The Van de Velde Follies

By Rich LernerNovember 5, 2009, 10:46 pm
Project 99I was there when ... the Frenchman became an adjective for all future episodes of golf infamy. You know, 'That was a collapse of Van de Veldian proportions.' Or, 'He experienced a momentary lapse of Van de Veldian confusion.'

The 1999 Open Championship remains the single most bizarre event I’ve ever covered. Until the 72nd hole, it had been perhaps the most forgettable and unappealing, at least from a competitive standpoint.

Personally, though, it was not without some good memories.

I arrived in Carnoustie, a hard-boiled town with none of nearby St. Andrews' charm, nearly a week before the first round. My cameraman, Paul Schlegel, and I were working on a British Open preview show.
Jean Van de Velde
Jean Van de Velde in one of the most dubious images in golf. (Getty Images)
We found the townspeople to be very hospitable. Initially, our accommodations put us more than an hour outside the town. So while working on our stories, we left our contact numbers with a few local businesses in hopes that they might hear of an opening closer to the golf course. We scored quickly, and it was the equivalent of a hole-in-one.  

The Rockcliff House sits directly across from the 18th hole on Links Road. Winston Churchill stayed there in 1918. He didn’t golf, but I could imagine him doing as we did, sipping 10-year-old Tubermore while reading the salacious British tabs.  

It’s owned by the Wilkie family, and they couldn’t have been nicer, preparing breakfast and dinner, doing our laundry and greeting us at day’s end like Mom and Dad.  

Unpretentious, Carnoustians could also be fiercely defensive of their golf course. Off Scotland’s east coast, the tiny beach town with the menacing name has always existed in the shadow of St. Andrews.

“They can have the 'Home of golf' and all the romance, we definitely have the golf course,” said Joe Gourlay of Carnoustie Golf Club.

A far cry from exclusive Muirfield, Carnoustie’s the layman’s club.

“It’s love of the game that counts, not how fat your wallet is,” added John Laurie, another member.

Absent from the rota for nearly a quarter century because of inadequate roads and hotels, Carnoustie had finally returned. The 1999 Open would be a reminder of not only Carnoustie’s modern relevance but also its importance historically in the game.

But John Philp had other ideas.  

Philp was the greenskeeper. I remember early in the week of the championship I’d toured the course with him. Keep in mind this was at the height of the distance explosion, when Tiger had made a mockery of Augusta’s par 5s a couple years before.

Philp was a staunch traditionalist, and he was determined to make a statement. He thought that modern technology had gone way too far.  It almost seemed as though he wanted to punish the new generation. 

And he did.

Funny, I even recall asking him to name a guy he thought played the game the right way, which is to say hitting fairways. He said Justin Leonard, who’d won the Open in 1997 and would ultimately make the playoff with Van de Velde and eventual winner, Paul Lawrie.

In any event, the rough was a joke. Greg Norman whiffed in waist high jungle. A foot off the fairway.  

“It was unfair,” Tiger said.

Fifty-five players shot in the 80s on Day 1. Sergio Garcia posted 89. Forty-four players failed to break 300 for the week.

It was a complete embarrassment. And it dominated conversations all week. That and how the Open would never be coming back to Carnoustie, as well as what flight you were on Monday morning. People couldn’t wait to escape.

Carnoustie was getting the winner it deserved, an obscure 33-year-old Frenchman with just one previous win to his credit.  

Most of the writers had pretty much filed their stories by Sunday afternoon. Jean Van de Velde would be the first Frenchman since Arnaud Massey in 1907 to win the Open Championship on a layout that savaged and demoralized the best players in the world.

Laptops were being packed up. The mood was flat, even depressing after a long week dealing with beat up and cranky players.  

And then it started to rain.

And then the Frenchman jumped in the burn.

And then all hell broke loose.

I couldn’t get a good vantage point from behind 18 green so I ran into the pro shop and watched on a small TV, stunned like the rest of the world.   

There were maybe a half dozen people crammed in among the racks of shirts and hats and sweaters. All I heard were comments probably no different than the ones you heard wherever you were watching.
     
“What the hell is he doing?”

“Oh my God, he’s gonna’ try to hit it out of there.”

“This is unreal.”  

Suddenly, the atmosphere went from flat to surreal. A massive burst of adrenaline shot through the grounds.
 
By most sensible accounts, Van de Velde never, ever should have been in this predicament. He needed a double bogey-6 to win.  A double-freaking-bogey.

That’s 3-iron, two wedges and two putts, right?  

Wrong, according to Van de Velde.

“To me it was against the spirit of the game,” he later said. “I’m going to hit a wedge and then another wedge and then what, three-putt from 30 feet to win by one?”

He hit driver right. But rather than lay-up short of the burn, he decided to go for the green with a 2 iron. This one sailed off the upper rail of the grandstands right and bounced into high rough short of the burn. Bad break? You could make that case. But it’s hard to make the case that hitting 2-iron was the smartest move.

At this point, logic and reason should have grabbed Van de Velde by the collar and screamed in his face, “Punch it sideways into the fairway, wedge it on in four and two-putt for the Claret Jug.”

Van de Velde instead aimed toward the green and took a hack. Act II of Carnoustie’s Theater of the Absurd was about to begin.

