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Matthieu Pavon defies expectations, makes PGA TOUR history at Farmers Insurance Open

9 Min Read



    Written by Paul Hodowanic @PaulHodowanic

    LA JOLLA, Calif. – Matthieu Pavon still doesn’t know how he made it happen. He’s just happy he did.

    To trace Pavon’s path to his first PGA TOUR victory, which came Saturday at the Farmers Insurance Open, it’s best to begin at the DP World Tour Championship in November. Specifically the back nine of the fourth round.

    A veteran DP World Tour member, Pavon was ready to return there full-time in 2024. If not for four straight birdies to close his final round of the season, he would have. But the Frenchman found red numbers in droves, holing birdie putts of 11, 16 and 13 feet and then tapping in a two-footer on the 18th to cap his miraculous run up the leaderboard. It earned him a T5 finish at the DP World Tour Championship and, more importantly, a PGA TOUR card through the newly created Race to Dubai Rankings – PGA TOUR Eligibility ranking.

    It was a moment that summed up Pavon’s career. He wasn’t expected to birdie four straight holes to earn his PGA TOUR card. He wasn’t expected to get his first win on the DP World Tour at the 2023 Spanish Open, seven years after he took up membership. He wasn’t even expected to be a pro golfer. He was No. 890 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking when he turned pro. That he’s defied expectations at every stop is a credit to Pavon’s determination — an unrelenting will to push forward. It’s what got him to Torrey Pines Golf Course for the Farmers Insurance Open. It’s what helped him navigate a three-putt on No. 17, and it’s what helped him make a miraculous birdie on No. 18 to shoot 3-under 69 and win at 13-under, one shot better than Nicolai Højgaard.

    “It's just hard work and belief;” said Pavon, 32, who is the first Frenchman to win on the PGA TOUR since World War II. “If you believe that you're capable to do it, you can do it.”

    That belief started long ago, well before anyone else felt it.

    Pavon first came to America to get golf lessons as a 17-year-old. Up to that point, golf was ancillary. He spent most of his youth playing soccer like his father Michel, who played professionally in Europe for more than a decade. But Pavon struggled to live up to the expectations the larger community put on him as the son of a soccer star. He was heckled and badgered, and he ultimately grew away from the sport. He preferred competing as an individual anyway. Nowhere to place blame or credit than on yourself.

    Golf was the natural next choice. His mother, Beatrice, was (and still is) a teaching professional in Bordeaux, France. That’s what brought Pavon to America to get additional coaching. He worked with Ken Martin, the longtime caddie of Sandy Lyle, in West Palm Beach, Florida. It set off a dream to one day play on the PGA TOUR.

    “I loved everything about America, the mentality, the sport, everything you guys do,” Pavon said. “It feels like I'm an American somehow."

    His journey to get back was long and not without its doubts. He returned home to France and didn’t achieve much of anything as an amateur. He didn’t play on any national teams or win any high-level events. When he decided to forego college and turn professional at 20 years old, he was the 890th-ranked amateur in the world – an afterthought in French golf.

    And it was almost short-lived. He nearly quit the sport because of chipping yips shortly after turning pro. But Pavon bet on himself to figure it out. He switched to chipping cross-handed, a method popularized by Matt Fitzpatrick but one Pavon used long before Fitzpatrick took it mainstream.

    Matthieu Pavon’s crafty chip shot sets up par save at Farmers

    He joined the Alps Tour in 2014 and won the Open International de Rebetz as a rookie. He won again the next year and earned his European Challenge Tour card for the 2016 season through qualifying school. He found fast success there, too, finishing sixth in the season-ending rankings to earn his DP World Tour card. But it wasn’t until 2023 that he found that level of success again. He maintained status on the DP World Tour for the next seven years, playing solid but unspectacular golf. He notched three runners-up in six years before his breakthrough victory at the Spanish Open last October in his 185th start on the DP World Tour. The Frenchman closed with a 7-under 64 to finish at 23 under and win the tournament wire-to-wire.

    That finish was not enough to earn him a PGA TOUR card. He needed that flurry of birdies at the DP World Tour Championship to jump a host of players and finish No. 8 in the Race to Dubai Rankings – PGA TOUR Eligibility ranking. The top 10 earned TOUR cards for 2024.

    “I had almost no pressure coming, playing in America,” Pavon said. “It's like it's just an opportunity. If I fail, I could just go back to Europe and I start again. So it was just like trying to do your best every day, enjoy every moment.”

