A U.S. Open local qualifier at Bethpage State Park's Red Course was shortened to 17 holes earlier this week because of what the Metropolitan Golf Association termed "agronomic issues."
The course in Farmingdale, N.Y., normally plays as a par-70, but during the May 14 qualifier it was reduced to a 17-hole, par-67 layout because the green on the par-3 fourth hole was deemed unfit for use.
Bethpage Red was announced by the USGA as one of 111 local qualifying sites on Feb. 23. Brian Mahoney, the MGA's managing director of rules and competition, said via e-mail that several courses in the area suffered from "winter kill" this offseason, and that officials first became aware of the issues on the Red Course during an April 9 site visit.
"At that time the night temperatures were still cold enough that it was difficult to predict how quickly the turf was going to recover," Mahoney wrote. "On April 27 we received reports that the green had not made any significant progress. At that time we contacted the USGA to discuss recourse."
Because the issue was isolated to a single green, Mahoney said the MGA and USGA felt that finding an alternative venue for the qualifier was "unnecessary." He added that a 17-hole, stipulated round was both permitted within the rules and "our only realistic option." Participants were notified of the circumstances on April 30, the day after entries closed.
On May 11, three days before the qualifier, officials noted that the green "had recovered." Because most players had not played the hole during a practice round - and because the green might still be in a different condition than the other 17 holes - Mahoney said that reducing the qualifier to 17 holes remained "the most equitable solution."
Kevin Ausserlechner earned medalist honors with a 17-hole score of 5-under 62, while there was a 3-for-1 playoff at 1-under 66. Tyler Jaramillo grabbed the seventh qualifier spot from the 120-man field, while amateurs Johnny Schob and Sean Cavanaugh were first and second alternates, respectively.
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In his practice round Monday at Carnoustie, Jon Rahm bashed away with driver on the 18th tee, reducing one of the most intimidating finishing holes in championship golf into a driver-wedge.
Indeed, when it comes to his choice of clubs off the tee this week at The Open, Rahm has one strategy in mind.
“As many drivers as I can,” he said after playing 18 alongside Rory McIlroy. “I just feel comfortable with it.”
Playing downwind, the firm and fast conditions on the 18th have led some players, even a medium-length hitter like Brandt Snedeker, to challenge the burn fronting the green.
Rahm explained Monday why that was the prudent play.
“You can lay up with an iron farther back and have 140 or 150 meters to the front and have a 7-, 8- or 9-iron in,” Rahm said. “But if you hit a good one with a driver, you’re going to have nothing to the green.
“If you hit the rough this year, it’s not as thick as other years. You actually get a lot of good lies, so you can still hit the green with confidence.”
Rahm said that revelation was “quite surprising,” especially after encountering thicker fescue when he played the French Open and Irish Open, where he recorded a pair of top-5 finishes.
“But with this much sun” – it hasn’t rained much, if at all, over the past six weeks – “the fescue grass can’t grow. It just dies,” he said. “It’s a lot thinner than other years, so unless they can magically grow it thicker the next few days, it’s pretty safe to assume we can be aggressive.”
The thing I remember about the 1999 Open Championship is that for 54 holes, it was boring. I can’t speak for the next 17, because I didn’t watch. I took advantage of a beautiful Sunday morning to play golf. When our group finished, we went into the clubhouse hoping to catch the last few holes or at least find out who won. Instead, we were greeted by an almost deafening buzz. It seemed everyone in the dining room was excitedly talking at once.
The wall-mounted televisions provided the answer. There stood Jean Van de Velde, resplendent in a white visor and blue shirt, and whatever the opposite of “resplendent” is with his trouser legs rolled up above his knees. He was up to his ankles in the burn that winds in front of Carnoustie’s 18th green, hands on hips, holding a wedge. He was staring down into the water the way you’d stare at a storm grate through which you had just accidentally dropped your car keys. You know, the “What the heck am I going to do NOW?” stare.
Van de Velde was the reason I had dismissed this 128th Open Championship as boring. Actually, he was one of two reasons. The first was that Tiger Woods was no factor. The second was that Van de Velde was running away with it, having taken a five-shot lead into the final round. It also didn’t help my interest level that I knew nothing about Van de Velde. I didn’t know Jean Van de Velde from Jean Valjean. The only thing I knew about him was that he was French, and the last great French golfer was … uh, I’ll have to get back to you on that.
