ask for better.”
Last year was overwhelming. In September, she won the Women's National Championship, in the same week, and on the same course, where his brother was also the Men's National Champion. In December, she became the first lady to win a mixed tournament on the PGA Portugal Tour.
All these achievements have been made in parallel with her studies. Leonor is completing a degree in Communication Sciences, in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Porto. It has been hard to reconcile top-level golf with studies, as this sports/academic tradition doesn't exist much in Portugal. But with effort and dedication, everything is possible.
“My current physical shape was one of the greatest achievements of my life, as it has allowed me to evolve in golf, to gain more confidence as a woman and as an athlete,” she emphasizes, before addressing her plans for this season. “I'm going to compete on two international circuits, Santander Tour and Letas. It is a very busy schedule, with great expenses and that I will only be able to accomplish thanks to my two sponsors: Reconvilier and Golfland.”
The family, the parents – “my true idols” – have been fundamental in this journey, in which Leonor seeks to have as references names like Lexi Thompson, for having managed to enter the LPGA at so an young age, Lydia Ko, for her routine and technical capacity, Rory, and of course Tiger for everything he's done for golf.
In the short term, her objectives are to reach LET, the Ladies European Tour, via LETAS. Later on, Leonor does not hide her desire to reach the LPGA and be able to play in the Women's Majors. “I hope to be able to surpass myself and raise my level to the maximum, to have an athlete's life for many years. Despite being hard, I wouldn't change it for anything.”
At 56 years old, Pedro Lima Pinto is an unavoidable figure in national golf. He is the most visible face of Greatgolf, the career management agency he founded to help young Portuguese golfers. The agency currently represents five golfers, and has a fundamental rule: it only works with those who are dedicated exclusively to the game.