    He can’t help but smile thinking about that run of birdies to lock up his TOUR card.

    “I'm like on a cloud, I'm flying. It's incredible,” Pavon said.

    Pavon estimated he looked into his yardage book 100 times over the last six holes of Torrey Pines’ South Course on Saturday. In between every shot, he would look down and read, not to see where the pin was or what his carry distance was, but to clear his mind. He has carried a series of handwritten notes in his yardage book for the last few months. A collection of sentences that remind him why he plays golf and why he is here. Reminders he knows will get him back to the present moment and keep him from getting too far ahead.

    “Just focus on this,” he told himself. “I raise my head and it's me to play, OK it's just showtime.”

    It worked as he carded a front-nine 33, roaring back from four shots down through three holes to find himself tied for the lead with Stephan Jaeger heading into the back nine. And Pavon returned to them as he notched par after par. By the time he reached No. 17, he had parred seven straight holes and led by two. Jaeger bogeyed No. 12 and No. 14. That was the difference.

    But it wasn’t the end. A three-putt bogey from Pavon on the par-4 17th made things more tense. Now up just one shot over Nicolai Hojgaard and a group of others already in the clubhouse at 11-under, Pavon would need to be aggressive at the famous par-5 18th. He watched as Højgaard striped his drive down the middle.

    Matthieu Pavon’s clutch approach sets up birdie to win Farmers

    “It's going to be spicy now,” Pavon thought.

    The heat turned up even further as Pavon’s tee ball came to rest against the lip of the left fairway bunker. He was forced to lay up but missed again in the left rough. Højgaard found the green on his second shot with an eagle putt coming from 49 feet away.

    It left a difficult decision for Pavon. His caddie Mark Sherwood wanted him to chip out and try to make par. But Pavon liked the lie. From 142 yards out of the thick rough, he felt an 8-iron would get over the pond and safely find dry land.

    “It was scary,” Sherwood told PGATOUR.COM. “But he was so confident, he said, ‘this thing is going over the green.’”

    It didn’t. It landed on the green around pin-high 15 feet right of the cup, slowly took a slope and settled 8 feet away.

    “That ball came out like a butterfly,” Pavon said.

    Højgaard narrowly missed his eagle putt, setting up Pavon’s moment. One he would have to earn. Miss and Pavon would wind up in a playoff with Højgaard, who was fresh off his European Ryder Cup team appearance and breakout victory at the DP World Tour Championship. Pavon would’ve been the underdog in a playoff as he has throughout his career.

    He didn’t let it get there. His birdie try never left its intended line and fell into the back of the cup. He earned it the hard way, with tenacity and grit that never left him.

    “Some things are meant to be and it was meant to be his one,” said Sherwood, who started caddying for Pavon just before his win at the Spanish Open.

    It’s fitting that it was Pavon who made history. Not since Arnaud Massy's 1907 Open Championship win had a Frenchman won a PGA TOUR recognized event. And the man who broke the streak was one nobody thought would do it. Not fellow TOUR pros and Frenchmen Victor Perez or Paul Barjon. Not Victor Dubuisson or Thomas Levet . Not even Jean van de Velde. It was Matthieu Pavon, the low-ranked amateur who rose the ranks without acclaim and earned his PGA TOUR card by the skin of his teeth. Now he’s a PGA TOUR member through 2026, with exemptions into every Signature Event this season, THE PLAYERS Championship and the Masters. He moved to No. 34 in the world.

    Pavon’s family was not in California to celebrate the win. Perez and Barjon missed the cut and were long gone by Saturday. However, one countryman was there to revel in the victory: Samuel Bernard, who was on the bag for Matt Wallace’s 2023 Corales Puntacana Championship and became the first French caddie to win on the PGA TOUR. Now on Francesco Molinari’s bag, Bernard hung around after the round and watched Pavon’s winning putt drop from behind the 18th green.

    “It's a huge moment because we have a lot of expectation in France to be at the highest level of golf,” Bernard told PGATOUR.COM, just a few feet from where Pavon was doing his post-round interview on CBS. “Nobody expected Matt could do that this soon like he did. Plenty of guys in France dream about the PGA TOUR. So when someone opens the door, you just want to follow him.”

    Where Pavon goes from here is anyone’s best guess. He doesn’t know either. All that was certain was his dinner plans.

    “Matthieu Pavon knows he's going to go eat at Nobu tonight,” he said. “That is all I know.”

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