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History of Golf in France. Testing Ryder Cup Course With French Golf Star Thomas Levet. Martin Kaymer Gives Tips for the Chip Shot. French Amateurs Prepare to Dominate Europe.
Aired August 4, 2011 - 05:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SHANE O'DONOGHUE, HOST: France, famous for fine wine, food, culture, romance. But not really golf. But that is about to change.
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UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The honor goes to France.
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O'DONOGHUE: Seven years from now, France will host the biggest tournament in world golf. This in a country with only 400,000 registered players. A country which claimed its only major title over 100 years ago.
So, can the Ryder Cup inspire and transform golf in France? Welcome to LIVING GOLF.
On this month's LIVING GOLF, as France gets set to create a Ryder Cup legacy, we look, too, at the history of the game, here.
Just a stone's throw from the stunning Palace of Versailles, Le Golf Nationale, we test the Ryder Cup course with one of the stars of French golf.
And we join the French amateurs as they prepare to dominate Europe.
Just over a century ago here in Biarritz, a young sardine fisherman by the name of Arnaud Massy left this port to start a caddying job for his local club, Le Phar. It was a move that would transform his life.
O'DONOGUE (voice-over): A popular figure at the club, he became known for his unusual swing, dubbed the Massy Pigtail.
ELIANE BIDEGAIN, DIRECTOR, AGREF (through translator): At the top of his swing, he would make a loop. It was his trademark. It was because he learned the game left-handed, but decided to restart from scratch.
Legend had it that no left-handed player had ever won a competition, so he changed everything, even said himself that he broke all his left- handed clubs to learn from scratch as a right-handed golfer.
O'DONOGHUE: Massy met and befriended many of the touring professionals of the day, and it became customary for him and his peers to make the long trip to Great Britain to compete in the Open Championship.
GAETAN MOURGUE-D'ALGUE, THREE-TIME FRENCH AMATEUR CHAMPION: Every year, you had about, maybe, five to ten French pros, French best pros, taking the train, before the first World War, taking the train from Bayonne, from Biarritz, Bayonne, to Calle. Then the boat, then train to Scotland.
And of course, they were so worried of not having enough food, so they brought with them -- enough food and wine -- so they brought with them big ham, big bottle of -- big, not a bottle of wine, barik, you know? So, it was a feast, and they left France for maybe three weeks.
O'DONOGHUE: In 1907, in wet and windy conditions, Massy became the first continental European to win the Open Championship at Royal Liverpool golf club, Hoylake.
BIDEGAIN (through translator): When he won the British Open in 1907, his wife was giving birth. He had a daughter and decided to name her Margaret Hoylake in order to celebrate the golf course on which he had won the British Open.
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): However, Massy's early success has not translated into the future generations of the game, and today French golf is perhaps more widely associated with dramatic near misses than major wins.
PASCAL GRIZOT, CHAIRMAN, FRENCH RYDER CUP BID: Jean Van de Velde finished second. Gregory Havret also finished second. Thomas Levet finished second. Major tournaments, it's like the top of the cake, you know? The cherry on the cake, and that's what we want.
THOMAS LEVET, RUNNER-UP, 2002 OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP: France is a very young legend in golf, and to have three guys that almost did it, almost did it, is -- the problem is the "almost" for me.
And it's missing into -- in French golf, it's missing to have a leader, a really pack leader that is going to bring the guys to another level, which Jean Van de Velde and myself, we've shown the French guys that we could win on tour, we could reach the Ryder Cup level, but we haven't won a major yet.
So, the next step for the next generation, the guys like Victor Dubuisson, Romain Wattel, is to go to that level.
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): There are currently ten fully exempt French players on the European tour, but only two in the world's top 100. Progress at the top has been slow.
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): Do you have any explanation as to why there has not been a French major winner since Arnaud Massy --
RAPHAEL JACQUELIN, WORLD NUMBER 73: Yes.
O'DONOGHUE: -- one hundred years ago.
JACQUELIN: It's -- I don't know. I think it's simply as that the golf in France is not part of the culture.
GRIZOT: Golf was not popular in France because we have this image of people -- golf for only rich people. It's not the reality, it's not the reality in the world. The problem is in France, it's not in golf.
KRISTEL MOURGUE-D'ALGUE, RUNNER-UP, 2005 BRITISH LADIES AMATEUR CHAMPIONSHIP: I think that we have had that idea that it was too expensive, it was just for the elite. That was true maybe a century ago. But nowadays, the thing is, the green fees in France are probably the cheapest in Europe. Nobody knows that.
GREGORY HARVET, RUNNER-UP, 2010 US OPEN: I think golf in France needs such a competition as Ryder Cup or such a champion as a major champion for golf to improve as a popular game, like Yannick Noah did in 83 for -- at Rolland Garros that helped a lot tennis to become such a popular game in France, now.
