Duo Share Early Lead
Swanson and Miller each posted a 3-under 69 Monday to get the early jump in the 90-hole marathon. Brennan Webb, Billy Noon, Brett Carman, Dan McNeely and Andy Matthews are two shots back.
Play was halted twice Monday when heavy storms rolled into the area, leaving the 6841-yard, par-72 track temporarily unplayable.
Swanson, a standout in the Canadian amateur ranks, turned professional prior to Q-School, two years after helping Canada to a Four Nations Cup crown. Tour standouts Jon Mills and David Hearn were also members of that championship Four Nations squad.
Despite conditions that left just six players under par Monday, Swanson felt he was able to keep his focus and has put himself in prime position early in the week.
It seems like I concentrate more when its like this, he admitted. You know you are going to have to hit some solid shots to make up for it. My short game helped me out today'I know how to get the ball in the hole and you need it on days like today. This start doesnt guarantee anything, but my mindset here isnt just to qualify. Im here to win.
Miller struggled in his rookie season, making just two of 11 cuts to wind up 111th on the money list. Webb is a Canadian Tour veteran who finished 92nd in earnings in 2003, just two spots shy of keeping non-exempt status for next year.
Each of the hopefuls will play four rounds through Thursday before the field is reduced to the low 60 scores plus ties. Those remaining will compete Friday for one of 15 exempt and a minimum of 10 non-exempt cards to be awarded for the 2004 season.
Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship
Tiger Woods is competing in his first Open Championship since 2015. We're tracking him this week at Carnoustie.
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Carnoustie '99: An oral history of 18 and beyond
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?
* * *
|Lavner: An oral history of 18 and beyond|
|Baggs: Choice of a lifetime for Jean Van de Velde|
|Baggs: In defense of Paul Lawrie|
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.”
Carnoustie '99: In defense of Paul Lawrie
A fictional account of a real interview
What does a man have to do to get the recognition he deserves?
Now, that’s a rhetorical question, but one worth pondering as you take into consideration THIS man.
For nearly 20 years, THIS man has not received his due. What he has received, is an inexplicable lack of respect.
“No one remembers who came in second.” Ever hear that one?
Walter Hagen said it. Unfortunately, Mr. Hagen was incorrect. Because when we refer to the 128th Open Championship, that’s all anyone remembers.
It’s not remembered for the greatest comeback in major championship history. It’s remembered for the guy who blew the big lead. The guy who came in second.
Well, that’s why we are here today. To listen to the words of the man who did everything right on July 18, 1999.
Paul Stewart Lawrie.
The man before you – he has no interest in touting his accomplishments. His Twitter avatar is a personal logo. Not a claret jug. His Instagram, just a reference to his service on the European Tour. The man himself is unassuming. He asks not for praise or accolades. He’s not asking that you remember him first.
He’s asking that you not forget what he did.
What did he do? He did everything right.
And that’s what our defense will overwhelmingly show.
Paul Lawrie in 1994 (Getty Images)
The defense foundation
Mr. Lawrie, thank you for your time.
Yours was not a traditional golf upbringing. So before we get to Carnoustie let’s go back a little further, because your atypical journey makes what you accomplished all-the-more impressive.
“I didn’t really get into golf seriously until I was about 16 or so. Played when I was younger, but just wasn’t very good.
“Turned pro at 17. Five-handicap, which was the limit back then.”
|Lavner: An oral history of 18 and beyond|
|Baggs: Choice of a lifetime for Jean Van de Velde|
|Baggs: In defense of Paul Lawrie|
That’s not PLUS-5, just to be clear. Please continue.
“My father and brother are both actually taxi drivers. I used to play with them quite a lot on their outings. I was out one day and the pro saw me tee off on the first tee and asked my dad what I was up to. He said, ‘Well, he’s just working for me at the garage. He’s doing nothing fancy.’ [The pro asked] ‘What’s his handicap?’
“I was a decent footballer when I was young and then I went into the PGA primarily to be a club pro, was my idea. I never thought that I would be good enough to get on tour.”
