By Lewine Mair
In mid-August, when the 27-year-old Frenchman Victor Perez was not as well-placed as he wanted to be towards the end of his rookie season on the European Tour, he sought some last-minute invitations.
The Alfred Dunhill Links Championship at St Andrews was an obvious choice in that Perez is based in Dundee, Scotland, where his partner, Abigail, is in her last year as a dental student. His manager, Joe Schuchat, rang this person and that in search of an invite before asking JP Fitzgerald, the player’s new caddie, if he knew of anyone who could help. Fitzgerald, who formerly caddied for Rory McIlroy, replied that he just happened to be friendly with one Johann Rupert. (The latter is the chairman of Richemont, the owners of the Dunhill organisation.)
An invitation soon was on its way and, from that most improbable of starts, Perez went on to win the tournament. That performance paved the way for a berth in the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai where, at the same time as Abigail was sitting her final exams, he was tested against golf’s elite. In the same believe-it-or-not vein as his Dunhill result, he ended up in a share of fourth place two Sundays ago, with only McIlroy, Xander Schauffele and Louis Oosthuizen ahead of him. And he continued his stellar play at last week's Turkish Airlines Open, where he fell in a six-man playoff to Tyrrell Hatton.
It is not too many years ago that any player who had done as Perez in suddenly coming into money – nearly €1.5 million in the space of five tournaments – might have suggested to his partner that it would be safe for her to give up on her career and follow him on his golfing travels.
There were women for whom the idea appealed, at least until they had experienced a few years of being out on tour with a husband who expected everything to revolve around him. In fairness, there was the odd rebel wife, including one who was known to make a habit of eating in solitary splendour in hotel dining rooms on those days when her husband was sulking in the bedroom after a bad round.
Perez, speaking in Shanghai before moving on Turkey, was not unaware of the old ways – and very quickly made plain that they were light years removed from what he wanted for Abigail.
Just as it had always been his dream to be a top golfer, so she had always longed to have her own dental practice.
“We’ve got a huge respect for what the other does,” he explained. “It’s important to me that Abigail’s happy; the last thing I would want is for her to live her life through mine.”
Abigail is a golfer herself, though Perez was not entirely sure whether her golf justified the 13 handicap which Schuchat had suggested she carries. “What so appeals to me,” he said, “is the degree to which she understands the game. … She knows, for example, that if you are 6-under par one day and 6 over the next, it doesn’t necessarily mean that there’s a whole lot wrong. It’s just golf.”
Perez’s enthusiasm for living in Dundee is not all about Abigail. He is no less besotted with the golfing culture of the city with its string of championship links on the road to Carnoustie and courses such as Ladybank, Drumoig and St Andrews to the south of the River Tay. He loves everything about St Andrews, from the town itself and its museum to a golf academy which boasts one of the finest chipping areas in the country.
At the same time, St Andrews has taken to the Frenchman, with the St Andrews Brewing Co. wasting no time in brewing a “Victor Perez” special following his victory. That, of course, could be no more than a taste of what lies ahead for, apart from being blessed with a game featuring much the same level of precision as Abigail requires in her line of business, Perez exudes class while having a name which trips easily from the tongue. Rather more so, say, than that of Thailand’s Jazz Janewattananond.
Meanwhile, the story of how Perez came by his manager and then Fitzgerald is interesting in itself.
One of Schuchat’s friends had asked this founder of the Mindful Sports Group if he would be interested in giving a promising golfer – namely Perez – a helping hand. Schuchat, who was once a useful amateur himself, warmed to the idea – and felt that his first move should be to find the Frenchman an experienced caddie.
When he noticed that Fitzgerald was free, he brought caddie and player together for a couple of days of golf and chat.
The two hit it off, and it was in their first week together – at the Scandinavian Invitation – that Fitzgerald gave his new charge a lesson in how things needed to be.
On what was only their second hole, he handed Perez his driver, only for Perez to query whether it might land him in trouble.
Fitzgerald confirmed that it was the right club and the player went ahead. However, after noticing how Perez had eased up on the shot, Fitzgerald promptly advised if their arrangement was going to work, the player would need to trust him.
Perez did not need to be told twice.
Top: Victor Perez with caddie JP Fitzgerald at the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai