Birdies in France

Matthieu Pavon birdied the 18th hole in Farmers Insurance Open final round to win his first PGA Tour title in only the third start of his rookie season

SAN DIEGO — There were times in Matthieu Pavon’s life when it seemed like he felt like an outsider in any sport he tried, and that’s a tough place to be when your family is obsessed with anything involving a ball. Pavon’s grandfather and father were professional soccer players, with his dad playing 14 years in France’s top division and later coaching. Mom is a golf instructor. But soccer became a source of disappointment because of unreal expectations on the kid of a pro. People talked “trashy” about him. “That was a tough time,” Pavon recalls.

And when Pavon then took up golf in his teens, he practiced infrequently and, by his estimate, never rose above about 800 in the World Amateur Rankings. “Nobody was really caring of me, never played for the French team,” he says. “They were not really looking at me, which I understand.”

Pavon nearly gave up the game before turning pro because he had the yips, and once he got those fixed, he still carpet-bagged around Europe, first on the mini-tours and then the DP World Tour, where he needed 185 starts before getting his first victory last year in Spain.

The beauty, Pavon says now, of being the overlooked underdog meant he rarely burdened himself with pressure. Even when he ventured to the U.S. this year for his rookie season on the PGA Tour­—a move facilitated by the circuit’s opening up tour cards to more European players—Pavon contends he had zero expectations. He was just happy to in a place that he loves so much he jokes that he “feels like an American somehow.”

As for feeling accepted and admired, Pavon has discovered his life’s sweet spot. In the span of three months, he now has won on the two biggest golf tours in the world, adding to the DP victory by pulling off his maiden PGA Tour win on Saturday in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Pressed to the very end by fellow DPWT graduate Nicolai Hojgaard, Pavon recovered from his drive into a bunker at 18 and a third shot from the rough by making an eight-foot birdie putt to shoot three-under-par 69 for a 13-under total. He was one shot better than Hojgaard, who shot 70 and heightened the drama at the last by barely missing a 49-foot eagle roll that would have forced a playoff.The PGA Tour will recognize Pavon as the first Frenchman to win a tournament, though there will be some debate there. French-born Martin Trainer won the alternate-week 2019 Puerto Rico Open, but he was recognized as an American because of his dual citizenship. Trainer now competes under the French flag.

Even after posing with the Farmers Open Torrey Pines tree trophy and winner’s surfboard, Pavon was in disbelief. “It feels like we have another round to play tomorrow because we’re only [on] Saturday,” he said with a grin of the third year of an early finish for the Farmers, so it doesn’t go up against the NFL conference championship games.

n his winner’s press conference, Pavon exuded being deeply happy and genuinely grateful.

“[This] is special. I can’t thank the PGA Tour enough to give us the opportunity to come from Europe and compete here in America against the best players in the world,” he said. “That’s always been the dream for me. I got finally a shot, and I took it. It’s a dream come true and it’s a little bit hard to believe.”

Source: GolfDigest 

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