As we got caught up on Van de Velde’s predicament – he had gone to the tee of the par-4 18th hole with a three-shot lead, but through a series of calamities now lay 3 … underwater – now my opinion of the guy did a 180. NOW I wanted him to win. It wasn’t going to be easy, though. Surely he would come to his senses and take a drop (4), then pitch onto the green (5) and hope to get that shot close enough that he could make the putt for 6 and claim the claret jug. A 7 – which would have plunged him into a playoff – was not a farfetched possibility.
Not farfetched at all; that’s the score he made, only it didn’t unfold quite as simply as I had envisioned. After taking his drop, Van de Velde hit his next shot into a greenside bunker. He then blasted out to 8 feet and, needing to make the putt to get into a playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie, he did just that.
You think Leonard’s 45-footer at Brookline that won the Ryder Cup later that year was clutch? I’ll take Van de Velde’s putt eight days a week.
But there would be no happy ending for Van de Velde. In the four-hole, aggregate playoff, he opened with a double bogey and watched Lawrie win his only major.
Van de Velde got roasted in the media for “choking” and “making stupid decisions.” I felt this was unfair. So the next day, in my capacity as a sports columnist for The Palm Beach Post, I wrote this:
“I have a new hero. Jean Van de Velde, The Man Who Gave Away the British Open.” I wrote that Van de Velde had “remained true to himself” and that had he geared down and played the hole safely and won with a double bogey, he would have been quickly forgotten.
As it turned out, because of his tragedy (self-inflicted though it was), he gained far more fame for losing than Lawrie did for winning (which is unfair to Lawrie, but that’s a tale for another time). I’ll also wager that Van de Velde gained far more fans for the grace with which he took his defeat than he would have had he won. See Norman, Greg, Augusta, 1996.
Van de Velde may have made some questionable decisions – hitting driver off the tee, bringing water into play on his third shot when he had a horrible lie – but he had reasons for all of them. Nowhere do you see him saying “I am such an idiot” a la Phil Mickelson, or “What a stupid I am” a la Roberto De Vicenzo.
“Sure, I could have hit four wedges,” he recently told Golf Channel. “Wouldn’t they have said, ‘He won The Open, but, hey, he hit four wedges.’ I mean, who hits four wedges?”
There’s a great scene in the 1991 movie “The Commitments,” about putting a soul-music band together in the slums of Dublin. Against all odds, the band reaches the brink of success before sinking in a maelstrom of arguments and fistfights after its last gig.
Manager Jimmy Rabbitte is trudging home through the gloom, when saxophonist Joey “The Lips” Fagan rides up on his ever-present scooter. Joey tries to get Jimmy to see the bright side.
“Look, I know you're hurting now, but in time you'll realize what you've achieved,” Joey says.
“I've achieved nothing!” Jimmy snaps.
“You're missing the point,” Joey replies. “The success of the band was irrelevant - you raised their expectations of life, you lifted their horizons. Sure we could have been famous and made albums and stuff, but that would have been predictable. This way it's poetry.’
That’s what Jean Van de Velde created on that memorable Scottish day in July 1999.
When it was his turn to call the action in the ABC Sports booth, Mike Tirico tried to set up the coronation at Carnoustie.
“This,” he intoned, “will rank right up there, all time, as one of the biggest shocks ever ...”
And then Jean Van de Velde arrived on the 18th tee.
What happened next remains the subject of endless fascination, even now, 19 years later, as the unheralded Frenchman starred in some of the most bizarre, farcical and unlucky moments in major championship history, a remarkable 22-minute stretch that has come to define Van de Velde’s career, though apparently not the man himself.
Before his Shakespearean collapse, Van de Velde had entered the 1999 Open Championship as the 152nd-ranked player in the world; his betting odds were so long that he didn’t even appear on the tote board. The 33-year-old was a European Tour toiler with a brief biography, a local qualifier who had played only one practice round that week because the conditions and course were so brutal that he didn’t want to shatter his confidence. Yet as scores soared in what will go down as one of the most difficult major tests ever, Van de Velde’s self-deprecating humor and scalding-hot putter carried him to the brink of Grand Slam glory, needing only a double-bogey 6 on the 487-yard finisher to win.