Ankle deep in the cold waters of the Barry Burn, Van de Velde stared helplessly at his submerged golf ball, photographers just above him snapping away at what would become an iconic picture.

“I could see the ball sinking,” he said. “Telling me, ‘Hey, you silly man, not for you, not today.’”

ABC’s Curtis Strange said, “It’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen.”

Imagine if he’d actually tried to hit it out of the burn. We’ll never know, but that he even considered it, that he rolled up his pants was enough to elevate the whole scene to the level of tragic comedy.

Van de Velde took a drop and then knocked his fifth shot into the right greenside bunker. He’d now need an up-and-down just to make a playoff with Leonard and Lawrie, who began the day 10 shots back but shot 67.  The greatest Sunday comeback in a major had been eight shots by Jackie Burke Jr. at the 1956 Masters.   

Incredibly, Craig Parry, playing alongside Van de Velde, was in the same bunker laying two. And he holed his shot!  

He turned to Van de Velde and said, “What about following me into the hole?”

Van de Velde blasted to 8 feet instead.

After he made the greatest triple bogey in history, I scurried out to follow the playoff. It was madness. Chaos.

Van de Velde doubled the first of four playoff holes. Lawrie birdied the final two. Only the Scots cared that he’d won. Van de Velde was the story.  

When he finished his big room interview with the print journalists, Van de Velde came outside to the tiny area where the cable networks – Golf Channel, CNN, ESPN and Sky – were waiting to talk to him.

It was pouring.

With a smile, Van de Velde looked up at the dark skies and said with his unmistakable accent and good cheer, “Zis is fitting, zis rain, no?!  What can you do?”   

And then he faced the sad, sad music with grace and humor. “There are worse things in life,” he said. “This is only a golf tournament. I made plenty of friends because a Scottish man won.”

Van de Velde lives with his family today in Dubai, playing sparingly on the European Tour.

Of course, he’s not the only man to have made a calamitous mistake late in a major championship. Phil Mickelson and Arnold Palmer both made double bogey on the 72nd hole to lose a U.S. Open, Sam Snead a triple.  But for sheer disbelief, it will be hard to ever top the sight of Van de Velde with his pants rolled up in the burn, and then pumping his fist after draining the putt for triple bogey.

Nothing has ever approached the British Open of 1999.

I remember years later the crack from a Scotsman. “It was all very French,” he explained. “Flair and panache took over common sense.'

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 1, Justin Thomas

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 1:00 pm

He won a major, captured the FedExCup and was named the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year. It should come as no surprise that Justin Thomas holds the top spot on our Newsmakers list for 2017.

Thomas entered the year ranked outside the top 20, and few might have pegged him for a transcendent campaign. But he kicked off January with a win in Hawaii, added another before leaving the Aloha State and never looked back.

Thomas’ seminal moment came in August when he captured the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow for his breakthrough major title. One month after greeting Jordan Spieth behind the final green at Royal Birkdale, this time it was Thomas’ turn to have friends stick around to snap pictures with the trophy that signaled his arrival among golf’s upper echelon.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


In addition to racking up the hardware – five in total, including the inaugural CJ Cup at Nine Bridges in his first start of the new wraparound season – Thomas dazzled with style. His runaway win at the Sony Open included an opening-round 59, and his third-round 63 at Erin Hills marked the first time anyone had ever shot 9 under on a U.S. Open venue.

Thomas’ consistency was rewarded at East Lake, when a runner-up finish at the Tour Championship netted him the season-long title and $10 million prize. It was in the subsequent press conference where he shared the goals list he had written into his cell phone in February, having ticked off nearly every one. It showed a dedicated attention to detail as well the tactical approach with which Thomas had steered his rapid ascent.

Heading into a new year, he’s now very clearly entrenched as one of the world’s best. And as his career progresses, it’s likely we’ll look back at 2017 as the point where Thomas first transformed great potential into eye-popping results.

Win No. 1: Title defense at the CIMB Classic

Article: Thomas (64) rallies to defend CIMB title


Win Nos. 2 and 3: The Hawaiian double

Article: Thomas refuses to let disastrous hole derail TOC win

Article: Worst week ever ends with another title at Sony Open


Record Round No. 1: 59 at the Sony Open

Article: Thomas becomes youngest player to shoot 59

Take a look: Thomas’ scorecard from his amazing 59


Record Round No. 2: 63 at the U.S. Open

Article: Thomas sets U.S. Open record with 9-under 63


Temporary Slide: Open MC makes it three in a row

Watch: Thomas loses club, makes 9, misses Open cut


Mr. Major (and win No. 4): PGA champ at Quail Hollow

Article: Thomas joins the club – the major club


Win No. 5: Dell Technologies Championship

Article: Thomas wins the battle of buddies over Spieth


The $10 Million Man: FedExCup champ


Biggest Win of All? Player of the Year


And One to Grow On: Wins at CJ Cup in 2017-18 season

Article: Thomas caps torrid 12-month run with CJ Cup win


Photo Galleries: Best of ...

Best of: Justin Thomas and Jillian Wisniewski

Best of: Justin Thomas through the years

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 18, 2017, 12:30 pm

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.