This week’s European Tour stop brings back special memories of the events of 12-years ago when the Tour last visited London Golf Club. It was 2009 and the second of just two years that the European Open was staged at the London Club, located to the south-east of London and close to the famed Brands Hatch race car circuit.
England’s Ross Fisher had won the 2008 staging of the event by a very impressive seven shots. Much of the pre-2009 tournament fuss was centred around Ireland’s Shane Lowry who was making his professional debut a fortnight after the euphoria of capturing the Irish Open as an amateur at Baltray.
I recall being on the 10th tee when Lowry hit his first shot as a pro in the company of fellow Irishman Paul McGinley and England’s Anthony Wall. It was a very strong field that week boasting major winners in Paul Lawrie, Shaun Micheel, Michael Campbell and Ben Curtis along with another of the Tour’s newest winners in Rory McIlroy, who had broken through for his first of 28 worldwide victories earlier that year in Dubai.
Also, in the field that week was Frenchman Christian Cévaër who teed-up having missed the cut in his last two events – the Irish Open won by Lowry and the flagship BMW PGA Championship. Of note, Cévaër had been four-over par after five holes on day one of the Irish and was also four-over through a similar number of holes at Wentworth.
However, in arriving at the London Club, the now 51-year-old looked back on that most special week in his career, in the last week of May 2009, revealing he had been ‘free’ of the emotional baggage he’d been carrying into those tournaments leading-up to the European Open.
This was so evident when the Noumea-born French golfer went out and posted a bogey-free opening round of 67 to be trailing just two shots off the lead. Cévaër followed that with a 68 to now be tied in third place and one adrift of the leading trio. He produced a two-under par 70 third round, including a birdie on 18, to join India’s Jeev Milka Singh heading into the final round tied for the lead at nine-under par and three clear of McIlroy who was in a group of three and three back of Cévaër and Singh.
It was a shaky final day start for the then World No. 449 ranked Frenchman in a week that already saw 45 lead changes, with Cévaër dropping three shots in the windy conditions over his outward nine holes. However, those around Cévaër were also struggling, including McIlroy who would shoot a bogey-ridden 75 to share a distant 12th place.
Cévaër held his nerve to sandwich a 15th hole birdie among eight closing pars in a round of 74 to win by a shot at seven-under par from three tied in second place. Twelve years on from being present that Sunday and seeing the delight in Cévaër showered with champagne by his fellow Frenchmen, I caught-up with him in the south of France.
“Winning the European Open was the highlight of my career and the win I needed,” he said. “I remember that there were something like 20 players inside the top-50 on the World Rankings competing that week. There was a young Rory McIlroy and guys like Henrik Stenson, who missed the cut, plus Graeme McDowell and a number of top players.
“I made a great two putt birdie on the 15th and then coming down the last hole, I putted from just off the green in saving par to win by a shot.
“The course was firm all week and it was also windy, it suited my game and the funny thing is that the next week at the Wales Open I was being congratulated by everyone but with guys like Barry Lane also saying: ‘Oh, we weren’t expecting you to win last week on a longer course’.
“But the London Club being firm meant the ball was running and I’ve always felt myself a good wind player and I had a good mid-to-low ball trajectory, and that played to my favour, and it was the same when I won the the Canaries at Fuerteventura in 2004, the conditions were much the same.”
And in mentioning earlier ‘emotional baggage’, Cévaër said what helped him focus fully on his golf was a state of ‘relief mode’ with his only thoughts that week to ‘enjoy your skills’.
“For the two weeks prior to winning I was at the Irish Open and the BMW PGA at Wentworth and because everything around me was not settled, as I had a lawsuit that was not great and my house was a concern, I had begun both rounds being plus four after five holes.
“In Ireland I fought back to finish with a birdie on the 36th hole to get back to minus three but someone else made birdie so that cut was minus four, so that was a big blow after fighting so hard to come back from starting four-over after five.
“Then I headed to Wentworth still feeling a bit down and then crying out loud, I am plus four after five holes, again (laughing) and was thinking: ‘What the heck!’ However, I didn’t come back to Wentworth like I had in Ireland.
“So, I had a great talk with my coach that weekend, and we stayed at Wentworth and practiced and got the game ready and meanwhile, I received good news from my lawyer, so when I arrived at the London Club, I just felt so relieved as the stuff going out with my life outside of the ropes was over.
“I went from hell to heaven in the space of one week and it was great. It turned out to be my personal major championship, and given the strength of the field that week.”
Cévaër ended his regular European Tour career four years later at the 2013 Portugal Masters which was his 427th Tour event since making his debut as a then amateur at the 1990 French Open.
It was in June this year, after a long eight-year absence, that he made his Legends Tour debut at the Farmfoods European Legends Links Championship where he delighted in catching-up with so many of his former main Tour colleagues. Cévaër also made his seniors Major debut at last month’s Senior Open Championship at Sunningdale and, more recently, teed-up in the Seniors PGA Championship in Liverpool.