An email conversation with Thomas Levet: 'It sounds terrible but I knew it was not going to be for ever'

Career put on hold by attack of vertigo; Losing the Open play-off at Muirfield; Why the French really do get golf
Click to follow
The Independent Online

You have only just returned to the golf circuit after a long lay-off suffering with vertigo. Can you explain what happened?

It was about a year ago. I was reversing out of the car park at a tournament in New York when I looked over my shoulder and had my first attack. Bang! I didn't know where I was and it was like the world was turning. I just had to grab on and wait. At first, I thought I'd been poisoned and I was thinking: "Why me? Why have I been poisoned?" So when the doctors told me what the condition was and that I'd get over it, I thought: "Hey, I'm still alive, it could be worse."

How long did you have to stop playing for?

I tried to play through it in June and July as it was mild, but then it became impossible. It got so bad I couldn't walk through a door - I'd keep hitting the wall. It was worrying and there were bad days when I thought I would have to retire. But the doctors were very honest and I just followed what they told me. They said it would take six months to recover and it took seven months.

Are golfers particularly susceptible to vertigo?

I'm not sure about that, although there have been a few others who have suffered, such as David Duval, Peter Hanson. It's a condition that can hit anybody at any time. The golf swing did trigger my vertigo, though, and they had to find out why. When they did, that was when I could work towards a cure.

What did you find to do at home?

For a lot of the time there wasn't much I could do. Just lie still on my back, couldn't watch television or read as the eye movement could trigger it off. So when I say I was doing nothing, I mean nothing. It sounds terrible, but I knew it wasn't for ever and there were plus sides. I worked out I hadn't spent a full month at home for 23 years, since I was 15, as there are always tournaments. So I got to spend the sort of quality time with my three kids that a Tour pro never gets. I watched them grow, I watched them improve. That was a real treat, one I'll always be glad of.

What was the one thing you missed?

That's easy: simply the competition and doing what I do best.

You were in the commentary booth at the Ryder Cup in Ireland in September. After playing in the previous match in Oakland Hills was this a bittersweet experience?

Well, I was feeling not very well 100 times a day, but I got through it. I sat in the commentary box and could speak, so it was OK. It's always fun watching Europe beat America, but I can tell you it's more fun doing it than watching it.

What was the longest you went without swinging a club?

About two and a half months around November, December. I had the odd putt on the carpet, although as I couldn't walk that was not often. It was in January when I first went back to the range and I remember with that first shot how heavy the club felt. It was very weird but I hit it OK and actually stayed out there for 30 minutes. It was tough, but so enjoyable. People have asked me if I was nervous about still being able to play as well, but honestly I wasn't. You know what you have inside you and a six-month gap isn't going to make it disappear.

How has the last year changed you as a person?

Of course, it makes you realise that golf is not everything in life, something you are always aware of, but you perhaps lose sight of. It's all there to be enjoyed and I am determined to and not worry about the vertigo coming back. The doctors have told me exactly that; don't think about it, because it could come back every three months, every six months, every 15 years even and it could come back for 15 minutes or for six months. At the moment I'm stable, so I'm all right and that's all I can wish for.

When you had all that time off, did you ever look back to that Open Championship play-off you lost to Ernie Els at Muirfield five years ago and think, "Why did I play driver both times down the 18th? Why didn't I just take an iron off the tee and go for par?"

Very few players can say that they've come second in a major, been denied only in a play-off, and I'm very proud of that and, no, I don't regret anything. Bogeys can happen at any time. I like the people who say I should have hit an iron down there, both in regulation and in the play-off. Well, say I'd hit that in the rough and couldn't make it to the green? Thank you very much, I take five or six or seven or 10. I'd played that hole eight times that week and never had any problem. That's it. There was no other club for me in the bag at those moments.

What is your favourite memory of your golfing career so far?

Any victory is my favourite memory, but then I find that sometimes a particular birdie will come to me and then that will be my favourite memory. But we're here for the wins and the Ryder Cup, Scottish Open, Cannes, and even my first French PGA are the obvious highlights.

What are your immediate ambitions?

I need to secure one or both of my two Tour cards [in Europe and America] this season. It's a season to get back into it really, although hopefully I can win a tournament when my form improves. I'm not far from playing well, but find myself making silly mistakes, mentally mostly. But I am quite pleased how it's going.

You are playing in qualifying for the US Open at Walton Heath. What would it mean to progress to next week's field in Oakmont?

It would be great, of course, as because of everything I haven't played in a major for almost two years. Those are the events you just don't want to miss.

Peter Alliss said on television the other day that the French "still don't get golf". Do you think that's true?

Golf in France is growing every year. This growth may be slow, but it is consistent. There are 380,000 players and 500-plus courses. And now we have around 10 players on Tour, which is a pretty good percentage. Put that next to Britain and say they have two to three million players. That's means if they had the same ratio of Tour pros to players as we do, then they would have around 100 pros on Tour. There's a lot of them, but I'm not sure there's that many.

Are you a French football fan? Who is your favourite player?

I don't like football, not at all. I like rugby, a proper sport. I'm really looking forward to the Rugby World Cup in my country in the autumn and hope to get along to a few games. Providing I'm not playing golf. And, of course, that I'm still healthy.

Comments