You turned professional on April 1, 1986 – a 5-handicap, as you mentioned. From there, you worked your way to being a European Tour member in 1992.
Win No. 1 came in Spain, in ’96. And win No. 2 in Qatar, in ’99. But despite that latter victory, you still had to qualify for The Open, which, obviously, you did. You had played in six prior Opens. What was different about No. 7?
“Carnoustie is about an hour from my home in Aberdeen.”
Which proved advantageous since there was no room at the inn, so to speak, because of your late entry.
“I phoned around and tried to get some accommodations and everything was taken up. The only accommodation I could find was about 40 minutes away, so there’s no point. I mean, about another 20 minutes I’m home. And we had [son] Michael – was only 6 months old then – so it was ideal that I could spend the week at home when I wasn’t playing.”
Given the proximity, you must have been quite familiar with Carnoustie.
“I knew the course probably as much, if not more, than anyone else in the field.”
Which meant you, of all the players, were best in position to judge its fairness. There were a lot of complaints about how the course was set up that week. A lot of whining. What was your take?
“I didn’t have a problem with it.
“It was quite severe, to be fair. But it’s the same for everyone. It wasn’t different for any golfer. As soon as I got there you could tell straight away that scoring was not gonna be overly good. It was a week of patience. It was a week of taking your punishment.
“Being a tour professional you got to adapt to what’s in front of you and if you can’t do that, then you shouldn’t be playing.”
The defense builds
Let’s move forward to Saturday night. You’ve shot increasingly worse rounds – 73-74-76. You’re 10 shots off the lead.
“I was 10 shots back, BUT, I was in 13th place.”
So you’re still thinking you can win?
“To get into the Masters was my goal – top 4 finishers at The Open got into the Masters at that time. I thought if I could get it around in 1 or 2 under par [in the final round] then I’d have a good chance.”
OK, it’s Sunday. Because of your deficit, you start an hour and 10 minutes ahead of leader Jean Van de Velde. Things go according to plan early: three birdies, one bogey over your first nine. But you’re still well off the pace. When did everything change?
“I remember I made a lovely birdie at 12, which we play as a par 5, normally, but they played it as a par 4. All of a sudden, the crowd were starting to swirl and the TV cameras appear for the first time.
“Things started to get, you know, really serious and really exciting. Not just for me, but for everyone following me around.”
That birdie on 12 gets you to 7 over par, but Van de Velde birdies the ninth hole and turns in 2 over. You’re still five back.
“Well, I birdied 14 – really good up and down from the left bank – and kind of thought, if we can make one more coming in we had a real good chance of kinda putting a little bit of pressure on.
“The Carnoustie finish, you know, you can make double bogeys and triple bogeys there just so easily.”
You get that extra birdie at 16, but let’s talk about the par save at 18 that keeps your hopes alive.
“I hit it in the left rough off the tee on the 72nd hole. We didn’t have a very good lie in the rough at all, it was sitting quite down. But we had a similar shot a few holes before and it came out really hot.”
The 18th, for those not familiar, is a 487-yard par 4 with water fronting the green. Going for it in two, especially with a low runner, is a huge risk.
“I thought I would struggle to get it over the burn, but I thought laying up, you know, 5’s got no chance of anything happening.
“I remember thinking that this might be our only chance to win a major, so you’ve got to have a go.”
As expected, your ball comes out screaming, but it bounces OVER the burn and into a bunker. You blast out to 6 feet, make the putt and do a series of muted fist pumps.
“I had a bit of a celebration on the green because I’m thinking, that’s the Masters. I’m not thinking, that’s The Open.”
The heart of the defense
You shoot 4-under 67, tying the lowest round of the championship – again, for emphasis, NO ONE scored better all week than you did that Sunday.
You’re in the clubhouse at 6 over par, and for the next one hour and 45 minutes you eat, practice and watch Van de Velde disintegrate.
Now, a day that started with you changing diapers has turned into one in which you could bring home the claret jug. To do it, you have to beat Van de Velde and ’97 Open champion Justin Leonard in a four-hole aggregate playoff?
