Van de Velde Best Of the Worst - COPIED - COPIED

By Brian HewittJuly 30, 2007, 4:00 pm
I was right there behind the green. It was one of the best seats in the house for one of the worst series of moments in the history of golf.
 
It was 1999. It was Carnoustie. And it was going to be the most glorious golf achievement in the history of Gaul. Instead it was just galling.
 
It was chilly and rainy and windy. And it was instantly infamous.
 
Jean Van de Velde
Jean Van de Velde's collapse began by using driver off the 18th tee. (Getty Images)
During the half hour or so that it took Frenchman Jean Van de Velde to abominate the 72nd hole at the Open Championship that year the noises emanating from the gallery were like nothing I had ever heard. It was as if thousands of people had been lined up and forced to watch one car wreck after another. These were not cheers or groans or sighs. They were shrieks of disbelief.
 
You know by now how it played out. Van De Velde made a triple-bogey 7 on the final hole of regulation when double-bogey would have left his fingerprints on the Claret Jug.
 
The resultant four-hole playoff between Van de Velde, American Justin Leonard and Scotlands Paul Lawrie was won decisively by Lawrie. Oddly, no European has won a major championship since then.
 
So many things were lost in Van de Veldes 11th-hour wreckage that day, including how much better he played than everybody else in the field for the other 35 holes of the weekend on a course that had been doctored to the edge of unplayability by an unchecked superintendent.
 
Leonard, who had won the Open Championship just two years earlier at Royal Troon and had a game so many people thought was perfectly suited to this event, was the overwhelming favorite in the playoff. But the locals were counting on the little-known Lawrie from just up the road in Aberdeen, where he grew up memorizing all the bumps and hollows that determine winners in linksland golf.
 
For me, covering Carnoustie as a writer, the championship began benignly enough on Thursday. I had wanted to check out English boy wonder Luke Donald, the hot young kid out of Northwestern University. Donald was an amateur still and, everybody insisted, the goods.
 
Luke Donald is god, said one PGA TOUR official.
 
Little did I know that I would be watching the eventual champion when I caught up to Donalds group on the front nine. His playing competitors Thursday and Friday were Australias Peter Lonard and the aforementioned Lawrie.
 
Peter, Paul and Luke. The Three Apostles. Donald missed the cut. Lonard finished T49.
 
I was impressed with Lonards ball-striking, Donalds swing and Lawries short game. But mostly it was the golf course that got my attention. The sixth hole, a wicked par-5, had a landing area 11 paces wide for second shots.
 
The first-round leader, Rodney Pampling, missed the cut. Sergio Garcia barely broke 90 on Friday and responded by weeping openly in his mothers arms after failing to advance to the weekend.
 
Hogan had won the only Open he had entered at Carnoustie way back in 1953. Tom Watson had notched the first of his five Open Championships in 1975 when he birdied the 72nd hole to force an 18-hole playoff with Australian Jack Newton.
 
And now I found myself tracking down Van de Veldes caddie and asking him why, for the love of God, he had allowed his man to hit a driver on the 72nd. The caddie was shaken and never completely answered.
 
It wasnt his fault. Nor was it really Van de Veldes. His tee ball landed in a safe spot. And, clearly, his intention was to bail right on his second. The reasoning was sound. If the ball lands in the bleachers, Van de Velde gets a free drop and has four shots remaining from near the green to win the championship.
 
I dont believe in bad breaks in golf. If you hit a shot to a spot where something bad happens to your golf ball, you deserve what you get. That having been said, what happened to Van de Veldes second shot was the worst break Ive ever seen on a golf course.
 
His ball hit a metal fitting on a railing in the stands and ricocheted to a spot from where, as Bob Rosburg used to famously say, he had no shot. Van de Velde proved this to be true when his third landed in the water. A drop to an impossible lie in four and a fifth into the greenside bunker meant the Frenchman had to get up and down just to join the playoff.
 
He did so, gallantly. But everybody knew his moment had passed.
 
Van de Velde went on to become, arguably, the most famous loser in the history of the game. When I caught up to him outside the press tent he was holding forth with reporters. It was clear he was going to stick around and talk about what had occurred for as long as there were people with questions.
 
Soon thereafter Van de Velde would fire his caddie. Then his marriage foundered. Injuries attacked his effectiveness on the golf course.
 
As recently as last week a lingering virus prevented him from earning a spot into this years Open Championship at what is expected to be a kindler, gentler Carnoustie.
 
Carnoustie is a small town in the east of Scotland. Everything about it is a spoiled Americans worst nightmare. The lodging choices are below standard. The restaurant choices are limited. The amenities are scarce. And the golf course just kind of sits there and broods.
 
Despite all that, Hogan, Watson and Van de Velde have authored golf history at Carnoustie. So did Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton and Gary Player in other Open Championships at Carnoustie.
 
I cant wait for the next chapter.
 
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    But while McIlroy admits to wanting to be a little less structured on the course, he took offense to comments made by swing coach Butch Harmon during a Sky Sports telecast.

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    “He is one of the best players the game has ever seen. If he would just go back to being a kid and playing the way he won these championships and play your game, don’t have any fear or robotic thoughts. Just play golf. Just go do it.

    “This is a young kid who’s still one of the best players in the world. He needs to understand that. Forget about your brand and your endorsement contracts. Forget about all that. Just go back to having fun playing golf. I still think he is one of the best in the world and can be No.1 again if he just lets himself do it.”

    McIlroy, who has never worked with Harmon, responded to the comments when asked about them following his opening round.

    “Look, I like Butch. Definitely, I would say I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum than someone that's mechanical and someone that's – you know, it's easy to make comments when you don't know what's happening,” McIlroy said. “I haven't spoken to Butch in a long time. He doesn't know what I'm working on in my swing. He doesn't know what's in my head. So it's easy to make comments and easy to speculate. But unless you actually know what's happening, I just really don't take any notice of it.”

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    • After 36 holes, the low 70 players and ties will advance to compete in the final two rounds. Anyone finishing worse than that will get the boot. Only those making the cut earn official money from the $10.5 million purse.

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    Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

    What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

    What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

    How old is it?

    It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

    Where is it played?

    There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

    Where will it be played this year?

    At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

    Who has won The Open on that course?

    Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

    Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

    Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

    Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

    This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

    Who has won this event the most?

    Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

    What about the Morrises?

    Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

    Have players from any particular country dominated?

    In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

    Who is this year's defending champion?

    That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

    What is the trophy called?

    The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

    Which Opens have been the most memorable?

    Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

    When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

    Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.