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  • Alistair Tait

Never weaken the strong to strengthen the weak

The headline is an oft quoted line from Bob Torrance. The legendary Scottish golf coach repeated it to every player he ever worked with. Victor Perez may not have met Torrance, but copying the Scotsman’s philosophy has taken him farther in this game than he probably ever dreamed.

It made Perez the last European standing in the WGC–Dell Technologies Match Play. He’s been touted as making his Ryder Cup debut this year, perhaps partnering the man he defeated to reach the semi-finals, Sergio Garcia.

Rory McIlroy could learn a thing or six from Perez and Torrance’s approach, especially when it comes to tinkering with things that aren’t broken.

You’ve got to love Perez’s attitude. The Dundee-based Frenchman is the world’s 33rd best player. He has been as high as 30th. Two years ago he was 134th. A year before that he was 323rd and practically no one outside France had heard of him. Then he won the 2019 Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews and the world began to take notice. He’s forged his way up the word order thanks to a credo that perhaps every golfer should have stamped on his or her forehead:

“It's about getting better at what I do,” Perez said. “I think golf can be a funny game, sometimes. You always want to improve but it's – sometimes you try to improve and actually get a little worse because you don't see the improvement straight away. So I'm a big believer in trying to get better at what you're already good at. My trainer has this funny line; he says: ‘Just kind of sharpening your sword. Don't try to change your sword, just try to keep doing what you're doing and do it a little bit better.’ And I think that's what I've been very disciplined on doing, try to just maintain my game.”

As Torrance said: "Never weaken the strong to strengthen the weak." If only McIlroy had stuck to that philosophy he might not have tinkered with arguably the most beautiful swing the game has ever seen, might not be struggling for form with the Masters just around the corner. He probably wouldn’t have had to call in swing coach Pete Cowen to help him get back on the track life-long coach Michael Bannon has had him on for most of his career.

Players looking for change is nothing new in this game. Unfortunately, many head down paths that lead to cul de sacs from which they can’t escape. Many never get back.

Garcia believes that won’t happen to Perez. He thinks the Frenchman will make the team European captain Padraig Harrington takes to Whistling Straits in September to defend the trophy Europe won in Perez’s homeland three years ago.

“He's a wonderful guy, great player, and I think in my opinion probably going to be in the Ryder Cup team this year,” Garcia said. “He would be a good addition to it if he keeps playing the way he's playing.”

Expect Garcia to chaperone Perez on his Ryder Cup debut, should he make the team.

Of course, we’ve been here before with players sparkling over a brief period only to fade back into relative obscurity. What was it Padraig Harrington said about short success spans, that most players only get an 18-month window?

It’s not too long ago another Frenchman made a big splash in the WGC–Match Play by reaching the final, made the European Ryder Cup team and played well, then went AWOL.

While Perez was teeing it up with the world’s top 64 players in a $10.5 million tournament, Victor Dubuisson was finishing seventh in the €1 million Kenya Savannah Classic. Perez was a student at the University of New Mexico when Dubuisson reached the final of the 2014 WGC–Match Play. That performance, along with winning the 2013 Turkish Airlines Open, propelled Dubuisson into the 2014 European Ryder Cup team, where he won two and a half points out of three. In 2015 he won in Turkey again before starting a long slide down the world order. He’s now ranked 309th in the world.

Dubuisson certainly inspired Perez and other young French players:

“It gave us the belief that it was possible back then and obviously I'm very pleased to be where I am today,” Perez said.

Let’s hope he’s pleased with where he is two, three, five years from now. He should be fine if he sticks with his simple approach to the game, an approach more would do well to copy.

#JustSaying: “I never lost my desire to get where I want to be. Some people don’t have the work ethic. They don’t want to get out of bed to graft, to get out there and do it.” Tommy Fleetwood

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