No coffee with Thomas Pieters this week, but a date with another rising talent. Exclusively to our Wampions, we speak to Manon De Roey who is having the best year of her career to date. She is 28 years old and plays on the Ladies European Tour. She jumped 200 spots on the world ranking in one year. With two more tournaments to go, she’s currently 25th in the European Order of Merit.
We meet Manon at Le Pain Quotidien near the city theater and the Vogelmarkt in Antwerp. For a lady who hits the ball 300 yards, she’s remarkably short. “Efficiency is more important than size.”, she smiles. And we’re off to a conversation about her successful 2019 year.
MANON: The year before wasn’t bad either. I’ve had my tour card for two years now, and I’m pretty safe for next year too. I compete against the best in Europe and this is where I belong. But I feel I can do better. The season is not over yet with events in Spain and India approaching soon.
WAMP: How important are those two tournaments for you?
MANON: It’s always nice to be climbing the rankings, as this gets you invites to more tournaments, which is necessary because there aren’t that many for women in Europe. And I want to play majors. A win in India or Spain would allow me to play the British Open. Last year I missed it by one shot. (Sighs)
WAMP: You’ve always been a promising player. As a junior, you won everything there was to win in Belgium. Why did it take you so long to pass those 200 ladies in the World Ranking?
MANON: (without hesitation): Michel Vanmeerbeek. My coach. Two years ago, I started working with him and heaven opened its doors.
WAMP: Vanmeerbeek, the coach who got Nicolas Colsaerts into the Ryder Cup. Can you describe what his contribution has been so far?
MANON: Intuitive play. I was approaching the game way too technical. Correcting parts of my swing. A bit here, a bit there. Michel let me rediscover my gut feeling. And to stick to one swing.
WAMP: Can we know which one? Or is this a secret?
MANON: No, it is very simple: the first thing he said was that my back swing was too slow. To take-away the club faster, which builds energy. The second thing was: focus on the take-away, not inwards, not outwards, but straight backwards.
WAMP: And suddenly everything clicked?
MANON: (laugh). I played a not so important tournament in Zaragoza after my first training session with Michel, and I thought, let’s just try it out. Let’s just do what he says. I played 7 under in round one and finished in 3rd place.
WAMP: A miracle!
MANON: Well, it gave me a grip on things. Before, when things weren’t going well, I had nothing to fall back on. Now I just think of what Michel said and my confidence returns, together with an improved ball contact.
WAMP: Is it that simple?
MANON: The most important is that you’re open to it and that you have the courage to stick to the thought process. But Michel does a lot more. He is not a regular teaching pro. He inspires. He is very passionate and motivated, and that is just wonderful. He shows you how to absorb a course. The importance of becoming one with the course during you practice round. And how to get to and stay in your bubble.
MANON: Good golfers play in a bubble. Michel gives them points. Tiger Woods gets a 10 out of 10. To Tiger, the outside world disappears when he is hitting the ball. Every time. Every single shot. Other golfers get a 5 out of 10 because they are only ‘in the zone’ for half of their shots. Michel saw me play for the first time in Cleydael, Antwerp, during the Letas. The first nine I played incredible, the second nine not so much. “You were no longer in your bubble”, Michel said. And he was right. I was more concerned about the people around me than with my own game.
WAMP: Which makes you cool to follow around, for the fans.
MANON: Yes, but it’s hard. You want to give the spectators something. A wave, a smile. Showing that you’re grateful for their presence. But in the meantime, it deteriorates your game. On the other hand, when you’re concentrated and the world around you stop to exist, you play well, but then you’re considered an assh *le. Difficult balance.
WAMP: Yet we sometimes see Rory McIlroy stop to sign a kid’s hat?
MANON: Yep. Tiger and Rory have mastered it. They can get in and out of their bubble within a second. It is very rare and very difficult. Certainly, for someone like me. I love absorbing the atmosphere and people around me. I love interacting with them. That is why Spain is always such fun. We play Aloha in Marbella with lots of Belgian spectators, and most of them golfers. Lovely.
WAMP: It’s a difficult balance for them too: Encourage the players, but don’t disturb.
MANON: People who play golf, often understand. They know when you’re in your zone and they leave you alone. After all, they want you to win.
WAMP: Okay, Manon. We’ll spread the message. Those who are in Marbella, go see Manon play Aloha on 28 November. And those who haven’t made any plans, flights are cheap this time of the year. Let’s all go there and let the force be with you.
MANON: I’ll do my best. And if it doesn’t work out, I will gladly welcome you the week after in Kenya. (lol)