Colombian-based Spanish professional Belen Mozo didn’t need a second invitation to slip away from Emirates Golf Club for a date with Jasmine the dolphin during the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters.
The animal loving 28-year-old grasped the chance at Atlantis, The Palm Dubai either side of the serious business of finishing the Ladies European Tour (LET) season-ender T35, good enough to secure 16th place on the money list with €84,601 from just six starts.
Mozo, whose Colombian boyfriend Robert Farah reached the mixed doubles final at Wimbledon last summer, sat down with LET head of communications Bethan Cutler after her splashing good time to discuss her new found love of tennis, the sadness of leaving her beloved pooch Coco back in Spain and how she intends to building on her LPGA and LET form next season.
The UAE is new to you in 2016. What were your favourite memories from your first visit to the Omega Dubai Ladies Masters?
This was my first time in Dubai and my second in the UAE, after I played in Abu Dhabi a few weeks ago. I wanted to come to this part of the world, because there are many sceptics out there who jump to conclusions about the culture and religion and I wanted to make an impression of my own. I also wanted to make my own arguments about the people, their city, their culture and their religion. So far, in both emirates I have been to, it breathes tolerance and with how much controversy there is right now with the Muslim world, it gives me hope. I have met some wonderful, kind-hearted people that will remain my friends forever. So far, if I had to choose one thing from Dubai, it wouldn’t be the Burj Khalifa, the Marina or the nightlife, but the warmth of the people: that is what captivated me.
We understand that you love animals. How did this come about?
I love animals. I absolutely do. I am so naive about some of them actually being wild animals that whether it’s a dog, a tiger or a camel, I will go straight up and pet them, without being aware that they might attack me! One day I might get bit wiser. I guess I love animals because they speak the truth with their eyes, especially dogs. They only understand love and loyalty. And it doesn’t get any better than that in life!
Tell us about your dogs and how often you get to spend time with them?
I got so obsessed with wanting to go to pet stores with my boyfriend to play around with puppies after long periods of time on the road, that one day we came back home with one of them. Her name is Coco. She is a toy version of an Aussie Shepherd. I used to travel with her for almost nine months: she was my shadow and my best friend. She gives me so much peace and love when travelling on my own. It was one of my best seasons when I first had her, but she created this intense bond with me and became so dependent on me that every time I left for the golf course, she thought I was abandoning her. Because of her suffering, I brought her to my mom’s in Spain, where we have a big house with big gardens and she is very happy there and making my parents extremely joyful. I see her only once or twice a year and it’s very frustrating, but she’s still my shadow every time I go back.
What else do you love to do when you get time out from golf?
I love learning and reading. When I am not playing I will be reading and when I am not reading I am either doing exercise indoors at the gym or outdoors like hiking, stand up paddle boarding or any physical activity. Of course I love shopping, but which woman doesn’t?
You are known as a talented and attractive golfer. How do you manage your reputation?
Reputation? The talented golfer one is hard to maintain because there are so many avid young golfers on tour these days that is hard to keep up, but I guess I will always be known for my hard work and dedication, regardless of my performance: you will always find me grinding it out the next day. The attractive side of it is all about controlling how you want people to know you. I like my fans to see the real Belen, not just Belen the golfer. So when fans get to know my personality a little bit better, is when they will find me attractive I guess. I have a great sense of humour!
How do you balance your time between sport training and practice and other commitments?
Time management is the hardest for me because I never want to cease learning, I am constantly attracted to trying new things. From reading a lot of books, to studying French on my own, to learning how to do a proper headstand, to being creative in my gym workouts, to learning about nutrition and hydration… to name the last couple of things I have been up to for the last week. The trick is learning to prioritise, what is essential and what can wait and build your schedule around it. The most important thing I have learned when applying this, is to include resting periods, some Belen time, in this scheduling. I didn’t do that before.
Are there any words that you live by, or advice that you have received, which has really helped you?
I live by never giving up. Your performance may not reflect the hard work you put it and how well you might be playing, so that’s why you can never cease the fight and when your time comes, you are ready to shine.
You were born and raised in Cadiz in Spain, a beautiful part of the world. Why did you decide to go to the University of Southern California in Los Angeles and what did you study there?
I always wanted to go to college. I knew I was a great golfer after a fantastic amateur career, but I always knew that there was much more to me than golf. Pursuing a college degree was always something I wanted to do. I studied International Relations. Nowadays, kids don’t do that. You see them playing their best years on tour, which makes sense economically, because for me, my best years were from age 17-21, when I was fearless and had no pressure.
Why did you decide to move to Bogota in Colombia?
My coach. I decided to work with him two years ago, and in my weeks off I was flying there all the time, so I was never spending time at my home in Florida.
How much of a tennis fan are you?
Now a lot, but I wouldn’t know how to go down the ranking naming players. I am getting to be more into it because of Robert [Farah/pictured below] of course. But I do love going to watch him play and supporting him at his events. I am an amazing cheerleader and the funniest thing is that deep in me, I believe I coach him very well when I go out with him on tour.
What have you enjoyed the most from the last few months of 2016, playing in LET events in Germany, India, Abu Dhabi and Dubai?
I didn’t have a good year on the LPGA. Performance-wise, it wasn’t good, however I saw a lot of improvement from last year and played the lights out much better. But the tour is getting harder and harder these days. My season on LPGA ended early, after Evian. And because I knew I was playing so much better and I lost the fear of competing again; I knew I needed to get out there to prove to myself that I could do it. I decided to accept a couple of invitations on the LET and that happened to be the best decision I made in 2016. Out of four events, I finished second twice and had two top 35s. So it did give me the confidence that I was lacking to keep working even harder. So kudos to me!
Can you tell us about your 2016 season… are you happy with it and is there anything you would have liked to have done better?
I have worked really hard, and things didn’t go my way at all, but I love how much stronger I have become against adversity because of all the setbacks I have had this year. I wouldn’t change any of those bad weeks if the end result is the new and better version of the Belen I am right now.
What are your plans for the Christmas break and New Year?
There are not going to be any breaks for me this off season. In December I will be in Cartagena de India, Colombia, doing some strong pre-season training with my physical trainer Jayson Mathiou. Robert, my boyfriend, will also be there. He is getting ready for the start of his season, which will be the Aussie Open. Then in January I will be non-stop with my golf coach Pedro Russi in Bucaramanga, Colombia.
What will you be working on during the off-season?
There are a couple of things I still need to polish in my swing. When one sees my swing, they see a flawless swing with no imperfections, but trust me, there are, especially when I get loose because of negative thoughts and doubts. Building a more connected swing is my top priority. I will work on shortening the swing. I lost confidence with my driver two years ago, and it is taking me that long to put it in play during competitive rounds. On the driving range, it is perfect, but once they announce my name on the first tee, things get very shaky for me.
What are your plans and ambitions for 2017?
I have high expectations for myself for 2017 that I need to tone down. It’s not good to pressurise yourself that much, but I have been watching my improvements day in, day out, and I cannot wait to get out there and redeem myself. My biggest ambition is to conquer my driver again and make it my favourite club in the bag. I also want to become a top five best putter on tour. With those two things, I will manage to do quite alright on tour next year!