We are still behind tennis, but I think evolution is quite comparable, as you can say. And I think 2018 will be the perfect timing for people in France to interest more into golf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The honor goes to France.
O'DONOGHUE: France were awarded the 2018 Ryder Cup amid fierce competition. However, it was their promise to deliver a golfing legacy with the development of 100 mini urban golf courses that had to swing the bid firmly in their favor.
GEORGE O'GRADY, CEO, EUROPEAN TOUR: Hopefully, in that time, with the impetus they've had to grow the game and develop the coaching academies, a really good French player will come through.
There's a lot of cracking players. What I say, really, I mean like a Manassero, like a Rory McIlroy, you could say, or Martin Kaymer. Go on to win major championships and really give an icon figure -- figurehead in professional golf in France.
O'DONOGHUE: Pascal Grizot thinks recent success on the French amateur scene proves that cultivating young talent is the way of the future.
GRIZOT: We have this program for the amateurs, since six years, and with the amateurs, we have never had so good results.
We have Victor Dubuisson and Benjamin Hebert, who won the European championship. Romain Wattel won the challenge tour last year. Last year, we won the Eyes on the World Trophy.
O'DONOGHUE: With amateur success and the Ryder Cup now on the horizon, France are pushing for their next major win.
ROMAIN WATTE, TURNED PREOFESSIONAL IN NOVEMBER, 2010: I would like, as well, to win a major, as every player on the European tour and being in the top ten in the world ranking. That's one of my goals.
GAETAN MOURGUE-D'ALGUE: The game has changed. Now it's completely different. It's their job, you know? It's their job, their future job. So, it's different mentality.
O'DONOGHUE: But a similar goal remains, to emulate the heroics of that young sardine fisherman 104 years ago.
O'DONOGHUE: Still to come on LIVING GOLF, we take on French legend Thomas Levet on the future Ryder Cup course.
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LEVET: If I beat you, you buy me lunch. If I beat you, you dive in the pool and swim across, OK?
O'DONOGHUE: OK, all right.
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O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF. Le Golf Nationale, 30 kilometers from the Arc de Triomphe, and home to the French Open for nearly 20 years. A favorite among tour players, it proved an easy chose for the Ryder Cup Selection Committee.
But what is it about a course like this that makes it such an ideal match play venue?
MATTEO MANASSSERO, WORLD NUMBER 30: We play 14 hours, and then you come to the 15 and everything can happen.
DARREN CLARKE, 2011 BRITISH OPEN CHAMPION: You're going to be a little bit nervous, this place is going to find you right coming down the stretch.
BUBBA WATSON, WORLD NUMBER 14: For me, driver's not very good around here. You need to get it in play, you need to hit the mires off the tees.
EDOARDO MOLINARI, TWO-TIME EUROPEAN TOUR WINNER: It's got one of the best finishes of the year. The last six holes are very difficult.
HARVET: This finish is amazing, 18 especially is a great finishing -- great finishing for the Ryder Cup.
DAVID PROBYN, TOURNAMENT DIRECTOR, EUROPEAN TOUR: Sixty thousand people around watching now. It's going to be electric.
O'DONOGHUE: OK, enough talk, it's time to find out for ourselves what exactly the challenges here at Le Golf Nationale, and who better to tell us than a local boy who also happens to be a former Ryder Cup player. And that is, of course, Thomas Levet. Great to see you, Thomas.
LEVET: Hey, how are you?
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Forty-two-year-old Thomas Levet is one of France's best-loved golfers. With six European tour wins to his name, he was part of the winning Ryder Cup team in 2004.
LEVET: It's narrow, it's long, it has water, bunkers, rough. What else do you need? If I beat you, you buy me lunch. If I beat you, you dive in the pool and swim across, OK?
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): OK, all right.
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): The 18th hole at Le Golf Nationale, guaranteeing a dramatic finish with deep bunkers to the right and water circling the green. Not for the faint-hearted.
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): So, what's it like being a local boy from around here, seeing the Ryder Cup finally come here?
LEVET: It's very, very -- crazy. After the announcement, the first time I played here, I came and I looked at the golf course, and I was thinking, wow. All this. All this is going to be a Ryder Cup here. It's, like, crazy. I see the stands, I see the fans, I see the people yelling at the players, encouraging them.
It just -- it gives me -- you know? A little --
O'DONOGHUE: Goose bumps.
LEVET: Goose bumps.
O'DONOGHUE: This area, 20 years ago, what was it?
LEVET: Here? Was nothing. Was just a field. Was a field like this, you know? That's what this used to be. The Golf Nationale was all this, that was nothing at all. Flat like a pancake, and it was -- it's all been built.