With The Open returning to Carnoustie for the second time since Van de Velde’s meltdown, we talked to nearly 20 players, officials, scorers, spectators, commentators and writers who witnessed a 72nd hole unlike any other.
* * *
TIRICO: [On-course reporter] Bob Rosburg had a way of seeing things before they happened that nobody else did. Rossie said, ‘Curtis [Strange], don’t tell me he’s going to take a driver here,’ because that’s the one thing that can get you in trouble. He was hinting, with a bit of surprise, that he wasn’t protecting the lead with some of his club choices off the tee. If there’s anything from that day that rings in my head still, it’s Rossie putting up the warning signal before Van de Velde gets to the 18th tee.
PETER ALLISS (BBC commentator): He was standing by the bag with his caddie, a very young caddie, only looked about 16 or 17. (He was 30.) And I said, ‘You think he’ll take an iron, maybe a 4-wood? He’s got to keep out of the burn that runs down the right and away from the out of bounds on the left.’ Then we see him take the headcover off the driver and I said, ‘Oh my God!’
CRAIG PARRY (Van de Velde’s playing partner): Jean has caught a lot of flak for 18, but if it was 10 minutes earlier, and that rain and wind wasn’t there, it was a different shot from the tee. He probably would have had a different game plan. But Carnoustie’s 18th is not an easy hole in the best of times, and it was a little bit of misty rain, a little breeze, and it’s not real warm. It was probably 240 yards to carry all of that rough, and it was playing really, really long.
So you have a long par 4 into the wind, the ball isn’t going very far, and you have a moment where you have to make a bogey or double to win The Open. That’s not the easiest thing to do.
CHRISTOPHE ANGIOLINI (Van de Velde’s caddie): We had a very aggressive strategy that entire week. Our strategy was to attack. While most players were prioritizing control off the tee on the par 4s, a long iron to try to put it in the fairway, our strategy was to hit the ball very far, even if we ended up in the rough. That strategy paid off that week for 71 holes.
VAN DE VELDE: Do you want to put your name on the trophy? I played the last hole like I played any other hole throughout the week. Is it fair to do the same thing? Probably not. Maybe you should’ve taken me and shaken me very hard or kicked me and I would say, ‘Well, what are you doing?’ And you’d say, ‘Buddy, just throw it with your hand and you win.’
ANGIOLINI: The big problem was that we didn’t have the experience of being in first place at a major. For me, I had only been caddying for three years. I had never found myself in the lead of a tournament, and neither did he. His panache, his French side, his demonstrative side made us not reflect enough on the 18th hole. Unfortunately we decided to use the driver, and I think that was the basic error. We didn’t think it through enough at the beginning of the 18th.
SHOT NO. 1
MARY SUMMERS (walking scorer with group): We didn’t see his drive – we just knew it had gone right. Any local would say that there’d be a lot of balls right if they were going to bail out.
ALLISS: Suddenly it appears and bounces along the right-hand side of the stream. It bounces, bounces, bounces, and it stays on the grass. We said, ‘Oh, well, he’s won.’
VAN DE VELDE: I found a little piece of grass, just past the burn on the 17th fairway. I don’t even know how the ball finished there.
TIRICO: The weather was so bad, and with the quality of the cameras at that time, you almost did a double take with what you were seeing. And when that tee shot is hit, I’m almost looking in disbelief at where it landed, how far right it was. There was silence for a couple of seconds: He’s over there? What a good break he got.
JUNE CLARK (chief scorer at The Open): Sitting up there in the crowd, you could see his ball out on what is called The Island. Everybody is just watching and thinking, 'Well, that’s OK. That’s no problem. I’ve seen a lot of people play from there before.'
PAUL LAWRIE (posted 6-over 290, after a closing 67): At the time, we thought he’s gotten really lucky there. But the fact that it was dry off the tee meant that he had to go for it. If it’d gone in the water, I don’t think he could have reached the green where he would have had to drop it. So it actually ended up being the first time that he was unlucky.
ALLISS: If it had taken a left-hand turn and gone into the water, that might have been a good thing. He might have been not so sure and laid up. It’s always so simple from the sidelines, but it’s there. He’s won. He’s the champ. Instead, it’s: OK, what do I do now?
SHOT NO. 2
Van de Velde’s drive left him 225 yards for his second shot into 18. The crucial decision: Lay up with a short iron, or try to reach the green?
