Frenchmen Fare Well on Abbreviated First Day
By Bill Fields
OAKMONT, Pa. – When the first round of the 116th U.S. Open was suspended for the day because of dangerous weather Thursday afternoon at Oakmont Country Club, two French golfers, Gregory Bourdy and Romain Wattel, were at even par late in their rounds, three strokes out of the lead.
Bourdy, 34, is a seasoned member of the PGA European Tour who has won four tournaments on his home continent, the most recent in 2013, and is No. 126 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
Wattel, 25, hasn’t won since joining the European Tour in 2011 but has 25 career top-10 finishes, including a tie for fourth in the recent BMW Championship.
They’re certainly not the first golfers from France to figure in the U.S. Open. In fact, the country’s connection goes back more than a century.
In the historic 1913 national championship at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., Louis Tellier tied for fourth, three strokes out of the Francis Ouimet-Harry Vardon-Ted Ray playoff that the 20-year-old Ouimet won in a huge upset over the star British professionals.
Tellier moved to the U.S. the following year and became head professional at Canoe Brook Country Club in Summit, N.J., the first of several jobs he had at prominent American clubs. Tellier played in the U.S. Open seven times, finishing in the top 15 six times, and was a regular participant in Red Cross exhibitions during World War I.
French amateur Catherine Lacoste had the greatest French success, winning the 1967 U.S. Women’s Open. The best result by a male golfer from France in the U.S. Open is by Gregory Havret in 2010 at Pebble Beach (Calif.) Golf Links. In a final-round grouping with Tiger Woods, Havret outplayed Woods, shooting a 72 to finish second at 1-over 285, one stroke behind winner Graeme McDowell.
The only Frenchman to win a professional major title is Arnaud Massy, who at Royal Liverpool in 1907 became the first golfer from outside Great Britain to win The Open Championship. Jean van de Velde was in wonderful position to join Massy as an Open champion at Carnoustie in 1999, but triple-bogeyed the 72nd hole and then lost a playoff to Paul Lawrie.
Although Wattel and Bourdy know the names of Massy and Tellier from record books, Wattel has been mentored by Havret. Wattel showed great promise from his amateur days, when he won a European Challenge Tour event at age 19, only the fifth amateur to do so. He was part of the French team that won the World Amateur Team Championship in 2010.
The U.S. Open is Wattel’s first professional event in America, and along with his countryman, he was making the most of it on a soggy opening day of starts and stops.
Bill Fields is a Connecticut-based freelance writer who frequently contributes to USGA websites.