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.
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.