Dimitrios Papadatos knows how to find a good party, as thousands of his social media followers will note. But we discovered there is another side to ‘Dimi’.
Papadatos’ win at the 2017 Oates Victorian Open in February was his second on the PGA Tour of Australasia, adding to his unexpected victory at the 2014 New Zealand Open. The man known simply as Dimi is fast becoming one of Australian golf’s most exciting prospects and biggest characters.
Papadatos’ humorous, friendly, outgoing exterior hides a driven, hardworking golfer with a deep desire to be the best player he can be. As I found out during two days on the golf course with the 25-year-old, these two very different sides of Papadatos are not the only parts of his life that are in surprising contrast to one another. And despite his assurance that “a lot of people know most things about me,” there is far more than just an impressive golf game and quick wit to the rising star.
With the name Dimitrios Papadatos, it is unavoidable that his Greek heritage is part of his story. Particularly when the game of golf isn’t one that is typically associated with Greece. With only seven 18-hole golf courses listed in the country and one player on the world ranking – Adam Kritikos, whose career high is No.1536 – the game is still very much in its infancy in the ancient culture.
Papadatos is by no means the only successful Australian golfer of Greek descent, with Terry Pilkadaris and James Nitties both having played successfully on tours around the world. Papadatos though is fast becoming one of the most recognisable due to his two victories and distinctive name being easily remembered, although often mispronounced by golf fans.
While his heritage is often a discussion point and something he revels in and respects, it is hard to imagine Papadatos’ childhood on New South Wales’ Central Coast, where he still lives, was similar in many ways to what his father would have experienced growing up on the beautiful Greek island of Lefkada.
About an hour and a half north of Sydney, the Central Coast is renowned for its beautiful beaches and laid-back lifestyle. Like most kids from the area, Papadatos tried his hand at many sports as a child and was particularly keen on soccer, surf lifesaving and
body-boarding. But golf soon took. After first playing a round with his father, he progressively improved and became addicted to the game.
Originally getting his start at Toukley Golf Club, Papadatos then began playing and having success in Jack Newton Junior Golf events. Papadatos now hones his game at one of the newest courses in the region, Magenta Shores.
After the success of winning the New Zealand Open so early in his professional career, and with an enviable combination of long game power and delicate short game touch, one would have been forgiven thinking worldwide success and fortune would come quickly and easily for the then 22-year-old, but that has been far from the case. After numerous quiet years, the New South Welshman plied his trade on the European Tour and secondary Challenge Tour in 2016 and struggled badly with his game. In his worst stretch, Papadatos missed six straight cuts in Europe.
Acknowledging the tough year he had in 2016, he said after his recent success in Victoria: “I learned a lot last year and realised I had a lot of work to do.”
While the unsuccessful European season was tough on him mentally, Papadatos has learnt a great deal of lessons from the experience and knows his game is good enough to compete with the world’s best players.
“The level of golf is a very high standard in Europe,” Papadatos said. “Good over there, is not good enough.”
Papadatos’ frank assessment and realistic opinions of his own game last year won him praise from fellow professionals and fans alike, with the likeable player fully accepting and acknowledging how tough a time he had in 2016 but sticking it out and taking something from it - not simply packing up and heading home.
“As hard as it was and how much I hated it over there and had a miserable time, I think it has paid off for me to know what to expect when I go back over there next time,” he said.
Dimi has taken a new approach to his game in 2017, which paid off almost instantly. A switch from long-time coach Gary Barter to 2016 PGA Teaching Professional of the Year, Richard Woodhouse, has freshened up his game and his outlook.
Woodhouse’s different approach and simplifying of his game has given him a new perspective, with the success at the Vic Open coming shortly after their early sessions. A good showing also at the New Zealand Open in March followed further time spent together at Woodhouse’s Gold Coast-based teaching facility.
Having known Papadatos for a long time before coaching him, Woodhouse credits the rising star’s work ethic and dedication as being the driving force behind the duo’s instant success as teacher and student.
“He is one of the hardest workers I know,” Woodhouse said. “Anything you give him to do he puts the effort in ten times over.”
One of the sources of this work ethic can undoubtedly be attributed to the mentor-protégé relationship Papadatos had with PGA Tour winner Andre Stolz as an amateur and young professional. Woodhouse knew he was taking on someone he calls “a wonderful player” and is primarily working to add structure to Papadatos’ practice and increase his understanding of his golf game – both crucial to a player spending so much time away from home as Papadatos did in 2016.
Papadatos’ dedication to his craft is no doubt a leading factor in his success, it is also not what you would necessarily expect when exposed to his everyday persona away from the golf course.
He is one of the more popular players on the Australian tour. Always keen for a chat, a joke and an Instagram update, the young player’s sense of humour has gone a long way to helping him overcome tough stretches on the course.
While enjoying himself is crucial to his make-up and knowing that “there’s more to life than just golf,” Papadatos is very clear where his focus lies.
“You’ve still got to have fun and you know golf’s obviously my number one priority and it’s what I want to do with my life and be as best as I can.”
This attitude of separating his enjoyment of life and his job of playing golf has improved in recent years.
“Sometimes I do a little bit too much (socialising),” Papadatos confessed with a smile. “But I’ve tidied that up a little bit now.”
However, the larrikin in Papadatos couldn’t resist when asked how being young and good looking treated him in Europe.
“It didn’t hurt on the weekends I was missing all those cuts (in Europe) I was sort of making some new friends,” he said with tongue firmly in-cheek.
The change to his approach in 2017 has him working with a mental coach as he looks to minimise the variance from his best and worst golf. He has set goals for the year, something he hasn’t typically done, and chiefly among them was to regain full playing status in Australia. He ticked that off the list by mid- February.
Not only was the win at Thirteenth Beach a return to form for Papadatos, the final round proved a test of his new mental approach to the game under tournament pressure. Cold topping his tee shot off the 1st hole in the final round, after allowing a drift in concentration, Papadatos shared a laugh with his caddy about the embarrassing moment and then regrouped to shoot a final round 71 and win the tournament by two strokes.
With his playing future in Australia secured for another three years, Papadatos is aiming to return to Europe this year and play in as many events he can get starts in across the main tour and secondary Challenge tour.
A mix of pre-qualifying and hopefully some invitations means Papadatos will be heading off with nothing guaranteed, but wiser than he was for previous excursions.
“Everything needs a bit of tidying up,” he said in evaluating his own game relative to being successful in Europe. “My ball striking is a bit of a weakness, so if I can work on that, I think for those tougher courses, it’s going to make a lot of difference.”
When talking to Papadatos, one gets the feeling that Dimi Papadatos the talented, hardworking player and Dimi Papadatos the personable, joking, young man are two markedly different entities and perhaps this separation of golf and life is one of the keys to his success.