EVIAN-LES-BAINS, FRANCE | On a sweltering Wednesday afternoon near the shores of Lake Geneva, Evian Championship founder Franck Riboud launched a fiery attack on the attitudes about golf in his home country.
The remarks came one day before the first shot of the year’s final women’s major championship and two weeks before Paris hosts the game’s biggest event, the Ryder Cup, for the first time in history. And they echoed observations about the nation’s golf ethos that French pro Mike Lorenzo-Vera made in a June interview with The New York Times.
“I’m going to be very nasty with my country,” Riboud said at his annual news conference behind the fifth green at the Evian Resort Golf Club. “My country is not a golf country. Even if we have the Ryder Cup it’s not a golf country. We don’t have the culture. I don’t care. Evian is golf country.”
He pointed to the Evian Championship Juniors Cup – an international junior tournament that has featured competitors such as Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas during its 11-year existence – as an event that locals embraced.
“We also organized the (Arnold) Palmer Cup (in 2018),” Riboud said, unprompted. “They want to come back. They love and were totally surprised to discover this place.
“We send French players to the Las Vegas AJGA tournament because there are a lot of coaches there. Some of the French players, they don’t want to be Tiger Woods. They just want go to U.S. universities to play golf.
“So as you can see, we try to look at golf globally. This tournament and our sponsors basically are financing all of this.”
Riboud then pointed at a French journalist and asked, “Have you done an article on the Palmer Cup? No, nothing. Nothing. It’s your job. The Palmer Cup. You know what the Palmer Cup is? Ask … the American people.”
Then he said, “What will happen after the Ryder Cup? I don’t know. Nothing. What should happen? I think we need a project for the young French players so that we will have a champion within five years. We have to target that. OK, maybe within five to 10 years. We must have a very good French player. We need a champion.
“To do that, we need a plan. Golf is a statistic game. Look at what the Chinese are doing, the Swedish, the Italians. We need something. We are going to become a real golf country, because we can. We really can. Some of the people are very good. It’s just a question of management. Nothing else.”
When asked if the Ryder Cup was not a part of that plan, Riboud said, “Personally, I think the Ryder Cup is not building or helping us reach that objective. Can you tell me which sport really developed because of an event? None. It’s a champion who pushes the young people and develops the sport. That’s what Yannick Noah, Roland Garros and Jean-Claude Killy did. We need a champion. The best ambassador of golf in France is going to be the next French champion at the same level of Tiger Woods.
“Perhaps it’s crazy,” he continued, “but that’s the thing we have to dream about it.”