Fresh from his 500th European Tour appearance at the Italian Open, Frenchman Grégory Havret writes this week's blog, focussing on the ups and downs of an incredible career.
Time flies! I never thought 18 years would go so quickly. I’m the sort of player who plays a lot, probably between 25 and 30 tournaments in a year, so I’ve got some amazing memories and hopefully some more to come. I have to say reaching 500 appearances was never the goal, but the longer you stay on the European Tour the better, of course. Such a big number talks, but what you want to achieve are performances; winning tournaments and making a lot of top tens. You want to reach the best level you can, especially on the Official World Golf Ranking. Hitting 500 means I’m pretty consistent and I do my job well, but I’d swap some of those appearances for a few more victories.
There was never a moment where I thought ‘I’m going to be a professional golfer.’ It was like somebody somewhere was setting me on this path that I just followed. I started golf quite late at about 11 or 12 years old. Luckily all my friends played golf, so I wanted to spend time with them as a golfer but also to socialise. I felt good when I played and so I went to a school which was half study, half learning. I then played as an Amateur for the French team for two or three years before turning Professional. I didn’t really know what else to do, as that was what I was best at. The thought of building my life through golf seemed ideal. After one year of being a pro, I arrived on the European Tour and stayed there ever since.
My first event was the Trophée Lancôme in 1997. I remember that I went to the range on Thursday and it was the tiniest range on all the Tour. The only spot free in the morning was between Colin Montgomerie and Greg Norman! The very first shot I hit was a fat one. It was a wet day in September and because of that there was a bit of dirt around, so Montgomerie’s trousers were covered in dirt because of my fat shot! It was a scary beginning to my European Tour career, but a great story. I played consistently in my first year. I managed to secure my card with three or four events to spare, which was great because I’d come from the Qualifying School. I won my first event at the very end of my first season at the Italian Open. The following year wasn’t quite so good, but because of my exemption from winning the event in Italy I kept my card.
I have a lot of great memories of my career so far. I would say my win at the Scottish Open in 2007 was my best. I beat Phil Mickelson in a play-off at Loch Lomond and would say that’s one of the best feelings I’ve ever had. However, the last round of the 2010 US Open was one of the most impressive things I’ve done in my life. I was in the penultimate group playing with Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach. I had a chance to win the US Open, which was something I’d dreamt about when I was younger. You always imagine having that one putt to win a Major when you’re young, you say, ‘this putt for the win’ when you’re practicing all the time, but this was for real. That first tee shot on Sunday was the scariest I’ve ever played, because you’ve got Tiger there, the crowd and of course it’s Pebble Beach. It was a good shot, though, and I made birdie on the first hole, which put me in a good position and in contention. I felt the pressure, but I felt great for 18 holes. I think 2011 was probably my most consistent year on tour. I had some good results and without a win I managed to finish in the top 30 in the Race to Dubai Rankings.
There have been many highs, but also some lows. 2002 was a difficult year. I would have lost my card if it hadn’t been for my exemption. After six months in 2003, I was struggling as well. Luckily I ended up having a good week in Denmark, finishing third, but it also meant I skipped my brother’s wedding, which was a hard choice. Golfer’s and sports stars often have to make these difficult choices. I went there thinking this could be the week that changes my year and that’s what happened. My brother forgave me!
2004 was also a disappointment in some ways. I led by two shots going into the final round at the Deutsche Bank – SAP Open TPC of Europe, partnered with Padraig Harrington. I ended up shooting an 82 and finished 30th. That was the worst day of my golfing life. From the first hole I actually made a good bogey, but the whole day was so bad. I had a quadruple on the back nine. It was really painful.
Not winning the US Open was hard, too. Those opportunities will maybe never come again. When you have a chance you have to take it. The last Frenchman to win a Major was Arnaud Massy in 1907, so it would have been big for me to have won that Major. There have definitely been painful moments.
I’ve been lucky to play with some great players, like Montgomerie, Norman, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, in the late 90s and then Tiger, Ernie Els and Sergio Garcia in the 2000s. More recently I’ve played with guys like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Rickie Fowler. All these greats at our game. But then you watched players like Brett Rumford practising short game, it’s like watching Tiger on the range. You just stop, shut your mouth and watch. In terms of Frenchmen, I think Julien Guerrier’s ball-striking is fantastic. For four or five months he’s been performing so well and Victor Dubuisson has so much talent, too. He hit 15th in the world, but I think he could be top ten consistently with a few changes.
I think the mentality on Tour shifted, which led to a lot of changes. When I arrived, if we had a bunker at 240 metres and a lot of guys would lay up, but now most guys will go over it. If the flag was close to water and tight against a trap, everyone would play a safe wedge shot, but now they’d go for the pin. The preparation also had to change, because you don’t want to be trying to hit a tee shot that you don’t have in the bag, so now guys are going to the gym more. On the range, more people use Trackman to improve themselves, their trajectory, ball speed, club speed and height of the ball. I think Tiger Woods changed the mindset of golfers quite a lot. It’s quite a physical game now, whereas before there were more strategical players like Faldo, Curtis Strange and Larry Mize. I think guys also work more now; they want to know everything, using stats to be as good as they can be.
The one thing I would tell my younger self would be to be stricter. By that I mean if you have some goals, you need to think about what you have to do to reach that. Then think about who you need to work with to get there. We’ll all miss tournaments and shots, but that doesn’t have to affect your goals or the way you work. You have to trust that you are able to do whatever, whenever. I’m a good example, because I came so close to winning a Major and, while I’m not putting myself down, that means you always a chance. You have to believe in yourself.