• The Masters

Victor Dubuisson: Loner, enigma and Masters contender

Alex Perry
April 9, 2014
Victor Dubuisson's recent rise up the rankings earned him a spot at the Masters © PA Photos

He is the dashing musketeer with the Hollywood looks who is destined to become the sport's pin-up for the next generation.

But can Victor Dubuisson - who Sir Nick Faldo calls a "quiet man" - make a big noise at The Masters?

The Frenchman announced himself and his potential with some attention-grabbing shots in finishing second at the recent WGC-Match Play Championship earlier this year.

His performance drew comparisons with his childhood hero, Seve Ballesteros, and interest in the 23-year-old became intense.

Dubuisson's form over the past five months, including his European Tour breakthrough at the Turkish Airlines Open in November, saw him move up from 130 to 23 in the world - the highest rank ever achieved by a Frenchman - and clinch a debut spot at this week's Masters.

Yet the game has seen more than its fair share of players whose promise was never fulfilled. Take Faldo's protégé Nick Dougherty, for example. Those who get the attention and keep it are rare and Augusta could be a significant proving ground for Dubuisson.

"After victory in Turkey and that performance at the Match Play, he has made a big name for himself in a short time," Faldo, a three-time Masters champion, tells ESPN.

"That will have been a big confidence building series of events for an otherwise quiet man. Now we will see what the next big stage and level of competition brings. It appears he enjoys the atmosphere of big events so it looks like he might have a good time at the Masters."

In the Bag

  • Victor Dubuisson was speaking to ESPN on behalf of his club manufacturer Titleist.
  • Here's what he has in the bag at The Masters:
  • Driver: Titleist 913D2 (9.5)

    Fairway Wood: Titleist 913Fd (15)

    Utility: Titleist 712U (2-iron)

    Irons: Titleist 714 AP2

    Wedge1: Vokey SM4 (48, 52, TVD)

    Putter: Scotty Cameron Newport 2

    Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

If Dubuisson cements his reputation over the next four days, the intensity in his back story will be cranked up another notch. It was already pretty far up the dial after his reticence made a mystery of it, fuelling interest in a player who left school before his teenage years to concentrate on golf.

What is known is that he is the nephew of Herve Dubuisson, generally considered France's finest ever basketball player, and he left school surprisingly early. "It was 10 or 12, something like that," he said following his runner-up spot at Dove Mountain.

When asked if his parents tried to talk him out of it, his voice became sterner. "Well… My parents, they… I was more by myself."

He was pushed again. "No more personal family questions, please. I don't like to think about that."

Dubuisson's stance was such a distraction that it was easy to forget that Jason Day had actually won the first World Golf Championship of the season.

And it didn't stop there. Two weeks later, fellow Frenchman Thomas Levet, who has known Dubuisson for almost a decade, was cornered at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Levet refused to fold. "I know his family story and it was not an easy childhood, let's leave it at that," he said. "Let's not talk about bad things."

Dubuisson is typically aloof, often missing photoshoots and interviews, while remaining a man of few words. When ESPN caught up with him after his appearance in the inaugural EurAsia Cup in Kuala Lumpur, he offered a little insight into how he has become the player he is today.

"I was six when Tiger won the Masters aged 21 in 1997," he says. "That was important for me.

"He just blew the field away and it was the most impressive thing I had ever seen. I played golf every day after that.

"But it did not make me start golf, I had already started. I guess it just made me realise what was possible."

Though he went on to lose at the 23rd hole at the Match Play, those last few hours at Dove Mountain will best be remembered for two astonishing shots from the desert wasteland that left the watching fans swooning at the endless repeats and the writers scrambling for more information on golf's newest hero.

Fellow professionals were also bowing to the new kid on the block, comparing him to the late, great Ballesteros, a man whose career was built on creative, often outlandish shots to escape tricky situations.

"Seve-esque," whispered Faldo during commentary, before Rory McIlroy tweeted: "Haven't seen short game magic like that since the great Seve! Awesome viewing!"

Eight-time major champion Tom Watson added: "Two of the greatest up-and-downs I have ever seen Victor!" Gary Player also noted that he "can't recall anything like that in 60 years as a pro".

But perhaps the most telling praise was from Ballesteros' son, Javier. "What a player Victor Dubuisson is!" the young Spaniard screamed on Twitter. "He is going to do big things in golf. He is my new hero!"

Dubuisson earned his maiden European Tour win at the Turkish Airlines Open in November © Getty Images

So how does he feel about his new admirers?

"It is very nice, very kind of them," he says, sheepishly. "The Match Play was a great week, but honestly I was in my own world in that final round. I didn't think what I was doing was that special at the time and I was surprised about the attention.

"Seve is one of my idols though, so it is a very generous comparison. I just hope my career can be somewhere near his. But there are more established players who can be compared to Seve. Look at Bubba Watson, another Masters champion, the risks he takes and the way he improvises. And the fight of Graeme McDowell. He always inspires me and he is a great guy."

Despite his new famous fan base and the blistering short game, the odds are stacked against Dubuisson as he embarks on Augusta for the first time. Only three debutants have won the Masters - and two of those were in the opening two years of the competition's existence.

The third - and only player since those formative years - to win on his first visit to the hallowed Georgia turf was Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, and Dubuisson is well aware of the task ahead of him.

"I hope I can contend but will need to play amazing golf," he says. "There are a few guys at the top of the world who always play well so it will be difficult on my debut.

"My plan is to focus on my own game as usual. I am very excited about playing. It is such an important week and I can't wait."

Understandably, Dubuisson's display at Dove Mountain had many commentators tipping the Frenchman for a spot in Paul McGinley's Ryder Cup squad that will defend its title against the US at Gleneagles in September.

But he left the EurAsia Cup last week having bagged just a single point from a possible three when he joined forces with Joost Luiten to beat Prayad Marksaeng and Siddikur Rahman 3&2 in the opening day's fourballs.

Marksaeng and Rahman reversed the result in day two's foursomes, before Dubuisson was beaten comfortably by Anirbarn Lahiri in the singles matches as Asia came from four down to snatch an unlikely draw.

As a result, Dubuisson isn't reading too much into the hype. "I have many goals and obviously the Ryder Cup is a dream of mine," he says, "but there are three other majors to play first. I want to compete in them against the best guys.

"I'm very individualistic. I don't mind to be alone for five, six weeks. Golf is a sport where you play alone. I just like to play for myself."

Dubuisson's demeanor may not be that of a team player, but France is hosting the Ryder Cup in 2018 and, if he carries on like this, the man from Cannes is likely to be its poster boy.

He better get used to the attention.

Alex Perry is an assistant editor at ESPN.co.uk. Follow him on Twitter here.

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