ALLISS: They debate the second shots, and we’re all saying, ‘Take a 7-iron and just bunt it down there, knock it on the green, and then he’s got three putts to win the championship. Job’s done. Finished.’ And then he comes out with a long iron.
JUSTIN LEONARD (tied with Lawrie at 6 over): After being so lucky with the tee shot, just hit a wedge and a wedge. There’s no need to try for the green. There’s out of bounds left, there’s trouble everywhere. Just hit a wedge in the fairway, hit a wedge on the green, two or three putts, and you go home with it.
ANGIOLINI: There were two options. The first option was to lay up in front of the Barry Burn, so we decided that if we didn’t go for the green, we had to lay up with a 9-iron. Or if he wanted to go for it, it was 192 meters, a little headwind from the left and a little rain. The lie was really very good. So Jean said to me: ‘Why don’t we hit 2-iron?’
VAN DE VELDE: Let’s say you play an 8-iron and you push it a little bit where you don’t make the carry. Or you put it up the left and finish in the rough. Even if I pull my 2-iron I’m going to land in the water before I reached the out of bounds. So I aimed three yards right of the flag. If I find the bunker or the grandstand, the game is over. How often do you see a ball do what it did?
Van de Velde’s second shot drifted right, toward the grandstand, and ricocheted off the front railing. Hurtling backward, it bounced off the top step of the burn and buried in tall, thick rough, 63 yards from the green.
ANGIOLINI: We can’t see it from where we are. We hear people screaming, ‘Wow! Wow!’ and we don’t understand. To us, it seemed like a good shot; the ball must be in the grandstand.
TIRICO: I think he got one of the worst breaks I’ve ever seen in sports. Do you know how wide that railing is? It’s about as wide as your arm. If you look at the science of it, he got as bad of a break as you could ever get.
PARRY: It was two round objects hitting each other. If it’s a degree or two different, it goes in a totally different direction.
LAWRIE: We watched it hit the stands and come back short of the water, and we left to go into the clubhouse, thinking that was it, that he’s going to make 6 from there. He’s dry again.
LEONARD: When it bounces back, I think, 'OK, well, that’s another lucky break. Now it’s really over.'
ANGIOLINI: We head out to the bridge to cross the water hazard, except the people are saying, ‘No! No! No! The ball is over there, on the other side!’ We don’t understand. Finally, a rules official shows us that the ball is short of the Barry Burn, so at that moment we don’t comprehend what happened. We didn’t see the rebound. We just see that the ball is 50 meters short.
VAN DE VELDE: Usually you hit a grandstand, you never know where it’s going to go, but very often that’s why you have drop zones close to the grandstand. The ball doesn’t come back 60 yards.
JOHN PHILIP (Carnoustie course superintendent): That was seriously bad luck. That was his downfall. It wasn’t a bad shot – he played it to get over the burn, and it was on the right side of the green – but unfortunately, had it landed anywhere else, it would have been no problem.
VAN DE VELDE: Landing on those steps and coming back another 30 yards gave it even more momentum. So the ball nestled down. And remember, it blew for six consecutive days at 30 mph on high rough, which was now a little wet. So the grass was going this way and the ball went that way. When I arrived over there, I was like, This is not a very good lie here.
TIRICO: You’re starting to think that there could be a real problem here. You could hear it in the raised murmur of the crowd, the amount of photographers settling in. For the first time you’re a little concerned that this is turning into a third ring of a three-ring circus. And the next shot brought the circus to town.
SHOT NO. 3
SUMMERS: I couldn’t quite believe he had such a bad lie. I mean, that was awful. He really looked like he didn’t have a shot.
ANGIOLINI: The rain is starting to intensify, too, so all that makes the third shot pretty complicated. The rough started to be a little heavier, a little fatter. He tried the best he could, but unfortunately the ball just doesn’t get out.
ALLISS: Nobody ever thought anybody was going to go over there, and then he ponders, ponders, ponders, ponders and gives it a whack. Only it’s a half-hearted whack, because there’s out of bounds just over the green.
VAN DE VELDE: If I had one shot to do again, it would be the third one, because you bring everything into play. You bring the water into play. You bring in out of bounds behind because of how difficult the lie was, and I didn’t know how the ball was going to come out. But playing sideways, I didn’t have a guarantee to be on the fairway. It was impossible to get as bad of a lie as I did.
