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  • Alistair Tait

Fanciful French Open Feelings

Updated: Oct 1, 2022

Italian golf officials luxuriating in the success of last week’s Italian Open might want to check out this week’s French Open. It might give them a wee reality check.

Securing the Ryder Cup does not guarantee strong fields in future. Or even rich sponsors.

So much for a Ryder Cup legacy.

Four years ago, Le Golf National (pictured) witnessed the best players from Europe and the United States fighting it out for Samuel Ryder’s prized chalice. World top 10/20/30 players were tripping over each other during those three heady days as Thomas Bjorn led Europe to victory over a U.S. team that was supposedly unbeatable. On paper at least. Another stark reminder that Ryder Cups aren’t won on paper. John Huggan makes that case in this excellent blog on next year’s match in Rome.

Scroll forward to this week and there are just three top 50 players in Versailles for the Cazoo Open de France – Thomas Pieters (34), Ryan Fox (47) and Patrick Reed (50). And only another four who can claim top 100 status – Adrian Meronk (60), Robert MacIntyre (68), Victor Perez (90) and Thriston Lawrence (94).

How can such a great tournament steeped in so much history not attract a better field? The first French Open was held in 1906 and features a cast of champions that includes Tommy Fleetwood, Graeme McDowell, Martin Kaymer, Jose Maria Olazabal, Colin Montgomerie, Retief Goosen, Sam Torrance, Nick Faldo, Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Greg Norman, Bernard Gallacher, David Graham, Roberto De Vicenzo, Flory Van Donck, Byron Nelson, Bobby Locke, Henry Cotton, Arnaud Massy, Walter Hagen, James Braid, and JH Taylor to name a few golf legends.

Ballesteros won it four times. The French was practically written in ink, not pencil, on Seve’s annual tournament schedule.

Why wouldn’t many of today’s stars not want to join this illustrious list cast of champions? Sadly, France’s national championship just can’t lure the world’s best any more. The €3 million Cazoo is putting up in prize money just isn’t enough in an age when anything under, say, $7 million isn’t enough money. That was the money on offer just a few short years ago when the French was part of the Rolex Series.

The strength of field on the outskirts of Versailles is all the more puzzling when there is no PGA Tour event this week because of the Presidents Cup. No conflict for many of Europe’s star names who ply their trade in the United States, especially those who didn’t play in Rome and won’t be teeing it up in next week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship.

The French situation underscores the difficult task Keith Pelley and the European Tour have in getting star players to play in “heritage” tournaments that don’t have sponsors with deep pockets to pay appearance fees. No blame cast here on French officials either. I’m sure the organisers and promotors work tirelessly along with the European Tour every year to get the best field possible.

Back to the Italian Open. Will it suffer the same fate as the French once the Ryder Cup has been hoisted, the grandstands have been dismantled, and the thunder clap has faded into the Roman hills? Sadly, very likely. Yet it too is a “heritage” tournament, dating back to 1925. It, too, has an impressive list of winners, with many of the aforementioned French champions etched onto the historic trophy. It, too, was a Rolex Series Tournament but now can’t attract the extra $4 million to qualify for that status, despite Rory McIlroy’s participation last week.

The Italian had an 11-year gap between 1960 and 1971 when no championship was held. Could it suffer the same fate down the road due to the exorbitant amount of money flowing into the game? Could the French? Hopefully not, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if that dynamic occurred. After all, the German and Belgian Opens no longer exist, and they were once European Tour mainstays.

Maybe I’m being nostalgic, unrealistic, but pretty sure if I was one of the world’s top golfers, European or otherwise, I’d want my name on the French and Italian Open trophies long before I’d want it on one that started with the initials WGC or LIV.

#JustSaying: “It was like he was driving a Ferrari, and everybody else was in Chevrolets,” Tom Kite on Seve Ballesteros

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