Ryder Cup 2018: French pros hope match will rid 'elitist' golf image

Ryder Cup2018

In one year to this very day, the spotlight will be on Le Golf National just outside Paris as the first Ryder Cup to be staged in Continental Europe this century gets underway.

For the players involved in the match, it will be the start of three intense days of competition that could help define their careers. For the state of golf in France, however, it is so much bigger than that as the country desperately tries to break down the elitist image that has held back its progression to the masses for so long.

While that perception of golf has subsided to a large degree in the UK in recent years, across the English Channel the same cannot be said and it’s the nation’s European Tour professionals that are most outspoken about it.

“Golf in France is a big cliché: rich people, elderly, some even don’t call it a sport,” Sebastian Gros told bunkered.co.uk. “While it’s maybe coming away a bit from that stereotype in the UK, it hasn’t in France.

“Everybody has tried golf once and they tell you it’s ‘funny’ but it takes too long and it’s too expensive. So everybody in France has an excuse to hate golf. They just don’t know anything about it. Nobody really talks about it.

Sebastian Gros

“When you’re speaking to somebody, they say, ‘Oh, so you’re playing on the European Tour but what are you doing on the side?’. I’m like, ‘I’ve earned more money than you have in the last ten years’, so they just don’t know anything.

“People are not interested because they’re always jealous about who is earning money or who is succeeding. According to them, golf is for the rich so it’ll be hard to open that door in France.”

Gros’ comments are echoed by two-time European Tour winner, Christian Cevaer, who now works as a golf analyst for French TV channel Golf+ - a pay-to-view channel much like Sky Sports that will host coverage of next year’s match.

“For 90% of the population, he’s probably right,” Cevaer told bunkered.co.uk. “Speaking personally, for a while I was one of the top five golfers in France but I could go to a golf club in the country and people wouldn’t recognise me.

“In terms of popularity, I’d say it barely makes the top ten [sports]. In terms of official numbers, it’s up there at 400,000 registered members – but on TV it airs on a private channel so its outreach is to people that are already golf fans.”

Laura Flessl

There are many things happening in France at the moment though that raises hope that the Ryder Cup can have the desired impact on the sport’s perception in the country.

For starters, the new sports minister in France – Olympic fencing champion Laura Flessl (above) – is a massive golf fan and her presence has been a significant boost to the French Golf Federation. Then, there’s the media coverage. The main sports newspaper – L’Equipe – was bought out recently by the group that runs the Open de France, resulting in an increased profile for the sport.

With the Ryder Cup considered the third largest sporting event in the world, there won’t be any shortage of French media taking their seats in the media centre at Le Golf National. Cevaer (below), though, believes that one important piece in the make-up of the European team can help significantly in capturing the imagination of the French people.

“We’re all crossing our fingers very much and you can only imagine how important it would be that if a French player made the team,” he added. “That would be huge.

“You’d have to say Alex Levy is in with a chance. I think he would be fantastic. We all appreciate his character. He shows his emotion and he’s a great player with fantastic potential.

Christian Cevaer

“You can’t rule out more experienced players like Gregory Bourdy either and, who knows, Victor Dubuisson might come out of the bush and rediscover some motivation because he’s a guy that works like that.”

While Gros, struggling on the European Tour, acknowledged that it’ll be extremely difficult for him to be in the reckoning next year, he is sure that the golf fans at Le Golf National will make it a memorable occasion.

“I don’t know [if the Ryder Cup will change perception of golf for French people],” he said. “The only thing I know is that French golf fans will offer great support. It’ll be very rowdy, just as it is when a star play comes to the French Open.

“For example, I was in the same hours as Rory last year and even on Thursday morning, he had so many people watching. It was 7.30am, it wasn’t hot, and there were hundreds, maybe even up to a couple of thousand people following. So when the Ryder Cup comes to Paris I think it’ll be very, very noisy.”

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