Thomas Levet broke his leg celebrating his greatest-ever victory at the Alstom French Open at Le Golf National last year
It happened when the 43-year-old Frenchman jumped into the lake guarding the 18th Green amid the jubilant celebrations of fellow French golfers and the excited crowd and it ruled him out of playing in any further tournaments on the European Tour for the next two months.
But that hasn’t stopped him champing at the bit as the defending French Open champion prepares to tee off on Thursday with “wonderful memories” of his victory last year when he heroically held his nerve heading down the unforgiving final stretch of Le Golf National to close with a 70 and a seven-under 277 that was just enough to edge out by just one shot the pursuing duo of Dane Thobjørn Olesen and Englishman Mark Foster.
Looking back this week at “the greatest by far” of his six European Tour victories, Levet said: “I compare that day to riding the Tour de France,
“The Tour de France is tough for everyone, as is golf, and sometimes you just find that little extra energy from a look, something in the eyes or the faces of the crowd.
“The Ryder Cup is the same. The players are carried by the crowd and they play at an exceptional level. They go beyond all their dreams and borders on those days. Having a home crowd does that for you. It can work against you if you take it the wrong way, but they certainly lifted me on that day.
“It was my 24th French Open and I knew what to expect.
“I was playing well so I knew my game would hold up. I just tried to stay aggressive and keep my drives in play. Knowing the course as I do, I knew there would not be many birdies. Once I took the lead on the 14th, I knew it would be very hard for anyone to catch me if I could par my way in, and that’s what I did.”
Levet made a point of saying that “to win your own national Open is always very special, and particularly at Le Golf National. I used to play golf ten minutes from Le Golf National, went to school less than 20 minutes from there and lived just 15 minutes away, so it is very special.
“And I did it in front of my family, my kids and my friends. Every time I walked onto a green I could see their faces, and it was this that maybe pushed me to win. I felt even as early as Thursday that I could win, and it was a very strange feeling.
“Also what was funny was that Sunday, July 3, was also St Thomas’ Day. All these connections were quite strange. Some people came to the course saying it was St Thomas’ Day and I thought that might be a sign. It was unbelievable.”
Levet’s victory last year came just six weeks after French golf had learned to it’s great joy that Le Golf National had been awarded The 2018 Ryder Cup, but this year’s Ryder Cup contest in the US in September is what will be of greater concern to this week’s strong field.
World No 3 Lee Westwood, heading the list of big guns playing, will attempt to win back-to-back events in Europe following his victory in the Nordea Masters in Sweden at the start of June.
Since then has tied for 10th at the US Open, but that was at the Olympic Club in the USA.
In the French Open itself, Westwood has picked up four top ten finishes and lost in a 2009 play-off to German’s Martin Kaymer, who was 4th last year and, this week, still smarting from his missed cut at the BMW International in his own neigbourhood a fortnight ago, is back again seeking to better that finish this year,
Two other big guns in the field this week are Justin Rose, winner of the coveted WGC-Cadillac Championship earlier this year, and Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open Champion
The lanky Englishman is playing in the event for the first time since 2004 as he looks to tighten his hold on the top spot on The Race to Dubai listings and his lofty place in the Ryder Cup standings while McDowell, another strong Ryder Cup contender, will be coming to France boasting a joint runner-up finish at this year’s US Open last month.
Also in this week’s world class field is the in-form Swede, Peter Hanson, England’s colourful Ian Poulter, high-riding Scot Martin Laird, Italy’s Francesco Molinari and the up-and-coming Belgium Nicolas Colsaerts, who currently ranks as the World’s longest driver - so far this year he has averaged just over 317 yards to the 316 yards of the USA’s top bomber of the moment, Bubba Watson.
Along with Levet, other high-profile Frenchmen attempting to repeat his feat of last year and keep the French Open title at home are the in-form Grégory Bourdy, Grégory Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin.
The other gallant Gauls in the field include two-time former champion Jean-François Remesy , the last man to successfully defend the title, as well as emerging star Victor Dubuisson, Benjamin Hebert and Romain Wattel.