Because in France, when you have a construction site, you build a house, you build a hotel, all the dig out. You need to put it somewhere, and normally, they pay for it. They pay to drop their junk into somewhere.
And here, the Golf Nationale had a great idea, they just said, look. We'll take all your stuff for free. And all those mounds have been brought up here. It used to be flat, flat, flat, like a tee, like a -- really, like a pancake.
O'DONOGHUE: So, everyone in France and certainly in Paris has contributed in some way --
O'DONOGHUE: -- to creating the course.
LEVET: You have a little bit of your house here, probably.
O'DONOGHUE: Do you want to play in 2018?
LEVET: I will sure try. I will sure try. I'll be 50 that year, but -- you know, I think the oldest player to ever play the Ryder Cup was just 50, so I've got a little chance, but maybe one percent.
LEVET: Maybe, if they ask me to do it. I would love to be captaining that team and put the French public into it. Because when you see how mad they are for the Davis Cup, or how mad they are for the football, I think we're ready for action here.
What they say here about the Golf Nationale is that between 17 and 18, you have two very long par fours, and the wind -- the dominant wind will be downwind on one of them. So, it's just going to happen that you're going to make an easy four on one of them and a really tough one on the second one.
Olivier (ph)? Como estas?
Good shot there. Oh, my. Problem for me. Nice.
O'DONOGHUE: There in neck two. Game on.
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Thomas is probably best known for that dramatic four-way playoff for the 2002 Open Championship at Muirfield, where he came within one shot of winning a major.
Nearly ten years on, I wondered if this near miss is still a source of regret for the popular Frenchman.
LEVET: My recollection is that, absolutely incredible atmosphere. When I made that putt for eagle and to go back tie for the lead on 17 and have a chance to win the Open, I was living a dream.
I was living a dream of a little kid that I was that was 7, 10 years old, playing with his friends on the putting green and say, "I've got this putt to win the British Open." I pretended that, when I was a kid, thousands of time.
And that -- when it was the Masters time, how, let's make the putt to win the Masters. When it was the British Open time, let's make the putt to win the British Open.
So, in my career as a kid, I won thousands of majors. But the luck I had is to have the opportunity once in my career to have that putt to win the British Open. It's something crazy. I'm one of the lucky ones to have that happen to him.
We have played so far, so game on, eh?
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): Yes.
LEVET: But watch out. That green is -- looks small from over there, but when you see how far -- when you come from on the green, it's quite a big green, actually. You know? It's quite deep on the left side, but it's really deceptive from the fairway.
O'DONOGHUE: Yes, OK. Lots to play for. Lunch.
O'DONOGHUE: The best of luck, but not too much luck.
LEVET: OK. I hope I win.
LEVET: Come on! Come on!
LEVET: Oh, whoa, whoa, whoa!
This is for the win.
LEVET: Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes! Almost, almost!
O'DONOGHUE: Well, it's a pleasure playing with you, Thomas.
LEVET: Thanks a lot, Shane. Thanks a lot.
O'DONOGHUE: And we certainly hope to see you in 2018, either as captain or on the team itself.
LEVET: You will come into tee 2018? We'll see you here anyway. I'll be helping the team one way or the other. I'll be, maybe, a TV presenter or I'll try to be on the team. It's really one of my goals, as well. But I'll be helping the team anyway.
O'DONOGHUE: Thomas Levet, a local legend.
O'DONOGHUE: After the break, Martin Kaymer shows us how to perfect the art of the chip shot.
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MARTIN KAYMER, WORLD NUMBER THREE: It's so important that you keep your legs still, because you don't need your legs for a chip shot.
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O'DONOGHUE: And we drop in on an elite crop of French amateurs.
O'DONOGHUE: Welcome back to LIVING GOLF. Now, getting up and down requires a lot of practice.
Well, there's definitely room for improvement, but a few tips from one of the best players in the world can really help us all.
O'DONOGHUE: For us amateurs, well, this is the tricky part of the game.
KAYMER: To get a little bit more height, open the club face a little bit. And then, I'm just focusing on the contact of the golf ball. I kind of, like, nip it from the ground.
O'DONOGHUE: Talk to us about the actual shot. This is going to be kind of a lob shot in some ways, but you want it to roll out.
KAYMER: So, I play like a half shot flop shot, if you want to say so. So, my alignment of the feet is a little bit left, open the club face a little bit. The club face always aims towards the target. And then, I'm just trying to focus to nip the ball off the ground, to hit it clean.
You need to have different kind of golf shots. There's not one chip shot that you can use all the time. You need to have different kinds of options.
O'DONOGHUE: What happens to us guys a lot, you get a bit too anxious, you end up hitting -- hitting it way too fast. It goes about six inches in front of you.
KAYMER: I think a problem there is a lot of guys, they are not stable with their legs. They use their legs so much, so much leg action. And then, you have to adjust yourself, then, a little bit as well.