LAWRIE: We were driving past the BBC compound, and Dougie Donnelly was doing all of The Open coverage. He said, ‘Boys, you might want to come see this. He’s just chipped it into the water.’
DONNELLY (former BBC broadcaster): They had left the range when Jean was on the 18th tee, having accepted, as we all had, that it was over. But as they came past my spot behind the green, I called them over to watch the whole fiasco on my TV monitor. We watched the rest together.
CURTIS STRANGE (ABC Sports analyst): It’s hard to say one shot cost him the tournament over any other, but that’s the one that put the nail in the coffin. If you chip it out sideways and put it on in 4, no one ever talks about anything other than you won the claret jug.
JOHN HOPKINS (Correspondent for The Times of London): I remember feeling stunned by the extraordinary circumstances that were unfolding in front of me. It sort of froze me, and this is not a good thing to happen to a journalist on a deadline.
TIRICO: I’ve only watched it back a few times, but you can hear in my voice the astonishment. We’re just flabbergasted that this is really happening. It was about as bad as I’ve ever felt for an athlete watching, because you really felt like the guy was alone at that point.
STRANGE: It was hard to call. I said on-air it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, and I still think that way. I still do. You can look throughout the history of sports with guys who made tragic errors that were reactionary. But this wasn’t reactionary – he could think it out, and he still chose to hit those shots.
There was some criticism of that call, but I always said to those people, ‘What would you have said?’ They think for a minute and they all say: ‘Stupid.’
THINKING OVER SHOT NO. 4
With his ball partially submerged in the burn, Van de Velde contemplated his options for his fourth shot.
ALLISS: He comes around the bridge and starts to sit on the bank and is taking his socks and shoes off. And I said, ‘What the hell is he doing? I don’t know what he’s doing.’
VAN DE VELDE: The tide was coming up, and because it’s a bottleneck, it raises like crazy. When I decided to walk around, only a fourth of the ball was submerged, so I decided, 'Hey, I’m going to play that one.' It’s like a bunker shot, basically. So I take my shoes off, and by the time I walk down to the water, it has almost raised to the level of the ball.
HOPKINS: Where was the caddie? The caddie should have known that his player had reached a state of mind that was part showman, part out of control, part out of his mind. He wasn’t thinking absolutely normally and rationally at that moment.
ANGIOLINI: He grabs a club to go see if he can play it, if it seems possible. So he goes down and asks me: ‘What do you think?’ But I don’t know this shot. I cannot help him with that. I have no idea if it’s doable or not.
PARRY: He took so long to walk around the burn and decide what he was going to do. It took four or five minutes by the time he was ready to play it. But the tide was coming in, and the ball was oscillating, and it was going deeper and deeper. Had he gotten in there quicker, it was not an unplayable shot. It was not a problem at all.
ALLISS: He’s standing there with his hands on his hips. I really didn’t know what to say. Just wipe him down and give him a large brandy, for goodness sake.
TIRICO: He’s staring down at it, and you could almost put the cartoon caption out of his hat: 'What am I doing here?'
VAN DE VELDE: As I’m in there, I’m looking at it, like, 'What do I do here?' And as I lift my head, there’s about 50 photographers, one on top of each other. Like they were doing a human pyramid, and I wonder how a couple didn’t drop into the water. This is why I’m smiling. I’m like, Not only are you not going to be able to play it, but some guy is going to finish on your arms because I’m going to have to catch him as he goes down. It was funny.
SUMMERS: I think he got flustered by then, and he was playing to the crowd. He was trying to get his head back into the right place. People just couldn’t believe what was going on.
ANGIOLINI: It could have been a catastrophe. If the ball doesn’t come out, then it becomes a very complicated shot.
VAN DE VELDE: Craig Parry is standing on top of the burn and he says, ‘Jean, if you wait for six hours, it’s going to go the other way.’ If the tide hadn’t been coming in, I’m hitting it every day. Every day. I’m hitting it for sure. It’s nothing.
SHOT NO. 4 5
After a lengthy delay, Van de Velde decided to take a drop and play his fifth shot from the fescue.
ANGIOLINI: If you want to drop in a decent spot, you have to move 50,000 people who are crazy, held back by security. It’s just impossible. It takes too much time. So he tries to find a spot that’s less complicated than the shot he had before. He finds a spot where the rough is a little less dense, but when he drops the ball it sank a bit more. We know we can’t be short, because we can’t put it in the water, but it also can’t be long, because there is OB over the back.
