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Thomas Levet Looks Back At Muirfield

GULLANE, SCOTLAND | On Thursday morning, two French players were involved at Muirfield. Both qualified for the weekend, though one of them happened to be working for a television network. Grégory Bourdy’s competitive survival represented a somewhat subdued development for a European nation that had comfortably outstripped its continental neighbours by delivering a major champion as far back as 1907. That was when Arnaud Massy won the Open at Royal Liverpool where, five years previously, he had gained the distinction of finishing 10th while becoming the championship’s first competitor from outside Britain and Ireland. In fact, as an aspiring professional, Massy had the foresight to leave his native Biarritz and travel to the Muirfield area in 1898 to learn his craft from seasoned Scots. “I have to admit that his achievements did nothing to inspire me or any of the modern French players,” admitted Thomas Levet, who revived a French empathy with the area by getting into the playoff won by Ernie Els at Muirfield, more than a century later. “When I came on tour in 1989, it was 82 years since Massy had won the Open. That’s a very long time, no? And there were no videos of him to learn from,” he added with a grin. Levet went on: “The French player I took inspiration from was Jean Garaïalde (who made a record 25 appearances for France in the World Cup). He was my golfing hero growing up, even though he never won a major. I happen to think it is possible that a lot of French players could equal Massy’s achievement. If Jean (Van de Velde) and myself could get within a shot of it, then we have 30 players who could win a major. The thing is to be lucky on that week.” Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington, the other playoff losers from 2002, didn’t return. No doubt they have their own personal regrets about the near miss of 11 years ago, but there was only a sense of achievement for Levet on his return to Muirfield, albeit as a television pundit. His first action, in fact, was to make a sentimental trip in a golf cart out to the long 17th. “I wanted to see again the spot from where I sank the eagle putt which got me a final-round 66 and into the play-off in 2002,” he said. “I just wanted to look at it again, like an old friend. I remembered it as a putt of about 13 to 15 metres but somehow, it didn’t look the same. In fact the entire green looked different. Then I realized that when you’re playing really well, the greens open up to you. Like you’re aiming at the biggest targets in the world.” He went on: “That was a strange week. My long game was very sharp. I don’t remember missing too many iron shots. And I don’t remember missing too many putts. Then there was the way I hung on through that big storm we had on the Saturday to make a good score of 74. And, of course, Sunday was special. But I’m not trying to remake history.” There were two other French challengers in 2002, Marc Farry and Raphaël Jacquelin. Jean Van de Velde, the hapless figure from Carnoustie ’99, was a notable absentee. “Sure, I sympathised with Jean for having got the unluckiest bounce in the world, but I never attempted to compare our Open experiences,” said Levet. “You don’t want to bring back bad memories for a player. And anyway, our situations were really very different. In my case, I closed the gap on the leader to make the play-off, whereas in his position he allowed the guys behind him to catch up. “If every player could knock a shot off his score here and there, we’d all finish level after 72 holes. So I’ve let it go. You must acknowledge that other guys make mistakes as well, and Ernie was a great winner. And it’s good to have a TV job this week.


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