This week’s Player Blog presented by Enterprise Rent-A-Car comes from Francesco Laporta as he prepares for a return to competitive golf with fresh inspiration from Michael Jordan.
I have been extremely lucky during lockdown as I live in San Domenico in southern Italy and have a lot of outdoor space at my house. I put a net up in the garden and had everything I needed for training in a gym, so I have been able to practise and keep my body in shape for the rest of the season.
Doing trick shots at home during lockdown to pass the time was fun and it didn’t take me long in the end with some of those tricks, maybe 20 minutes, so I must have got lucky.
Fortunately, we have been back on the golf course here for two weeks and now I am looking forward to getting back on the European Tour with the new scheduled announced last week. Initially they opened the course to a small amount of people on select days, members only, in mid to late May and from the start of June it will be open for members all the time.
Things have changed a lot in the world over the past few months. Earlier this year I had played at the Oman Open in Muscat and was travelling to Doha for the Qatar Masters in March when I was stopped from entering the country upon arrival at the airport. The government were stopping Italian citizens, along with a few other countries, at this point in time due to covid-19 and it was a pretty crazy moment.
I was the first European Tour golfer to be stopped at an airport relating to covid-19 and perhaps one of the first Italian sports people during that time. I wasn’t displaying any symptoms for the virus, and when they took my temperature everything was all fine but they said, ‘Sorry, you are from Italy and not allowed in unless you do 14 days quarantine’, so I came back home. I was concerned at that time I would miss some of the upcoming events in Kenya or India but they were postponed so it didn’t matter.
From that point everything changed. If someone had told me last year that we would all have to stay in lockdown for two or three months, no golf, no travel for months, I would had said they were crazy, but then it all happened so quickly! We now know in this world anything can happen. It is a new experience for everyone, and it will be very different world now. It won’t be easy for anyone in the world to travel until they find a vaccine – for sport, business, holiday…everything.
I was ready to do something special on the European Tour, but everything stopped so we will have to wait and see what happens in the future.
Last year was my best year as a professional. The last two months on the Challenge Tour I played really great, everything came together. After the winning the Challenge Tour Grand Final in Mallorca and finishing Number One on the Rankings, I was ready to do something special on the European Tour, but everything stopped so we will have to wait and see what happens in the future.
I have used this time now to rest. Last year I only took a couple of weeks off in six months and I never stopped between the Challenge Tour and starting on the European Tour, so it has been an opportunity to work on my mind and my physical fitness. Keith Pelley announced our categories will stay the same for 2021, which is a relief to know I will not lose my playing category, so now it is a time to wait and get ready to come back and play.
I’ve been watching ‘The Last Dance’ on Netflix and it is showing us another side of Michael Jordan. It is one of the best TV series I have ever seen. Of course, now, everyone wants the Jordan shoes and the price is going crazy. I’m a big collector of shoes and have spent a lot of money during lockdown because I have bought about seven or eight pairs in the last month. All my family are in the sneakers business, so I thought I would start my own collection of shoes - only Nike - but these are street shoes and not for golf. I have over 150 pairs of Nike sneakers and 25 pairs of Jordan’s.
I never saw MJ playing basketball or knew all the stories about him. From how he retired from basketball to take up baseball, and then his return to the game a few years later. He was for sure one of the best sportsmen in the world, if not the best and in this series, it feels like he is talking to you, to all sportsmen, and saying ‘You can do more’. His mentality was to do more and more and more in order to be the best in the world. A lot of sportspeople will take a lot from what he has to say.
For me, I changed my mentality when I watched the Seve Ballesteros movie about five years ago. After watching it, I started practising differently, approaching things differently mentally. When you are inspired like that you realise you can do more in order to be the best, and sometimes it happens for people. It applies to any sport – golf, basketball, soccer, handball. You can learn a lot from understanding the sacrifices that other athletes made to be the best players in the world.
I have family in South Africa so spent a lot of time there when I was young. I moved there when I was 16 for a year during college. My golf career really started in South Africa when I went to the Gavan Levenson Academy. I arrived there with a handicap of ten and left with scratch. I learned a lot from practising with other players, something I could not really do in Italy as there were not many players as a junior, so most of the time I was on my own. For five years I went there for six months, spending every summer in South Africa, and then returning for summer in Europe. My life was always chasing the sun.
I played two years on the Sunshine Tour and then got my category on the European Tour so moved to Europe. My dream was to play in Europe, but those two years on the Sunshine Tour gave me a lot of experience and my time in South Africa really laid the foundations for my career.
We don’t have a lot of players in Italy like they do in the UK, France, or Spain, but the results have been unbelievable recently. Last year we had 47 wins across all levels – from amateur to professional, men and women. We only have 90,000 players in Italy, but we have so many good amateurs among the men and women coming through. On the European Tour we had Renato Paratore win, Guido Migliozzi won twice, and Francesco Molinari has had an incredible three years, plus Edoardo Molinari and Lorenzo Gagli have been playing so well. We are not many by we are proving ourselves as winners and that gives a lot of motivation to us all. When we saw Francesco winning and the success he has had, at the Majors and the Ryder Cup, we all started to believe we can do that.
The Ryder Cup is coming to Italy. Importantly it is coming to Rome and it is a big opportunity to inspire players from my country. The Italian Federation are doing a great job to bring golf to people in Italy, but it is not easy. People still think of golf as an expensive sport but that is not the case anymore. We must use the power of The Ryder Cup to bring golf to people and show anyone can play our game.