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.'

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.



It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.



Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.



Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.



Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.



After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.



Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.


Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters


Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.