A year on from his greatest triumph, proud Parisian Thomas Levet returns to Le Golf National this week to defend his Alstom Open de France title against one of the strongest fields in the event’s illustrious history.
Levet can expect a hero’s welcome in the French captial following his emotional one-shot victory over Dane Thobjørn Olesen and Englishman Mark Foster last year in front of the packed galleries which lined Le Golf National to cheer on their countryman.
The 43 year old held his nerve down Le Golf National’s notoriously challenging closing stretch, carding a final round 70 for a seven under par winning total of 277 to claim his sixth, and most poignant, European Tour title.
Amid scenes of jubilant celebrations, which included the former Ryder Cup player being carried aloft back to the 18th green to lift the famous trophy, Levet jumped into a lake and broke his leg, which ruled him out of the following two months and The Open Championship.
But not even that self-inflicted faux pas could take the shine from a victory that will live long in the memory of the popular Levet, and the many thousands of French fans who were there to bear witness to it.
“I compare that day to riding the Tour de France,” said Levet. “The Tour de France is tough for everyone, as is golf, and sometimes you just find that little extra energy from a look, something in their eyes or their faces.
“The Ryder Cup is the same. The players are carried by the crowd and they play at an exceptional level. They go beyond all their dreams and borders on those days. Having a home crowd does that for you. It can work against you if you take it the wrong way, but they certainly lifted me that day.
“It was my 24th French Open and I knew what to expect. I was playing well so knew my game would hold up. I just tried to stay aggressive and keep the drives in play. You have to keep the drives in play. And knowing the course as I do, I knew there would not be many birdies. Once I took the lead on the 14th I knew it would be very hard for anyone to catch me if I could par in, and that’s what I did.
He added: “To win your own national Open is always very special, and particularly there. I used to play golf ten minutes from Le Golf National, went to school less than 20 minutes from there and lived just 15 minutes away, so it was very special. And I did it in front of my family, my kids and my friends. Every time I walked onto a green I could see their faces, and it was this that maybe pushed me to win. I felt even from Thursday that I could win, and it was a very strange feeling.
“Also what was funny was that Sunday July 3 was also St Thomas’ Day. All these connections were quite strange. Some people came to the course saying it was St Thomas’ Day and I thought that might be a sign. It was unbelievable.”
Levet’s victory came just six weeks after Le Golf National had been awarded The 2018 Ryder Cup, and he will have a number of Ryder Cup players trying to prevent him from successfully defending the title this week.
World Number Three Lee Westwood will attempt to win back-to-back events on European soil following his victory in the Nordea Masters in Sweden at the start of June, before finishing tied tenth in the US Open Championship.
Westwood has four top ten finishes in the Alstom Open de France and lost in a play-off to Martin Kaymer in 2009. German Kaymer, who finished fourth last year, is also in the field as he looks to return to form after missing the cut on home soil in the BMW International Open a fortnight ago.
Justin Rose, winner of the WGC –Cadillac Championship, returns to the event for the first time since 2004 as he looks to bolster his lead at the top of The Race to Dubai, while Northern Ireland’s Graeme McDowell, the 2010 US Open Champion and joint runner-up at Olympic Club, heads to Paris following last week’s Irish Open at his home course, Royal Portrush.
The strong line-up at Le Golf National also features Peter Hanson, Ian Poulter, Martin Laird, Francesco Molinari and Nicolas Colsaerts from the top 40 of the World Ranking.
Aside from Levet, the French challenge also includes the experienced Grégory Bourdy, Grégory Havret and Raphaël Jacquelin, emerging trio Victor Dubuisson, Benjamin Hebert and Romain Wattel, and two-time former champion Jean-François Remesy , the last man to successfully defend the title.