April 24, 2014
No longer Victor Who
When fellow competitors on the European Tour are asked about Victor Dubuisson they usually respond, “Oh, you mean the Frenchman with Golden Hands?”
This weekend the unassuming 23-year old, who was born in Cannes but now calls Andorra home, went from Victor Who to worldwide fame after a 23-hole WGC World Match Play final dogfight with eventual winner Jason Day. Even more extraordinary, in just one brief week of international exposure Dubuisson’s remarkable short game skills are already being likened to the late great Seve Ballesteros.
In personality the two could hardly be more dissimilar, the emotional Spaniard whose iconic air-punch became legend, the shy young blond-haired Frenchman who says, “I am just a simple person” adding that he’s entirely happy to play alone for weeks. Yet there is something mysterious familiar here.
Young Seve would skip school and play solitary one-club golf on his local beach in Pedrena, a small fishing village in Northern Spain. He’d even sneak out at night to play under the moon. Dubuisson says he took up golf at age eight and chose golf over school at age 10. In time much more of that back story will surely emerge but what is on public record is an ever-ascending if almost unnoticed till-now career.
At age 15 he qualified to play in the French Open. By 2009 he’d attained number one in the world amateur rankings. He turned pro the following year and after steady progression each season, broke through with victory at the 2013 Turkish Airlines Open, his 24-under par calmly out-dueling a field that included Tiger Woods and Henrik Stenson. And when Stenson ended the European Tour season with victory at the DP World Championships, we hardly noticed Dubuisson’s sterling solo-third place finish.
In July 1976 the then 19-year old Ballesteros arrived, unknown and unheralded, at Royal Birkdale and walked away days later as Open Championship runner-up and golf’s newest star. Yet in his downtime he’d quietly return to a simple Pedrena lifestyle, in much the same way as soft-spoken Dubuisson has headed for his Andorran hideaway in off weeks.
Now it will all be different, the eyes of the golf world upon him, and it will be interesting to see how the man who self-admittedly prefers the solitary lifestyle will deal with this new attention.
None of which is to take away anything from Jason Day, whose admirable composure under the intense pressure of the final hour’s play suggests he will be a true force this majors season. How hard it must have been to come up short, both literally and figuratively on the final green, giving up a 2-up with 2-to-play advantage. To watch as your opponent produced miracle saves from virtually impossible lies on the next two sudden-death holes then hone your own perfect grip-and-check pitch to a downhill green at the crucial moment. How priceless that must be, knowing the moment when one of these is all that stands between you and your first major title, you’ll truly be ready.