Accuracy from the tee, control from the fairways and patience around the greens are the three keys a player will need to possess to unlock the door to success in this week’s Open de France ALSTOM at the stunning Golf National course to the south west of Paris.
So says a man who knows exactly what he is talking about, namely John Bickerton, who enjoyed the highlight of his golfing career to date at the Hubert Chesneau-designed layout 12 months ago when claimed the title in the illustrious tournament’s centenary year.
The Englishman held off a star-studded chasing pack led by former US Open champion Michael Campbell and Padraig Harrington, the man who would go on five months later to finish Number One on The European Tour Order of Merit, to win by a shot after a closing 69.
“It was quite nerve-wracking coming down the stretch but I was delighted with the way I held myself together,” he said. “It is such a big event too and to follow my win in the Abama Open de Canarias the year before with a victory from that field, I really felt I had taken my game to a new level.
“To be forever part of the elite group who have their names on that trophy is a great honour and for Seve Ballesteros, who was there as a past champion and part of the centenary celebrations, to present me with the trophy was truly fantastic and something I will always remember.”
By his own admission, the Englishman has not had the best of years to date and the recent passing of his mother has, understandably, taken his focus away from golf. But the 37 year old is hoping a return to a venue where he enjoyed such great success will give his season a kick start.
“I hope that going back there triggers something for me because it would certainly be nice to find the stroke that I had last year on the greens and the confidence that comes from it,” he said. “But at the end of the day golf is a fickle game – we all have our ups and downs – and you have to just get on with it.
“What I do know is that it is a course that definitely requires finding the fairway from the tee. The last couple of summers have been quite warm there too and the course has gotten quite hard so it is not just about standing up and hitting driver, it is about getting into the right position, especially with the greens being as quick as they are.
“It is also one of those courses where you have to be patient. I shot 63 in the first round last year and although I was pretty good tee to green, it was one of those days where I holed everything and that gave me a big boost. But you must remember that it is a course where, if you are not exactly on your game, it can get up and bite you.”
Bickerton added his name to an impressive Roll of Honour which features no less than 18 Major Championship winners, the last of whom, the 2001 champion José Maria Olazábal, was forced to witrhdraw from the tournament on Tuesday through injury.
This year’s field will also feature no less than 14 winners from the 2007 European Tour season, all of whom will be looking to claim the €666,660 (£448,491) first prize and propel themselves even further up the Order of Merit.
The total prize fund of €4,000,000 caps a staggering rate of growth since the tournament became part of the schedule in 1972, when prize money totalled €15,000. Even more startling is the rate of prize money growth in the last decade, which is more than 400 per cent.
The final intriguing part of the week’s action will be the fact that the Open de France ALSTOM is the last counting event in the mini order of merit, which began in May at the Valle Romano Open de Andalucia, and which will end on Sunday night with the highest two European Tour Members on the ranking not already exempt, gaining entry to The Open Championship at Carnoustie next month.
Currrently holding those two positions are Welshman Bradley Dredge and Australia’s Richard Green, both of whom are in action at Le Golf National, as are Spain’s Miguel Angel Jiménez and Nick Dougherty of England who are leading the chase for places.
However with Jiménez €120,017 adrift of Green and Dougherty €157,758 behind the Australian, the Spaniard is looking for a top six finish while the Englishman needs a top five – at the same time as hoping Green has is not around at the weekend – if either are to book a ticket to Scotland.