By Jack Bantock and Don Riddell, CNN
(CNN) — Since the early 2000s, a coin has lay buried next to a tree at Augusta National Golf Club, nestled there as a good luck charm by the mother of a promising young French golfer. In April, her son Matthieu Pavon is coming to collect it.
Playing in The Masters will mark the latest dream in a year already well into the realm of fantasy for the 31-year-old. In just his third start as a PGA Tour member, Toulouse-born Pavon roared to victory at the Farmers Insurance Open in California last month to end the 117-year wait for a golfer from his country to triumph on the Tour.
Not since Arnaud Massy became the first non-Briton to win the Open Championship in 1907 has a Frenchman lifted silverware at a recognized Tour event. Then again, patience is a virtue that Pavon is all too familiar with.
The world’s 890th ranked amateur when he turned professional in 2013, Pavon spent two years on the Alps Tour before graduating to the Challenge Tour, finally securing his card on the DP World Tour (European Tour) in 2017. His first win on the circuit would not arrive until six years and 185 starts later at the Spanish Open last October.
Pavon would not have even secured his 2024 PGA Tour membership had it not been for the four consecutive closing birdies at the season-ending DP World Tour Championship the following month which secured him one of the last remaining cards.
Fitting then, that victory in California came courtesy of a walk-off birdie at the 18th, just enough to edge Denmark’s Nicolai Hojgaard to the title.
“I don’t come from a normal background because I wasn’t a great player once,” Pavon told CNN Sport’s Don Riddell.
“When I was an amateur, I started in the third division in Europe, then went into the second, then on the main tour, then managed to come here in America and then I won. I think everybody was quite surprised.
“They probably knew I was a nice player, but going to America and winning at my third tournament, I think they weren’t ready for that and I don’t think I was ready to be fair.”
Saliva to tears
Those with a keen eye watching Pavon play may have noticed the Frenchman’s gaze repeatedly dropping to the 12 words tattooed on the back of his right hand: “The saliva that flows now will become the tears of joy tomorrow.”
Plucked from the walls of the Harvard University library, the quote is a testament to the two traits Pavon values above all others, passed on to him by his father Michel, a former professional footballer in France’s Ligue 1, and his mother Beatrice, a golf teacher in Bordeaux.
“It’s all about hard work and humility,” the soon-to-be world No. 34 explained.
“The sweat you’re gonna have to put into the gym, into those long-range sessions, they will just become some tears and proud moments on lifting a trophy … I read it [the tattoo] like 100 times on the last six holes and it really calmed me down.
“It was a way for me to come back to the shot I had to hit and just try to do my best in every situation I had to achieve.”
Beyond a $1.6 million payday, victory secured Pavon’s PGA Tour membership through 2026 and exemptions into all the lucrative Signature Events this season, as well as for The Players Championship and – most exciting of all – The Masters.
Augusta National and Spyglass Hill – host of this week’s Pebble Beach Pro-Am – were once courses Pavon could only navigate in the video game world of Tiger Woods PGA Tour 06. Now the 31-year-old Frenchman is playing them for real and taking in congratulations from some of the sport’s biggest names, be it Justin Thomas or Rickie Fowler.
“Spyglass, I played 100 times on my Playstation,” Pavon recalls.
“It’s the thing you dream about when you’re on the putting green and doing putting contests with friends. You’re always like, ‘Ok, this one is to win The Masters, this one is to win this tournament.’
“All of a sudden you show up on the 72nd hole of the Farmers Insurance and you’ve got a chance to do it for real this time, so it was a very pleasant moment.
“Those guys I’ve been watching for so many years on TV … they are coming to say hello and congratulate me for the performance. That means a lot, being recognized in the game by the best players in the world.”
Last year provided two key moments for inspiration for Pavon, starting with a famous home victory for Céline Boutier at the Evian Championship in July.
A near-flawless performance saw the Montrouge-native become the first Frenchwoman to win the tournament, and just the fourth French golfer ever – after Massy, 1967 US Women’s Open champion Catherine Lacoste and 2003 Chevron Championship winner Patricia Meunier-Lebouc – to lift a major crown.
Three months later at the Ryder Cup in Rome, Team Europe held off a late fightback from their American rivals to extend their imperious 30-year winning record on home soil.
Having cheered on from home, Pavon is ready to fight for his place on the plane to Bethpage, New York, at the 45th edition of the tournament in 2025.
“Everything I dreamed about, I have made it happen,” Pavon said.
“To play a Ryder Cup and win a major … that would be something I will practice and give everything for.”
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