A Frenchmans Follies Forever Alter Carnoustie

By Associated PressJuly 14, 2007, 4:00 pm
Its reputation as the toughest links in golf is now a footnote.
 
All but forgotten are the British Open champions who have conquered Carnoustie, a list that includes Tommy Armour, Ben Hogan, Gary Player and Tom Watson.
 
One hole changed everything.
 
Only one name is linked to Carnoustie now, and it won't be found anywhere on the claret jug.
 
'This is only a golf tournament,' Jean Van de Velde said on a gloomy evening in 1999. 'Who is going to remember this in 200 years?'
 
How can anyone possibly forget?
 
Van de Velde stood on the 18th tee at Carnoustie with a three-shot lead in the British Open, certain to become the first Frenchman in 92 years to win golf's oldest championship.
 
And then it all unraveled with a series of bad bounces, bad luck, bad decisions.
 
'It was probably the best 71 holes in his career, and the one worst hole in his career, all wrapped into one,' Jim Furyk said.
 
The winner became an afterthought.
 
Paul Lawrie had a Sunday-best 67 in the final round to come from 10 shots behind, and when he outlasted Van de Velde and Justin Leonard in a playoff, the unheralded Scot was in the history books with the largest comeback in major championship history.
 
Van de Velde wound up in the history books for all the wrong reasons.
 
He will not be back at Carnoustie, coping with a mysterious virus that caused him to withdraw from British Open qualifying. In his place will be memories that are as vivid now as they were in 1999.
 
'It was amazing to watch,' said Craig Parry, who played with Van de Velde in the final round. 'I really did feel sorry for Jean. No other golfer has had to go through that. Greg Norman got close. But this guy had his name on the jug.'
 
First, though, Van de Velde had a driver in his hand. And that's where his troubles began.
 
The safe shot would have been an iron off the tee, another iron to stay short of the Barry Burn, a wedge to the green. Playing with flair, Van de Velde smashed a tee shot that sailed so far right that it stayed out of the winding burn and found a good lie in the rough, so good that he had reason to go for the green with a 2-iron.
 
Leonard had been in the group ahead of Van de Velde, and the Texan figured his chances ended when he hit into the burn and made a superb up-and-down for bogey to finish at 6-over 290. He was signing his card when the travesty unfolded.
 
'I was in a little trailer that has a couple of rooms to it,' Leonard said. 'Someone said, 'You might want to come watch this.' He missed it right of the burn and was in the fairway, basically. I said, 'Wow, that was lucky.' Then he hits the grandstand. And that was unlucky.'
 
Van de Velde had 189 yards to the green. His only concern was going too far left of the green and out-of-bounds. It sailed right again, which should have been no problem. If it hits the bleachers, or goes into the bleachers, he would have had a free drop. Instead, it hit a tiny rail and caromed back across the green, into rough so deep Van de Velde had no shot.
 
'What are the odds of that one hitting the stands and coming back to there?' Nick Faldo said. 'That's a million-to-one.'
 
This was the one.
 
Van de Velde studied his options, none of which were appealing. It would have seemed prudent to hack out sideways to the fairway, but there was no guarantee he could find short grass, and then he might still have a miserable lie and a burn between him and the green.
 
'You had to be there to appreciate how bad it was,' Parry said. 'It's the worst I've ever seen.'
 
Van de Velde ultimately decided to hack it out over the burn, but the ball tumbled into the shallow creek.
 
Well, it was shallow at the time.
 
The tragedy turned into a comedy when Van de Velde walked around the fairway to the other side of the burn, then decided he might have a shot out of the stream. He removed his shoes and socks, rolled up his navy blue slacks to his knees and stepped into the chilly water. The tide was coming in, and when he got to his ball, the shot no longer looked possible.
 
Van de Velde stood there, hands on hip, a wedge dangling in his hand, grinning.
 
'When he hit it in there, the ball was sitting up out of the water,' Parry said. If he had gone straight to the ball, instead of walking around to the other side, he would have had a chance.'
 
Instead, he had to take a penalty drop into more rough. That was his fourth stroke.
 
Leonard remained in the trailer.
 
'I go from a feeling of real disappointment to all of a sudden having a second chance,' he said. 'I just continued to watch the whole thing unravel. It was like I was playing junior golf, trying to count up how many times he hit it, what he was going to make. You lose track.'
 
The next shot cleared the burn, but not the bunker. Five shots.
 
Parry also hit into the bunker with his second shot and was first to play. A massive roar shook Carnoustie when Parry holed his shot for a birdie. The Australian smiled, looked at Van de Velde and said, 'Follow me in.'
 
The best he could do was 8 feet. But he made the putt for triple bogey, then tried to clear his head for the playoff.
 
Two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange was the analyst for ABC Sports, watching in disbelief from the booth. Strange played long enough in his Hall of Fame career to experience his share of failure. But nothing like this.
 
'I don't like to use the word 'dumb,' but it's the most stupid thing I've seen in my life in golf,' Strange said.
 
He compared the blunders to Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo mishandling a snap on a field goal in the playoffs last year or Bill Buckner letting a grounder go through his legs at first base to score the winning run in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.
 
This was different.
 
'Those were all instinctive things,' Strange said. 'With Van de Velde, he had a chance to think out the entire hole. He had a chance to use strategy on every shot. And he took the wrong club every time.'
 
Van de Velde was the last player to arrive on the 15th tee for the four-hole playoff. He lost the lead, but not his humor.
 
'I thought it would be better if we keep the entertainment going, and that is why I have invited you to play a few more holes,' he said to Lawrie and Leonard.
 
The Frenchman then hit another bad drive into a bush and took double bogey. He tried to rally with a birdie on the 17th to pull within one shot of Lawrie, but it ended when the Scot hit 4-iron to 3 feet to sew up the victory.
 
He had the claret jug. Van de Velde had some explaining to do.
 
'Next time, maybe I'll hit the wedge and you will all forgive me,' Van de Velde said.
 
There probably won't be a next time.
 
Van de Velde won the Madeira Island Open last year. His first European Tour victory in 13 years allows him to keep his card through next season, but he has qualified for only one major over the last five years, missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2005.
 
He was at Royal Troon the year before doing commentary for the BBC, and spoke briefly about his infamous day at Carnoustie.
 
'That's what sport is about,' Van de Velde said. 'It's about emotion, whether good or bad. At the end of the day, there has always been one guy coming out to the disappointment of another. It was a good tournament. It was a tough tournament.
 
'And everyone suffered along the way.'
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - 136th Open Championship
  • Getty Images

    Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

    SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

    The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

    Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

    It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

    “It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

    Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

    According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

    “I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

    And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

    As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

    He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

    “I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

    Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

    “I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

    Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

    Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

    “If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

    Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

    Getty Images

    Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

    After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

    With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    “Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

    “I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

    Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

    Getty Images

    Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    “I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

    “I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

    Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

    Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

    “We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.” 

    Getty Images

    Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:35 pm

    SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.

    The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.

    Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.


    Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos


    Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.

    Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:

    • Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10

    • Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1

    • Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1