I think it's so important that you keep your legs still, because you don't need your legs.
That was good.
O'DONOGHUE: Now, I'm going to take you on on a bit of a challenge, because -- what distance is this? This is about 40 feet?
KAYMER: Forty feet, yes. You want to pitch it in front of that ridge, the checks on the ridge, and then release down to the flag. That's the plan. That's the perfect plan.
O'DONOGHUE: That sounds easy.
OK, I'm going to take you on. So, nearest the pin, I'll ask the other to buy lunch.
KAYMER: Lunch? OK. I can eat a lot, though.
O'DONOGHUE: All right, OK.
KAYMER: But what I said, I'm putting the ball a little bit towards my right foot in order to hit the ball first, and then the ground.
Well, that will be a challenge for you, now.
O'DONOGHUE: Oh! Why do I -- why do I set myself these challenges?
KAYMER: You try to -- try to keep your hands a little bit in front of the ball. Try to hit the ball first, then the ground, and try to nip it off the ground.
O'DONOGHUE: Come on, lunch!
KAYMER: There you go. Not bad.
O'DONOGHUE: You don't want a big lunch, now, do you, surely?
KAYMER: I'm hungry.
O'DONOGHUE: Are you?
O'DONOGHUE: A deal is a deal.
O'DONOGHUE: Now, in the last five years, the French amateur game has undergone something of a transformation. Last year, France won the Eisenhower Trophy for the first ever time, becoming amateur world champions.
So, what's been shaping this success? We join the team at Racing Club de Paris to find out.
RENAUD GRIS, HEAD COACH, MEN'S NATIONAL AMATEUR TEAM: We are here because the last moments before the European championships, we tried the combination for the four sons and to make some pressure on the players and to see the level of their game.
O'DONOGHUE: Sebastien, I'm going to caddy for you.
SEBASTIEN GROS, FRENCH NATIONAL AMATEUR TEAM: All right, thank you.
O'DONOGHUE: Let's find out a little bit more about you.
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Twenty-one-year-old Sebastien reached the semifinals of this year's British Amateur Championship.
GROS: Yes, a small kitchen weight, yes.
I'm going to try and turn pro at the end of the year with the Q School of the European Tour, just to present as an amateur.
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): So, hopefully now you can taste what it's like to be a professional golfer and get through Q School.
GROS: Yes. I think you have to -- to take experience from all your years of being an amateur, so you have to be quite a good player in your country, then your continent to be one of the best ones in the world.
When you're filming me, just making birdies. That's it.
O'DONOGHUE: Not bad, not bad.
Are there many players, now, from your training schemes going to America?
GROS: I think all the next years around 60 or 70 persons.
O'DONOGHUE: What does American college golf offer that you can't offer right now?
GROS: There's more confrontation, there's more people, there are more golfers, there are more players in the United States. So, all the weeks I can fight with all the best players in the world.
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Cyril is one of those honing his game in the States. He's currently studying in Texas. He says there's been a marked change recently in the psychology of French players.
CYRIL BOUNIOL, FRENCH NATIONAL AMATEUR TEAM: It started with during the year I won the British amateur like three or four years ago. And then I think that players started to believe that France could be a great golfing nation.
O'DONOGHUE (on camera): Clearly, things are changing, but it would be great to have a big champion, now --
O'DONOGHUE: -- to lead the way.
BOUNIOL: Yes, yes. But I think that's what we need is just a leader. When Spain had Ballesteros, and after that, Olazabal, and then after that, Garcia. And nations like that, they always bring a leader.
It's like, if your friend is winning, you're going to try to do the same thing, because you're like, "I practice with him. It's not that hard."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), plus one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), plus two.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), plus two.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE), plus three.
O'DONOGHUE: Shane O'Donoghue, five handicap. That's minus five, but this may not be one of the best moves I'll ever make, but I'm going to take these guys on. Ireland versus France. I'm going to play the team, let's go.
OK, guys. Five handicap.
Oh, there is one ball nearest the pin. I'm not sure who it is. I don't think it's you, Matthew.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's Julien.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
O'DONOGHUE: You're the winner.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you so much.
O'DONOGHUE (voice-over): Then it was off to Portugal for the rather more serious matter of the European Amateur Championships. And you can see how much it meant to your young Frenchmen when they went on to claim that prize, too.
They're now the European and world amateur champions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations France!
O'DONOGHUE: Surely France won't have to wait another 104 years until their next major title.
O'DONOGHUE: Well, that's it from Paris and from this edition of LIVING GOLF. Next month, we'll be looking ahead to the Solheim and Walker Cups and meeting some leading female and amateur stars from the USA and Europe.
Don't forget, all our reports are online, and you can follow what we're up to on Twitter. But for now, from Paris, it's good-bye, au revoir.