VAN DE VELDE: Now I know I need to make 6 to win. So what do I do? Do I try to hit it left and make a 50-footer? Or do I try to hit it toward the flag and probably make a 15-footer? So I decide to go forward.
PARRY: That was still more or less the same shot as before, but the rough wasn’t as thick. He was obviously worried about the burn and the out of bounds, and it came out right on him, near my ball in the bunker.
LAWRIE: We had sat and watched for a couple of minutes, and then my coach’s instincts kicked in, like, 'Man, we need to get ourselves ready.' At that point it looked like Jean wouldn’t even be involved in the playoff.
SHOT NO. 6
Lawrie and Leonard had already posted 6-over 290, so Van de Velde needed to get up-and-down from the bunker just to join the playoff.
ANGIOLINI: When we cross the bridge again to go to the bunker, Craig said to Jean: ‘Take your time. Relax. Calm yourself down. If you want, I’ll play before you.’ And Jean says, ‘OK, yes, thank you.’
PARRY: It wasn’t that difficult of a bunker shot. It’s one you practice quite a bit, because you think 80 percent of the time you might make it. There wasn’t any pressure on me, anyway – I knew I was going to finish at least one shot shy. Then I holed it.
TIRICO: Like, really? As if the scene wasn’t bizarre enough.
PARRY: I turned to Jean and said, ‘Just follow me in.’
VAN DE VELDE: From pretty much the same spot, he hit the shot that I need. I mean, what is the percentage chance that I’m going to do the same thing behind him?
ALLISS: Had that gone in, I think I would have packed it in. I would have put my headphones down, and I would have said, ‘Gentle ladies and gentlemen, I’ve seen it all. I love you all. Good night,’ and put them down and walked out. It was ridiculous.
LEONARD: Once [Van de Velde] didn’t hole the bunker shot, I’ve got to completely shift my mindset. I’m going to be in a playoff, and it was a surreal feeling, because nobody expected it to be happening.
SHOT NO. 7
Having finally reached the green, Van de Velde stalked his 8-footer for triple bogey.
TIRICO: A few times I’ve regretted saying on-air, ‘You root for no one, you root against no one, but somehow you hope this goes in’ before his putt. But I was hoping he had the chance to win because it was hard to watch. As comical as it was at times, it was hard to watch somebody melt down like that in front of the world. I felt his pain.
We’re supposed to have this layer between us and the athlete, but he broke through that layer for me. I don’t know that I’d do it again, but I’m glad I said it then and I still feel that way.
DONNELLY: It’s one of the bravest putts I’ve ever seen to make the playoff.
LAWRIE: Even though he threw it away and it was a disaster for him, I thought he did really well to save it to get himself in the playoff at all.
HOPKINS: It was a gutsy putt I will always remember, just as I will remember French referee Pierre Bechmann walking up to him just after he holed the putt and tapping him on the shoulder, acknowledging, ‘Well done in the end. Good effort.’
VAN DE VELDE: I’m pumped, because I knew I needed to make it to go to a playoff. I haven’t lost yet. I haven’t won it. I stand with a chance as much as the others of winning this tournament.
DONNELLY: Walking off, he looked stunned, naturally, and didn’t seem to have anyone putting an arm around his shoulder and taking him off to a quiet corner to gather his thoughts. Bizarrely, his then-wife was laughing her head off – really throwing her head back and guffawing – while she was watching behind the green. It was a bizarre reaction.
TIRICO: Every golfer felt bad and felt angry: Angry that he let this happen by his choices; bad for the guy because, the few people who have won majors, they understand it’s this unbelievable intersection of their abilities, their moment and other guys not reaching the moment, and that winning a major is special. And everyone saw this guy’s chance to be in that forever group gone in one hole.
Listening to Curtis and Rossie talk, you got a sense about how disappointed they were for the individual, and also angry at some of the choices he made along the way, that he could have gotten out of it multiple times.
STRANGE: I was feeling so badly for Van de Velde, because I knew what he was going to go through for the rest of his life. I knew every night he laid his head on the pillow, he’d say: 'What if?'
* * *
During the commercial break, as Van de Velde and Parry signed their cards, an ESPN cameraman zoomed in on the claret jug. It appeared as though Van de Velde’s name had been scratched out.
