As the Georgia women’s golf team hosts NCAA regionals this week, Caterina Don is wrapping up her second to last season as a UGA golfer. Prior to coming to UGA, Don lived in Italy and played for the Italian national team. She won team gold at the 2018 world junior girls championship. Here, she discusses the other sport she loved growing up and some of the difficulties of being so far from home.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Q: What kickstarted your passion for golf, or who?
A: I was always a sports person. I think I learned how to ski before I learned how to walk … I was around 6 or 7 and it was summer and you know, you can’t really ski during the summer, unless you go train, which I did until I was 14. My aunt and uncle played golf, and my brother used to motorbike. So me and my mom were just tired of going with them. So we just went and golfed a couple of times. I liked the environment. From then on, I took it sort of like a hobby. And then I was 14 and my mom and dad were like, ‘You have to make a decision at some point because you can’t keep spending the summer trying to go skiing for two weeks and then you’re missing on training for golf, and in the winter you also want to train for golf.’ So I had to make a choice, and I chose golf.
Q: When it comes to playing a sport into college and into your early 20s, people can sometimes lose sight of the love for their sport. How have you maintained your love for golf?
A: It takes sacrifices for sure. It’s not easy. You see people that have free time, go out, have fun. We have fun in a different way. But we wake up at 6 a.m. almost every day, and it’s a grind. Just being part of a team is what makes it more fun. I think it’s harder to retain the love for a sport if you’re not performing well. But when you have a team that’s around you and you can have fun with the team, and you’re part of such a big community as the athletic community at Georgia, it’s so nice. And we don’t have college sports in Italy, so it was either, come to college in the U.S. or decide what you want to do, and I was not ready to make a choice. And even now, I don’t really know if I’m ready, and I think it’s because I still love the game and I still love to play.
Q: What are some things that you’ve had to adapt to when coming here to play collegiate golf at Georgia?
A: I was used to seeing my swing coach twice a week, and now I go six months without seeing him. It takes adjustments. Sometimes you realize that maybe the coach that you had was not what you needed right now, and it also gets really stressful in college because you have to be performing every week, and you’re competing at such a high level. Back in Europe, the level is super high. But you go back from a tournament, and you see your swing coach, you see your family, and you go back to high school. Here I’m so far away from my family ... I had a flat tire yesterday, and if I were at home, I would be like, “Hey Dad, what do I do,” and I called him, and I was like: “What do you want me to do? I’m like across the ocean.”
Q: How have your coaches and teammates helped make that transition smoother for you?
A: (During COVID) having so many teammates from different parts of the world kind of made us go through it together … I didn’t go home one Christmas because of COVID. I stayed here with one of my teammates. So that was really nice to have someone here that could help you. But I think being so far from home and not being the only one that’s going through being so far from home is helpful.
Q: With all of what you have accomplished as both being here and before you came here. What do you try to do to inspire and motivate your teammates on a day to day basis?
A: I think this year we have six seniors, including me, on the team. So it’s hard to be a very vocal leader because I feel like everyone is there, and they know what to do. They know what is required, and I think you just need to lead by example and by supporting each other. You also need to lead by showing your emotions and showing that you’re happy, but you’re also vulnerable and being vulnerable with one another is what makes you grow as a better team.
Q: What are your goals for NCAAs this year?
A: I definitely go in hoping that our team is going to have a good strong performance. I think I’m not going to have high expectations because I’ve done that before. And it’s sort of like if you go for your expectation you did what you were supposed to and if you don’t succeed then it’s awful. So I just think, thinking more about the process of each shot and just analyzing the results at the end and not as the tournament is going and making it to nationals. And last year, we made a run for the title and it was really fun. So I think that’s one of our goals.
Q: In February, you were one of two female athletes out of I think it was 250 at this university, who were chosen to be a part of the panel celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IX. How have the female athletes who have come before you both at this university and nationally, how do they inspire you in that aspect?
A: Since growing up, Lindsey Vonn has always been my idol. Because I was a skier so she’s always been the biggest idol I had, and she’s always fought so hard. I think our sport still has a lot of steps to make. And skiing is a really good sport for women too, but golf and other sports still have a lot to make. I got to meet a lot of people that came before me on this team, and it was honestly very inspiring. It made me realize that what we have right now we have to be extremely grateful. They didn’t have a locker room. …And they really just were happy with what they had. Sometimes we complain that we don’t like one shirt that we’re going to wear that day, and they were just having to do laundry every night. So they really inspired me. I don’t know if you know Beans Kelly. She was a coach here, player, played for Liz (Murphey) and then was a coach, and I got to meet her a bunch of times, and she reminded me that like it’s overall supposed to be fun. It’s not your job yet. You’re here, yes, you’re supposed to train and work hard, but at the end it’s supposed to be fun. And I think that meant a lot to me ... So it’s really inspiring when people come back and teach the younger generation, and I hope that one day I’ll come back and there will be something even better here.
Olivia Bontempo is a student in the Sports Media Certificate program at the University of Georgia’s Carmical Sports Media Institute.