Quelle surprise! Frenchmen are suddenly winning golf tournaments. Not leading them and then blowing them like Jean Van de Velde's French farce at Carnoustie five years ago but annexing some of the game's biggest prizes. Christian Cévaër won the Spanish Open in April and Thomas Levet's victory at the Scottish Open on Sunday was the country's third in four weeks.
The previous two came on home soil. Philippe Lima, a Challenge Tour player, won the St Omer Open, the event opposite the US, and then Jean-François Remesy claimed the French Open, the biggest prize of all for a Frenchman and the first time a local had won his national Open since 1969. A successor to Arnaud Massy, the Open champion in 1907, is all that is awaited.
Levet, having booked his place at Royal Troon at almost the last moment possible, Cévaër and Remesy line up in the 133rd Open Championship with Raphaël Jacquelin, an impressive young player who should become a tour winner. Earlier in the year the name of the Seve Trophy player seemed to be on the leaderboard every week.
What is going on? "It's the dope, man," said Levet, very definitely the joker of the pack. Then, more seriously, the three-time winner added: "It's unbelievable. If you look at junior golf we win quite a few things but in the pros we had nobody on tour 10-15 years ago. But now we have some experienced guys and some coming through and if you play with somebody who has won a tournament in practice and you beat them, you start to realise you can win. You realise that you don't have to play 200 per cent to win, but you just have to score. It's that and it's a bit of luck. The last month has been unreal."
Levet also has a secret weapon, wearing an orange shirt as he shot 29 on the back nine at Loch Lomond. "It's a good luck charm from when I played hockey," said the 35-year-old Frenchman of his attire. "We dressed in orange and I scored a lot of goals so it must give me confidence." Levet was wearing a similar colour, perhaps a bit more yellowy, he thought, on the final day of the Open at Muirfield two years ago. Levet finished up in a playoff with Ernie Els, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington. Els and Levet went to the fifth extra hole and when the South African won his huge frame was lifted into the air by the ever-exuberant Levet.
"I only have good memories of that day," he said. "You can see Ernie is not a little winner. He's a big guy and you don't have to feel disappointed losing to him. That's what I realised immediately. You always want to win but, once it is over, there is nothing you can do about it."
Levet likes the challenge of links golf although on his first experience, at the Boys' Championship in 1983, the weather was atrocious. "Every hole seemed to be a driver, one-iron, one-iron, one-iron," he recalled animatedly. "I thought, 'is that what they play the Open in?' I will never, ever win that tournament."