“His name was on the jug, figuratively and literally,” Tirico told viewers. “They had to take it off. Maybe they’ll be putting it on again.”
A few years later, engraver Alex Harvey denied that he’d started early: “I’ve got to wait until the secretary hands me a slip of paper with the winner’s name on it, and they always wait until the last putt is dropped. I have a TV monitor beside me to get confirmation of who the winner is, but Peter Dawson, chief executive of the Royal and Ancient, comes in and gives the go-ahead for me to start. I never thought [Van de Velde] was going to win, though. I know very well anything can happen.” (Harvey’s son, Garry, did not respond to a request for comment through the R&A.)
* * *
SUMMERS: I remember coming off and going into the scoring hut with Jean and almost finding it funny. I thought the guy would have been devastated at that point, but you know, he was kind of philosophical. In a lot of ways, he took it very well.
PARRY: After signing, I said, ‘Go out and clean ’em up. Go out and win the playoff.’ He was probably a bit deflated, but he’s still got a job to do.
PAT SAWERS (Current Carnoustie chairman): The R&A was trying to rush Jean onto the first tee, and I think at one point he turned around and said, ‘Well, they’re not going to start without me. I’m going to take my time and compose myself and get there.’
VAN DE VELDE: I recall spending half an hour. I remember going back up to my room to get changed. It was starting to rain, so I needed to change my sweater. I either had too much time or not enough, meaning that you start processing all that. It’s not like you’re signing your scorecard, get in the buggies, let’s go to the tee and you’re out straight away. I had signed and I’m like, 'What the hell just happened here?' And it kind of comes at you in waves and you have mixed emotions. I probably didn’t stay enough in that bubble.
ANGIOLINI: Since the beginning of the tournament, he would ask me this question and this was something he had never done before. He would ask: ‘Chris, why are we here?’ And I would say, ‘We are here to win.’ It was our motto for the 72 holes. We repeated it a hundred times: 'We are here to win.' It was really nice. There were a lot of emotions in that phrase, and it united us. It made us very strong.
But after all of that, I still believed, of course, and he did too, but there was a little less desire, a lot less smiling. Those feelings faded a little.
* * *
The Open uses a four-hole aggregate playoff to determine the champion. All three players headed to Carnoustie’s par-4 15th.
LEONARD: I don’t think anybody wants to see that, in any sport, a player really come unraveled like that with so much on the line. It was hard to watch. I wanted to give the guy a hug – not in a thank-you way, but just like, 'Hey, man, I feel for you.' Looking back, I didn’t think he was in any kind of shape for a playoff.
LAWRIE: On the way there, in the back of the buggy, [caddie Paddy Byrne] had said to me: ‘Look at these guys as soon as you get on the tee. I want you to look at them.’ I looked at Leonard, and he looked like he had all the weight on his shoulders, because he had won it before [in 1997] and he looked like he was under huge pressure. And then Jean came on the tee. He didn’t look in the best frame of mind, either. Straight away I felt better. I felt calm.
SUMMERS: Jean looked a bit shell-shocked by then, like he didn’t seem to be quite there by that stage.
ANGIOLINI: He became nervous once we left scoring. We went to the 15th tee and he had forgotten his visor.
LAWRIE: He came on the tee without a hat. He jokingly grabbed a policeman’s hat and he was wearing it and joking about it on the tee. I thought, 'Hmm, I think you’re just trying to hide a little bit of nerves here.' I never moved. Never said anything. I shook hands when he came on the tee and just stayed deep in thought with what I had to do.
ANGIOLINI: The atmosphere changed at the beginning of the playoff. We got to 15, and Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie were waiting for us. They were super focused, with clubs in hand, under umbrellas. Not a smile, nothing. At that moment I felt he was a lot more tense than all the other 72 holes. He tried to make a little joke and it didn’t work. The guys start serious and we could feel it’s going to be tough.
In a cold, steady rain, Van de Velde sniped his opening tee shot into a gorse bush and made double bogey. “He’s done,” Strange said on-air.
By the time they reached 18 an hour later, Lawrie had taken a one-shot lead. With both of his opponents in trouble, the Scotsman laced a long iron from 220 yards to 4 feet – the signature moment in an otherwise anticlimactic playoff.
