GM's Elliott Heath recently travelled to Vilamoura where he played 36 holes with two different professionals, it was a game-changing day for him

Blog: Playing With The Pros In Portugal 

On a recent trip to the beautiful Vilamoura in Portugal, I got the chance to play 36 holes with one current Tour Pro and one former Tour Pro.

As part of the press trip with Dom Pedro Golf, I was invited to stay one more day so I could play all of their courses, which are: The Old, Victoria (which has hosted the Portugal Masters for 10 years), Pinhal, Millenium and Laguna.

With just Laguna and Pinhal to tick off, I got up early and headed to Laguna for an early tee time with teaching pro Hugo Santos.

Vilamoura’s stunning Old Course:

I was excited about testing my game against his, I was in form having played three rounds in two days and was half-expecting to get some much-needed coaching during our round.

I arrived at Laguna and there was Hugo, who proceeded to tell me that he’s got a bad back so instead of playing with him I’d be playing with Joao, who is apparently a much better golfer than him.

Related: Dan Walker: Playing with the pros

I thought he was being modest. Turns out he wasn’t.

I was paired with Joao Carlota, who I quickly discovered is a Challenge Tour pro from Vilamoura who was practicing back at home on a week off.

In the buggy I got, and off to the first tee we drove, where I began to feel some pressure.

Playing with the pros in portugal

Laguna’s design makes for great fun, just avoid the water!

Joao ripped his M2 down the right side of the par-5 1st before I sliced one out miles right, which ended up behind a tree.

I chipped out and in the end made an eight-footer for bogey.

Joao hit a 3 iron onto the fringe and made an easy birdie – I was impressed, but not wowed, yet.

Related: Portugal named World’s Best Golf Destination

I made a half-decent par at the short second and then sliced a three wood into a lake down the 3rd before Joao told me to slow down my rhythm.

“When you’re on the course, don’t think about your swing, think about rhythm”, he said.

Playing with the pros in portugal

Joao finding the perfect position

He emphasised that if you swing with a good rhythm your bad shots won’t be as bad as those when you lose your rhythm.

To this day, that has been one of the best tips I have ever received.

I slowed my swing down, kept a nice rhythm and eventually played a decent round, albeit I couldn’t hole a putt on Laguna’s tricky, sloping greens.

Joao birdied the 3rd and proceeded to play the front nine in four-under. It was extremely impressive.

On one of the holes I hit a lovely drive which ended up 63 yards short of his, although he did tell me he’s long compared to Tour average so that made me feel slightly better. His ball flight was a perfect low-spin draw that seemed to stay in the air forever.

His English was fantastic, which he said he developed whilst in College in Ireland, where he became good friends with Shane Lowry.

He told me how he followed Lowry all week at the 2009 Irish Open including all four playoff holes in the pouring rain.

Lowry beat Robert Rock to win his national Open as an amateur, stuff dreams are made off.

They then went off to Dublin where they had hired a nightclub, with a guest-list including none other than Rory McIlroy!

The Victoria Course:

Anyway, after hitting the par-5 10th fairway Joao had a five iron in hand some 190 metres away from the flag, which was perched beyond a bunker, uphill and into wind.

Having spent many a day in my younger years traipsing around Wentworth and Queenwood, my caddie instincts had kicked in.

“Joao, remember what you told me about rhythm…it’s uphill, into wind, I think you need a smooth 4 iron here”, I said.

He listened, took out the four iron. He slightly pulled it but was pin high, and then rolled in a tramliner for eagle. He was six under through 10 holes! I was taking no credit.

How Joao made eagle up 10:

Joao has played in numerous European Tour events, mainly his local ones like the Portugal Masters, Open de Portugal and Madeira Open, but what astounded me was his complete lack of results.

He’s made very few cuts, which will no-doubt change soon, but did say that he missed the Portugal Masters cut by one when playing well thanks to a terrible couple of days on the greens.

It really does go to show just how high the standard is out on Tour.

Playing with the pros in portugal

Without doubt, the best round I had ever had the pleasure to see first-hand

Joao eventually came in with a six under par 66, which, having thought about it, is the first time I’d ever played with someone who’d shot under par!

We shook hands and vowed to stay in touch, before I went off to Pinhal to play with former European Tour pro Jose Dias, who has helped Joao out with his short game down the years. He told me Jose is a short-game wizard. He was.

I arrived at the beautiful-looking Pinhal and met Jose, who, like Joao, can speak perfect English, thanks to his time living in Scotland and owning bars in Portugal.

Playing with the pros in portugal

The tricky 2nd hole at Pinhal

Jose, at the age of 58, has been around the block, playing in his local European Tour events down the years and Senior events in more recent times.

He now teaches at the Victoria, and taught me the art of course management during our round.

“If this was a tournament”, he kept saying.

Playing with the pros in portugal

The man has a superb golfing brain, knowing how to stay out of danger, constantly telling me what he’d do in a tournament and which was the correct side of the green to miss on.

With my new silky rhythm, thanks to Joao, I birdied the first and parred the second, which was stroke index one playing into wind – I was two ahead of Jose already!

He caught me up and beat me by three or four strokes in the end.

I had hit the ball well, scrambling a seven over off the back tees, but witnessed a true short game masterclass from my playing partner.

Playing with the pros in portugal

These were Jose’s irons…

After all, this was a man who’d competed against the likes of Geoff Ogilivy, Angel Cabrera and Roger Chapman down the years.

And I was outdriving him! ‘Drive for show, chip and putt for dough’ comes to mind.

Literally every time he missed a green, he chipped it to within gimme range, it was beautiful to watch.

He kept using the words ‘bread and butter’ to describe these chips, which you can tell he has practiced thousands of times.

Playing with the pros in portugal

The dogleg 11th at Pinhal

My over-riding thoughts from the day were that I wanted to get better, and seeing and hearing how these boys practice and think really gives me motivation.

If you have any hope of improving at this game, you need to play with those of a higher standard to you just to see how they do it, because you might just learn a thing or two.