The legends of French golf
To make a living from what you love doing is the dream of many amateur golfers. To obtain a professional card and join the national tour, you need to play in a qualification tournament organised each year by the Fédération Française de Golf. There are many candidates, for only a few places, and they all have their sights set on the world tour. What is more, the national professional rankings are calculated according to prize-money won at tournaments.
Here is a review of French golfers who have left their mark on the game.
Arnaud Massy (born6 July 1877 in Biarritz – died 16 April 1950 in Etretat)
The man who pioneered golf in France, Arnaud Massy was and still is considered by his peers as the greatest player in the history of French golf. His career really took off in 1906 when he won the first France Omnium international championships. He went on to win the event on three further occasions, in 1907, 1911 and 1925. In 1907, he was the first non-British European to win the British Open and today still is the only French golfer ever to have won that tournament. Elsewhere, he won the Belgian Open in 1910, the Spanish Open in 1912 and in 1913 helped the French team in their win over the Americans at the first Franco-American encounters.
After the Great War and the glory years, Arnaud Massy had problems finding a home club. In the early 1930s, he retired to Morocco. A sick man, he returned to France and passed away a few weeks later in Etretat on the 16th of April, 1950.
Jean Garaïalde (born 2 October 1934 in Ciboure)
The top European golfer in 1969 and 1970, Jean Garaïalde played his first professional tournament in 1950 when he was still only 15. He won his first professional event, the Omnium de Saint-Jean-de-Luz, the year after and in 1954 travelled to Montreal to play in the Golf World Cup (then known as the Canada Cup), an event he was to play 25 times throughout his career. In 1957, he won the first of his 17 victories in the Omnium de France.
It was only several years later that his talent was finally unveiled to the world of golf. In 1968 he was the professional French champion, a feat he was to repeat a further eleven times, and in 1969 he won the French, German, Spanish, Swedish and Moroccan Open Championships. The following year, he won the Swedish and German Opens a second time and by the end of 1970 he was ranked N°6 in the world.
In 1987, at the age of 53 and 31 years after his first win, he won his final Omnium de France. The twilight of his career was marked by one last grand international win in Switzerland at the Open Léman Seniors in 1992.
Jean Van de Velde (born 29 May 1966 in Mont-de-Marsan)
French Amateur champion in 1986, his professional career began in 1987. In 1993, he won his first event on the European Tour in Rome and became French Professional Champion in 1998. The following year, he really hit the media headlines at the British Open in 1999. A qualifier for the event, he ended up in second place at an event he had dominated up until the very last hole. With this excellent result, he was selected that same season to play the Ryder Cup 1999, thus becoming the first Frenchman ever to play the event.
After a few years plagued by injuries, he was back to his winning ways in 2006 when he triumphed at the Madeira Open on the European Tour. The former French N°1 is today an ambassador for the French candidacy to organise the Ryder Cup in 2016.
Karine Icher (born 26 January 1979 in Châteauroux)
Karine Icher embarked upon her professional career in 2001 on the European Tour. In her very first year she won two tournaments, the Palmerston Ladies German Open and the Mexx Sport Open. She quickly confirmed her young talent in 2002 by winning the Spanish Open, at the Solheim Cup with the European Team, then at the Catalonia Ladies Masters, which she won two years running in 2004 and 2005.
In 2005, she quit the European Tour to go play the LPGA Tour in the United States and by the end of the season was ranked amongst the top 30 lady golfers. Based in Orlando, Florida, Karine Icher now spends all her time in the United States. She currently tops the national rankings.
Grégory Bourdy (born 25 April 1982 in Bordeaux)
Currently the French N°1, Grégory Bourdy joined the professional ranks in 2003 and the European Tour in 2004 in just his second year as a professional. In 2006, Grégory Bourdy played his first tournament on the world tour, the WGC American Express Championship.
2007 was the year it all came together. He played his first HSBC Champions event and the British Open. His year ended with a first win on the European Tour at the Mallorca Classic after which he was ranked N° 39 in Europe.
He confirmed his potential the very next year with a second participation at the HSBC Champions event before going on to win the Portuguese Open. In 2009, he won the UBS Hong Kong Open. In 2010, he finished in 6th place at the French Open.