By Sarah Gwynn, europeantour.com
at Dove Mountain
Victor Dubuisson remembers vividly the moment he decided to become a professional golfer.
Aged seven and watching the 1997 Masters Tournament in the family home in Cannes, France, he was transfixed by Tiger Woods, who was on his way to donning his first green jacket.
His uncle, Hervé, is considered France’s greatest basketball player, but it was golf – and Woods in particular – that gripped the young Dubuisson, and there was no holding him back in the pursuit of his dreams.
A self-confessed loner, Dubuisson enjoyed the countless hours spent practising on his own, and, unusually, he left school at 12 so he could spend more time playing golf.
“I was young and it was hard to do both,” said the softly spoken 23 year old. “I had some school lessons at home but mostly I played golf.
“I only watched Tiger, I wasn’t interested in anyone else. I wanted to play like Tiger, so I watched him all the time.”
Dubuisson made steady progress through his teens, representing France at junior level and earning selection for the European Junior Ryder Cup team in 2006, the same year he played a part in Continental Europe’s victory in the Jacques Léglise Trophy, held at Kingsbarns in Scotland.
With the backing of the French Golf Federation to play in amateur competitions worldwide, individual success followed in 2008 at the Mexican Amateur Championship, and in 2009 he claimed the prestigious European Amateur Championship, helping him reach number one in the World Amateur Golf Ranking.
In 2010 Dubuisson turned professional, and he did not have to wait long until he was clutching a ticket to the big time, having negotiated all three stages of the European Tour Qualifying School.
That turned out to be a one-way ticket, as the 2011 season yielded three top ten finishes as he just retained his playing privileges, and he improved to 52nd in The Race to Dubai the following year.
What happened in 2013, however, exceeded even Dubuisson’s own lofty expectations. Having spent the season ticking along nicely, with top three finishes in China and Switzerland, he exploded onto the world stage in the penultimate event of the season, winning the Turkish Airlines Open by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.
Ironically, the star-studded field he held at bay to claim the €848,930 first prize featured none other than his idol Woods.
Galvanised by the win and instilled with the confidence that he could beat the world’s best, Dubuisson took third place in the season-ending DP World Tour Championship the following week and ended the season sixth in The Race to Dubai with earnings of just over €2 million.
The incredible rise did not stop there. Four events later Dubuisson made his World Golf Championships debut in the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in Arizona.
For the first three rounds he was not down at any point, dispatching American Kevin Streelman 5&4, Sweden’s Peter Hanson 3&1 and former Masters Champion Bubba Watson, who had won on the PGA Tour the previous week, 1 up.
Graeme McDowell, renowned for his match play prowess, was Dubuisson’s next victim, and on the final day he overcame South African legend Ernie Els – another of the young Frenchman’s heroes – 1 up in the semi-final, making a superb comeback after falling three down on the front nine.
If that reversal of fortunes was impressive, his performance in the final against Jason Day was nothing short of miraculous.
Two down with two to play against the Australian, he won the 17th with an excellent birdie from a fairway bunker, and got up and down again at the 18th to better Day’s three-putt bogey and take the match to extra holes.
Errant approach shots on the 19th and 20th holes left Dubuisson staring down the barrel of defeat, but he conjured two magical chips – one from against a cactus, another from under a bush – to save par both times and extend the match.
When Day finally ended the match on the 23rd hole, he was gracious in defeat, acknowledging the skill of his opponent.
Already having a good chance of making the European team for The Ryder Cup in September following his win in Turkey, Dubuisson is virtually assured of being at Gleneagles after his heroics in Arizona.
“I don’t like to say it’s my number one goal this year because it would put extra pressure on me, but it is my number one goal,” he smiled. “I’m excited and this was good preparation for me because now I know what I have to work on. And I’ve learned my mental state can cope with difficult situations.”
Shy and uncomfortable talking about his life away from golf, Dubuisson remained something of a mystery during the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and had many a journalist scratching their head in wonder at this enigmatic young man with amazing talent and nerves of steel.
“I’m just a normal guy and do things normal young men do,” he said with a shrug. “That’s it. I don’t mind being alone. Golf is a sport where you’re alone, and I just like to play for myself.”
That individualistic outlook will change over the coming months when he enters a professional team environment for the first time at the EURASIA CUP presented by DRB – HICOM in March before taking on the USA in The Ryder Cup at Gleneagles in September.
And following this spell-binding performance in the Arizona desert, America will now know Europe has a powerful new weapon in its armoury.