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  • Alistair Tait

Peak golf lasts 18 months

Updated: Feb 29, 2020

The Oman Open leaderboard is further proof that success in this game is ephemeral. Only a handful of uber-talented players stay at the top for lengthy periods. Most get a small window in which to peak before fading back into the pack.

Ask Padraig Harrington. Ask Victor Dubuisson. Ask many others.

Dubuisson popped up on the first page of the leaderboard in Oman after an opening 4-under 68.

Remember Dubuisson?

The enigmatic Frenchman played in the 2014 Ryder Cup after an outstanding stretch in which he won the 2013 Turkish Airlines Open and finished runner-up to Jason Day in the in the 2014 WGC­–Dell Match Play. He was seventh in the PGA Championship and ninth in the Open Championship in that 2014 season.

The Frenchman isn’t your typical tour pro. French journalists tell stories of Dubuisson arranging interviews only to go AWOL when it comes time to sit down to talk to him.

“Enigmatic” fits Dubuisson like a new Footjoy glove. So enigmatic that 2014 European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley went out of his way to ensure he got the best out of Dubuisson. McGinley had the nous to see that the Frenchman walked a different line to the rest of his players. So he gave Dubuisson his own table in the team room, Victor’s table, and told him he could have whoever he wanted to join him there. McGinley assigned Graeme McDowell specifically to chaperone Dubuisson around Gleneagles.

It worked. The young Frenchman earned two and a half points out of three in his first Ryder Cup to help Europe win.

Victory in the 2015 Turkish Airlines Open followed. Dare I say there were probably “A star is born” headlines during that time. That star has fizzled out. From fifth on the European money list at the end of the 2014 season, the 29-year-old finished 115th last season. He peaked at 15th on the Official World Golf Ranking in February 2015. He’s now 336th.

A perforated eardrum saw Dubuisson miss most of 2018, but his loss of form is puzzling. Not to Harrington it isn’t. The tree time major winner knows all about the peaks and inevitable troughs that follow. He says that’s how this game is for ordinary mortals.

“You can’t peak all the time,” Harrington said. “You have to have ups and downs, and whatever your level is at that’s where you’ll return to.”

Harrington’s peak happened to deliver three major championships in a 13–month period between 2007-2008. This year’s European Ryder Cup captain hasn’t really come close since. That’s normal, as far as he’s concerned.

“They talk about 15 minutes of fame, most pros get 18 months where they peak. You could set your watch by it. Look at players who hit the limelight.”
“Most players have an 18 month period where they really peak, play great, get into Ryder Cups and that’s the same for many, many players. They get 18 months playing great and then they go back to being who they are.”

Dubuisson, who returned a second round 75 in Oman, has good company this week.

Nicolas Colsaerts starred in the 2012 Ryder Cup after wins in 2011 and 2012. The first Belgian to play in the Ryder Cup, he made eight birdies and an eagle as he and Lee Westwood defeated Tiger Woods and Steve Stricker in the first fourball session.

The man called “The Dude” hasn’t come close to playing in the biennial match since. He won last year’s French Open to snap a seven year winless streak. No wonder he was so emotional afterwards.

Want further proof of the ephemeral nature of this crazy game? Andy Sullivan matched Dubuisson’s first round 68 in Oman. He won three times in 2015 and made his Ryder Cup debut the following season. He hasn’t won since. Or played in the Ryder Cup.

Long hitting Ross Fisher played in the 2010 Ryder Cup after winning the Irish Open, his fourth European Tour victory. The Englishman hasn’t won since the 2014 Tshwane Open.

I could go on, but you get the picture. Unless a player’s name is Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson… then 18 months of golf fame is about all they get.

Ask Padraig Harrington, or Victor Dubuisson, or….

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