Levy Breaks Through Competitive Barriers

Alexander Levy is hoping his early professional success on the European Tour will translate into similar experiences in the U.S. (USGA/Fred Vuich)
Alexander Levy is hoping his early professional success on the European Tour will translate into similar experiences in the U.S. (USGA/Fred Vuich)

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UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Alexander Levy, 24, is a Frenchman who learned the game as a junior member at his father’s club outside Marseilles and honed his skills through the Fédération Française de Golf. He won the French Amateur in 2009, led France to victory in the 2010 World Amateur Team Championship, its first, and is very much looking forward to playing in his fifth French Open in two weeks.

But the United States, and Chambers Bay in particular, are exactly where Levy wants to be.

Levy (pronounced La-VEE) toured the first-time U.S. Open site on Monday with his father, Philippe, who first put a plastic golf club in Alexander’s hands when he was 18 months old. A native of the Marseilles region, Philippe and his family were living in Tustin, Calif., when Alexander was born, and he was a scratch player at Pacific Golf and Country Club in San Clemente. A couple of years later, the family moved back to France.

“He was always in love with the game,” said Philippe, 52. “And I think watching Tiger [Woods] when he was a little kid gave him a little more will to try to play the game for a living.”

The younger Levy moved to Jupiter, Fla., 18 months ago, even though he was a regular competitor on the PGA European Tour, where he won twice in 2014. His victories are part of a continuous upward progression, from French amateur champion, to WATC champion, to European Challenge Tour, to winner on the European Tour, and perhaps back to the United States.

“The PGA Tour has always been somewhere in the back of his mind,” said Philippe. “He would like his life to be more in the U.S. His goal is to do well on the European Tour and that would give him the opportunity to play on the PGA Tour. But the game decides; you don’t.”

Several talented young American players – Peter Uihlein and Brooks Koepka among them – have also made strides in their professional careers on the European Tour. Levy has continued to improve both his game and his mental makeup there.

“His first year was a little difficult to start with on the Challenge Tour,” said Philippe. “It’s more mentally that he blossomed, believing in himself. Obviously you have to have the shots – otherwise, you can believe anything you want. If you don’t have the shots, you’re not going to do it.”

Levy made a major leap in self-belief in 2010, when he helped bring France the World Amateur Team title in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He combined with teammates Romain Wattel and Johann Lopez-Lazaro to defeat Denmark by four strokes and the USA (with Uihlein, David Chung and Scott Langley) by five.

“That was very important, because people started to talk about French players,” said Levy. “We gained the trust and confidence that we can play on the top amateur level. I played with Peter Uihlein the last day. Lucas Bjerregaard [of Denmark, a 2015 U.S. Open competitor] was there. There were great amateur players who are now great pros.”

Victor Dubuisson, 25, is a fellow French player who played with Levy as a teenager and broke through internationally in 2014, with top-10 finishes in two major championships as well as a starring role on the winning European Ryder Cup Team. Currently No. 34 in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR), Dubuisson likewise provided inspiration to his friend.

“He helped me to trust that it’s possible for a young player to win a tournament, and play with the big names,” said Levy, who in 2013 found himself leading in the final round of the BMW International Open, only to bogey four holes on the final nine to finish third behind winner Ernie Els and Thomas Bjorn.

Levy kept his European Tour card by finishing 109th for the year, and in 2014, he came through in a similar situation, winning the Volvo China Open in April by four strokes over the likes of Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter and Francesco Molinari with a closing round of 69. He won again in October, taking the rain-shortened Portugal Masters by three strokes.

“The nice thing for me was leading after two rounds and after three rounds and winning the last day,” said Levy. “It’s not like you were fifth or sixth on the board and you won because you shot a low score the last day. There was the pressure from the night before. That’s a very nice feeling when you win like that.”

A less thrilling feeling came last month, when Levy barely slipped out of the top 60 in the OWGR, which left him outside the automatic qualifiers for the U.S. Open. Forced to earn his way into this championship over 36 holes of sectional qualifying at Walton Heath in late May, Levy paced the field with rounds of 66-67. It was the type of performance that earned Levy the nickname “El Toro” from his coaches with the French golf federation at the 2010 WATC in Argentina.

“They thought his attacking game – always going for the flag, looked like a bull,” said Philippe. “It stuck with him. I think it does reflect his game.”

Levy is hoping that both his attitude and his game will soon be on full-time display in America.

Ron Driscoll is the manager of editorial services for the USGA. Email him at rdriscoll@usga.org.