Lawrie completed the largest comeback in major history (10 shots), but for years he clashed with the British media, complaining that his accomplishment had gone underappreciated.
One of the other playoff participants viewed the outcome differently.
“I don’t even see that as one that got away,” Leonard said, “because I never should have been in that playoff in the first place. I should have finished second all along.”
* * *
JIMMY ROBERTS (ABC Sports interviewer): I think I might have been the first person to actually speak with Van de Velde after the final round. I just remember being really flummoxed. I wasn’t sure how to handle it. How do you talk to somebody about what has to be the most horrific professional moment they’ve ever had that millions of people witnessed? You want to be as compassionate as you can be as a human being, but you also wanted to find out what happened.
I remember being so relieved that his attitude at the time was: The sun will come up tomorrow. Life will go on. C’est la vie. I remember being stunned that he could handle that with such equanimity. I came away from that admiring him so much.
ANGIOLINI: I was crying, but he was very happy. Second at a major not only qualified him for the PGA Tour, but he also qualified to play the Ryder Cup. He was exempt to play all the majors the next year. I was surprised by his reaction, because I was really in shock, but he called me maybe 45 minutes after the playoff. He called from his hotel room. He was in his bathtub, smiling and very happy with the results. He immediately saw the positives.
VAN DE VELDE: At 11:30 p.m. I was having a shower, then I went downstairs. We had a table of 25 people, all my closest friends, in the middle of the clubhouse. We had a phenomenal dinner, some incredible red wine, and we stayed there until 3 a.m., which was a good thing because I knew I wasn’t going to sleep anyway. It was a fantastic night.
At least until he returned to his room. Finally alone, he crawled into his closet, dropped to his knees and sobbed.
VAN DE VELDE: Who’s not going to cry? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a sign of being tough or being weak. I guess the emotion grabs you. You’re on your knees, you’re so tired, and all of the moments come back in your head, everything that had happened. You’re like, 'What happened? Really, what is it that happened?' You try to rationalize it with anything and everything you know.
It’s disappointing because there’s so much energy you put into it. It drains you, so at the end you’re exhausted. That’s when everything sank in very deep.
* * *
ALLISS: What annoyed me afterward was that people thought I was making fun of Van de Velde, when really it was one of the greatest sporting sadnesses I’d ever witnessed in my life. Because when he hit the tee shot that stayed on the grass, when it didn’t go into trouble, he’d won the championship. He’d won.
PARRY: I really felt as though he was the unluckiest golfer ever. I was there with him. He didn’t make poor decisions as far as I was concerned. He was just really, really unlucky.
HOPKINS: I can think of heroic things that have happened on the 18th hole of major championships, and I can think of sad things, like Tom Watson at Turnberry in 2009. But I can’t think of anything so absolutely elongated and so disastrous as this was.
TIRICO: In anything I’ve been a part of, there’s no event that comes close to the theater, the bad luck, the humor, the sadness, but also within it the triumph of making the putt, all in one place. Nothing even close.
STRANGE: It might have been as good of TV as there’s ever been, in a sadistic sort of way.
ANGIOLINI: It took him a bit of time to get over it. Many years, but I think it has passed now. I think he has found his morale and his energy. I think he’s put the incident behind him, even if you never forget a story like that.
VAN DE VELDE: People are entitled to have an opinion. Some people say I blew it. Other people say I’ve been pretty unlucky. Others say I made a bad choice here or there. Whatever they say, for me, it was a phenomenal experience.
Would I have liked better to have my name on the trophy? Yes. It didn’t turn out to be what I wanted. But did I play the way that I believe I like to play? Yes. So what?
Later that year, Van de Velde returned to Carnoustie to film a commercial for Never Compromise. He’d put that putter in his bag two weeks before the Open, blitzed through qualifying and then set the major record, needing only 101 putts under intense pressure.
The concept for the shoot was equal parts clever and cruel: Van de Velde would play the 18th hole again with only a putter, specially designed to get the ball airborne.
It required three takes in frigid, wintery conditions, but the producer finally got the scene he wanted.
With his two young children looking on, Van de Velde tapped in, raised his arms in mock triumph and laughed: “Six! That was a 6 in the end! Victory.”
And then the screen faded to black.
“Golf is showing yourself who you really are and what you are made of,” he says now. “If that’s the toughest obstacle I have to face in my life, well, I will take it with a big smile.”