The Lesson of 02 Weighs Heavily on Levet

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Perhaps if were lucky, well see a certain Frenchman in contention come Sunday, just as he was on a July Sunday in 2002. That was the year that Thomas Levet led in a four-way playoff for the British Open, mucked it all up to eventually lose to Ernie Els, then delightfully entertained us afterwards with his running commentary.
 
You remember it all, dont you? Levet birdied the second hole of the four-hole playoff to take the lead early over Els, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington. He parred the third hole, but he threw all caution to the wind at the fourth. Remind you of another Frenchman by the name of Van de Velde?
 
He started his misadventure by using a driver off the 18th tee at Muirfield when almost everyone else was using 3-wood. Predictably, he lined it into trouble on the right. From there he found a bunker 30 yards short of the green. He blasted his third shot to the front edge, hit a chip shot 60 feet past the flag, and holed the long putt for bogey.
 
Els made par and the two headed back to 18 for sudden death, as Appleby and Elkington were discarded, both finishing the four-hole cumulative playoff one behind. Levet again hit driver -- Els hit an iron and found the fairway -- and pulled his tee shot into a pot bunker.
 
Levet again made bogey; Els made par.
 
Just like Van de Velde, though, Levet was the perfect gentleman afterwards, answering every question with a humorous, self-deprecating touch. Its been a massive learning experience, Levet said at the time. It makes major golf easier if you can compete at the highest level. Im halfway there.
 
Levet then spent a rocky year playing in America in 2003, meeting hostile galleries in several cities because of the political differences of France and the U.S. But he returned to Europe this year and last week won the Scottish Open.
 
He opened with a 66 in the British Open Thursday, but he hasnt forgotten 2002. Far from it.
 
Sometimes you feel like I was not too far from winning, he says. But sometimes you learn from that, as well. And I took it on that side.
 
I said, Look, it's the first time I was in a major in contention. It's the first time I was about to win something and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
 
'And I took it on the normal side. He (Els) won because he was the best, and that's what sports is all about, and golf as well.
 
Levet has been playing the European Tour for a long time, since 1991. The son of a doctor, he would have to classify his prior career as only that of a journeyman. But maybe he learned something from that Muirfield Open.
 
Sometimes you feel, yes, of course, I was second in The Open, Levet said. But when I started the tournament, and even this week, it just - after 50 second places, maybe you would be a bit mad. But after one second place, life is going on and just try to enjoy the game and take experience from that instead of crying in your locker saying, Oh, I lost The Open, I lost The Open.
 
Otherwise I wouldn't be here today. I would have retired probably three weeks later.
 
Levet, correctly, looks at his 66 as merely a step on the ladder to the championship, and not the whole ladder. But he learned something from that playoff in 2002, and the prospects look very rosy, even if its only the first day.
 
It's way too early, he said, waving off early speculation of what Levet would look like holding the claret jug.
 
Today there was not even pressure about that. Seeing your name on the top of the leaderboard is a pleasure, but there is a long way to go and you have a few guys that could win the tournament, but we're in the lead. It means we have a few strokes in our pocket in case things are turning wrong.
 
But it's just one step, and there is still one big step tomorrow, two big steps Saturday, and an enormous marathon on Sunday. We've done three steps of the marathon, it's nothing.
 
And if it does come to Sunday playoff, you can bet he wont use driver when the proper play is 3-wood.
 
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