French Connection

French Connection

Storm This last weekend on satellite TV I caught the Golf Night programme – mainly to ogle the divine Di Stewart. Featured were two events: the European PGA Tour Open de France ALSTOM played at Le Golf National near to Versailles outside of Paris; and the US Women’s Open Golf Championship.

The French Open was won by England’s Graeme Storm, a former Amateur Open winner who holed Britain and Ireland’s winning putt in the 1999 Walker Cup match against America. Otherwise, he is best known for creating history in 2000 when his mother, Jane, caddied for him in the Masters. The 29-year old Storm lost his tour card in 2003 and spent the winter in a cream cake factory, cleaning baking trays to pay for his trips to the European Tour Qualifying School in Spain. I suppose he could not have chosen a more apt place than Versailles to capture his first Euro Tour event since it was there that Queen Marie Antoinette famously said of the French population, "Let them eat cake" – before she was guillotined. To continue the analogies, in the final round Storm did not lose his head and went home with a 666,660 Euro slice of the prize pie, thus guaranteeing himself a place in The Open at Carnoustie. The runners-up were left with only crumbs of comfort.

What I had not realised was the long history of the Open de France. It was inaugurated in 1906 and is the oldest national open in Continental Europe. Hard to imagine now, when you can fly from London to Bangkok in under twelve hours, but the top British pro’s in the early 1900’s used to consider the tournament as a ‘major’, travelling for a couple of days to reach the venue.

Massy_1 I was particularly fascinated by an item on the tv programme about Arnaud Massy, one of the great characters of golf in its early days. The son of a sheep farmer, Massy worked on a sardine boat and supplemented his income by caddying at the new Biarritz golf course where a great many of the best professional golfers from Britain came to practice during the off-season in the warm climate of southern France. Blessed with natural abilities, he learned from these pro golfers and in 1898 Sir Everard Hambro (a philanthropist from the Hambro banking dynasty, and no mean golfer himself) sponsored and took him to North Berwick, Scotland to develop his skills for a professional career. As a self-taught player, he had started off playing left-handed. In Scotland he then had to rebuild all his technique to play right-handed. In 1906, Arnaud Massy won the first edition of the French Open repeating the success the following year, defeating a strong contingent of British players including the great Harry Vardon. He followed up by becoming the first non-Brit to win The Open Championship (British Open) in 1907 at Hoylake. On being presented with the Claret Jug, he learnt that his wife had given birth to their baby girl christened Margot and they gave her the second name of Hoylake.  His victory raised the profile of the game in his native France, and with three other major players, Massy put on exhibition matches in various European cities that contributed significantly to the increased popularity of golf on the continent. In 1910, he won the inaugural Belgian Open and in 1911 was the runner-up at the British Open to Harry Vardon, conceding only on the 35th play-off hole. That year, Massy completed his book on golfing that was successfully published in France then translated into English for the British market – certainly the only example of a French golf book translated into English! In 1912, he won the first Spanish Open ever played. Massy’s golfing career had to be put on hold as a result of World War I. While serving in the French army he was wounded at Verdun but at war’s end was able to return to golfing. At age 41, he had lost four prime years and struggled to compete. Remarkably, in 1925 at age 48, he won the French Open for the fourth time and then won back-to-back Spanish Opens in 1927/28. He participated in the first matches against the USA. When his career finally wound down he worked as a pro at courses in England, France and Morocco. Married to an English woman, he lived in Edinburgh, Scotland during the Second World War. Arnaud Massy remains the only French golfer ever to have won any of golf’s four majors, and was also the only golfer from Continental Europe to win a major before Seve Ballesteros won The Open Championship in 1979. This swashbuckling character was France’s greatest golfer ever.

My take on the US Women’s Open follows in the next posting. Play fast, swing slow.

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