Having played an integral role in Paris’ successful 2018 Ryder Cup bid, Jean Van de Velde is once again at the forefront of French golf this week, having taken on a new challenge as the Championship Director for the Alstom Open de France.
The veteran of 463 European Tour events has become something of an ambassador for golf in France since winding down in playing career in recent years, and he has now been given the chance to oversee the future development of his national Open in the build-up host venue Le Golf National staging The Ryder Cup in six years’ time.
Van de Velde, who was famously runner-up to Paul Lawrie in The 1999 Open Championship, helped launch the 96th staging of continental Europe’s oldest Open Championship on Wednesday with defending champion Thomas Levet.
He hopes to grow and develop the tournament, which was first played in 1906, and admits he is thoroughly enjoying his new responsibilities outside the ropes.
“It’s a very fulfilling role,” he said. “There are obviously lots of things I know about in terms of the playing side, the course, the players and the golfing bodies, but everything to do with logistics and planning is new to me. There is a lot goes into it.
“It was great launching the tournament with Thomas, who is defending the title. We have a good interaction. His win last year was huge for French golf.”
Van de Velde, who played in The 1999 Ryder Cup, believes the Alstom Open de France is vital in helping nurture young French players and giving them vital experience of playing alongside some of the game’s leading players.
“We have 25 French players in the field this week – 24 professionals and one amateur – and it is very important that the young guys learn a lot this week,” he said. “We have worked on the draw and we are very pleased with the pairings. They all have wonderful pairings and will all gain a lot of experience.
“Having the Ryder Cup here in six years is a huge incentive and target for these players, and the French Open is an important way of them getting experience of playing against the top players from around the world.
“We want to make this event the best it can possibly be with the top players, and the field this years is very, very strong. These are exciting times for golf in France and our national Open is a massive part of that.”
Van de Velde returned from injury problems to finish runner up to compatriot Jean-François Remesy in the 2005 Alstom Open de France and he knows exactly what playing in the tournament means to the French players.
“It meant the world to Thomas to win last year,” he said. “It has the highest place in his heart. The French Open was always the first tournament, above anything else, that I wanted to win. I was close a few times, losing to Jean-François in a play-off, and so I can only imagine what it was like for Thomas.”
Martin Kaymer, Alstom Open de France champion in 2009, welcomed Van De Velde’s involvement in the tournament.
“It’s interesting and I think it’s great that they want to move the tournament forward and get more international players,” he said. “It’s a good idea to get Jean on board and it can only help the tournament grow.”
In addition to his role as Championship Director, Van de Velde was also announced as an ambassador for Unicef France, aimed at helping children worldwide.
“The desire to get involved in the cause of children is obvious to me and I am convinced that I can help make the public aware of Unicef’s work and help raise money through golf,” he said.