In the first of our 'Meet the Rookies' series, where we introduce the Challenge Tour graduates who will appear on The European Tour for the first time next year, we profile the affable Frenchman Charles-Edouard Russo and chart his path to success...
Charles-Edouard Russo was well known as one of the Challenge Tour’s true gentlemen, so it’s no surprise the Frenchman is most comfortable amongst friends.
The Paris-born player was a late bloomer in professional golf, after giving up on a law degree to turn his focus to the game full-time, admitting, “Law school was too boring for me!”
Maybe it was the fact that the people with whom he was closest were all on the path towards success in the game and the prospect of reading arduous, lengthy texts while his friends were out travelling the world with golf bags in tow seemed understandably tedious.
He is a man much more comfortable around mates, not books.
Russo began to play golf at the age of eight at the small nine-hole course, Rosny, near his home but soon moved to the prestigious Bussy-Saint-Georges club, where he would forge relationships with people that would become lifelong friends, some of whom would eventually moonlight as his counterparts on the course.
Grégory Havret, Romain Wattel and François Calmels were just some of his friends who would go on to become European Tour and Challenge Tour professionals, while Jade Schaeffer has emulated their success on the Ladies European Tour.
“We were a bunch of really good players and there was always a good team atmosphere with us at the club, we were just a big group of 15 friends who happened to play off handicaps of two or below”, explained the 31 year old.
“At the beginning it was down to two good coaches at the club but we just used to always enjoy playing together; if there is one big regret that we have now, it’s that we can’t play as a team anymore.”
His road to The European Tour has been a long one, despite showing promise at an early age, as he explains: “I was off four at the age of 13 and didn’t play very well for a while after that, then when I was 18 or 19 I went to the University of Law, but it was so boring. Luckily though, it was really close to my home golf club so I took the other road!”
After dropping out of University following just three months of studying, Russo received coaching from Benoit Ducoulombier, who also coaches three-time European Tour winner Havret.
“I got to know myself and my game better after that,” he commented. “When I'm not feeling so good on the course now I can feel the bad shots coming so I can try to avoid things going badly, I think.”
Rather than things going badly for the Parisian though, suddenly everything was going right and he played on the French Amateur International team at the European Championships in Sweden in 2001 during a successful amateur career.
Things began to slow down somewhat once again, however, when he joined the professional ranks, spending three years on the Alps Tour, but a turning point in his career came in the most surreal way possible after he narrowly lost out on a place in the final stage of Qualifying School, missing out after an eight-way play-off.
“There were eight players playing for five spots and I remember Daniel Denison, François Calmels and Notah Begay III were there,” he recalled.
“I remembered Begay from playing with him on the Playstation 3! Then I became friendly with him. I lost out in the play-off, and I was third reserve for the Q-School final but there were only two withdrawals. I remember Begay went every day to ask if I would get in but they kept telling him no.
“That was a big moment in my career because I felt then that I was at the right level and I could make the step and the year after that, I won on the Alps Tour and I was the leader until the end of June, with 11 tournaments to play. But I still had to finish third and second in the final two tournaments just to finish fifth!”
He finally managed to make that step to the Challenge Tour, to play amongst some of Europe’s top up-and-coming players.
While he never got that elusive win in four years on the Challenge Tour, he finally made the most significant breakthrough of his career in 2011, finishing 17th in the Rankings to claim a European Tour card for the first time.
He just missed out on the 2011 ECCO Tour Championship presented by Thomas Björn and Mercedes Benz, where Denison claimed the title, but it was one of those many moments in Russo’s career when he finally believed he could take the next step.
“In Denmark when I finished runner-up, I thought to myself, ‘OK I have a big chance now to get on the European Tour’. I was trying not to think too much about it but I think my subconscious took over and I wasn’t sleeping too well for about a month and a half.”
In the words of The Beatles though, Russo got by with a little help from his friends. One of the big stories of the 2011 Challenge Tour season was the incredibly tight-knit group of Frenchmen, all close friends and four of whom finished in the Top 20 to earn cards for The European Tour.
“It was great because we had even numbers to play tennis together when we weren’t on the course!” he continued.
Once again, Russo was surrounded by friends, just like his days back at Bussy-Saint-Georges, and once again, it proved a huge driving force to his success.
“I would say it is the same kind of feeling I had when I was with my group of friends at Bussy-Saint-Georges,” he enthused, “we get on really well together, we eat together and have a drink together, there’s nobody outside the group so it’s really cool.
“It’s really nice to have fun together, maybe this is the reason why we have had so many good results and now, I hope we can take that on to the European Tour and get the same kind of success.”