How are you handling this emotional maelstrom?
“Obviously, I was nervous. Now I’ve got a chance to win the biggest tournament in the world. And [caddie Paddy Byrne] could tell I was nervous. He said, ‘Just look at these guys as soon as you get on the tee. I want you to look at ‘em.’”
Outwardly, you appeared quite calm.
“I never moved. Never said anything. Shook hands when [Van de Velde] came on the tee and just kinda deep in thought, in what I had to do myself to get my ball round these four holes to be Open champion.”
It’s late in the day. It’s windier, colder, and raining. You and Leonard bogey the first extra hole, the 15th. Van de Velde makes double. All three of you bogey the 16th. Two holes to play and you’re tied with Justin, one up on Jean.
“I felt in total control. I didn’t feel nervous. I didn’t feel out of my depth. I felt as though all the work that we’ve been doing on my routine and stuff … all that work with Adam kicked in.”
That was apparent on 17. What was going on with the interaction between you and Van de Velde?
“I made a lovely birdie. I hit a 6-iron in about 20 feet, 25 feet. Jean had holed [for birdie] from just outside me, and I haven’t spoken to him about it or asked him about it, but he kinda holed his putt and then he gave me a bit of celebration right in my face. So I holed mine and then gave it back. The two of us were kind of laughing, so I don’t know if he meant it, but I certainly meant it. You’re giving me a bit, I’m gonna give it back.”
One hole to go. All you have to do is conquer the unconquerable – and claustrophobia.
“On the fourth playoff tee, people are everywhere. It’s just chaos. There was security and stuff, there were ropes, but that didn’t really work very well.
“Now it’s getting pretty heavy, pretty rainy and cold, and you couldn’t get to the green in two if you’re hitting iron off the tee for safety. You had to hit driver and I flushed it. I just hit one of the best driver shots I hit all week.”
Van de Velde misses his shot to the left, this time, and lays up. Leonard is shorter than you off the tee and plays first.
“It looked like he hit a nice enough shot. I saw it bounce, so I assumed it carried the water and bounced into the bunker. … A lot of people say, ‘Why didn’t you lay up once he was in the water?’ But I didn’t know he was in the water. I thought he was in the bunker. So he’s only one behind me, so I’m thinking if I lay up and make a 5 or 6, he can make 4.”
As you said when you played 18 earlier in the day, “you’ve got to have a go.”
“You might get only one chance, which, at this moment and time, was my chance to properly win. There’s a Rolex clock on the back of the hotel. So I aimed on the left edge of the clock and just tried to put a nice smooth swing on it.
“About 205 [yards] would have been a really good 4-iron. And we’re at 221, in the cold, a bit of adrenaline going through your body. You take into consideration that you’re leading a tournament and the ball goes further because you’re really hyped up and the adrenaline is flowing. I hit a beautiful shot in close.”
A 4-iron … from over 220 yards … on one of the most difficult holes in the Open rota … with the championship on the line … to 5 feet.
Just making sure everyone caught that.
“It was nice to pull off a shot like that when you really, really had to.”
You make birdie, win the playoff by three and the local boy is Champion Golfer of the Year. On the broadcast, Mike Tirico says, “And a nation’s party begins!” Must have been an epic celebration for you, too.
“Well, back then I didn’t drink a helluva lot. I was maybe two-or-three-beers-a-year type.
“It also took a long time to get out of there, because you’ve got to go and do the press, which is obviously very important, and then you’ve got to go to the R&A tent and you get introduced to all of the members as the new champion. Then had to clean out the locker, and I don’t remember what time we left there, but it was quite late at night.
“I phoned my wife on the way home and she said there was press and TV crews everywhere. We lived in a little cul-de-sac in Aberdeen. She said there were people everywhere.
“You’re trying to have a little bit of a private moment, haven’t seen your wife all day, you just won The Open, but fair enough. We had people want to come in and say, ‘Well done and congratulations.’”
In the middle of the night, on a life-changing day, you put ego and exhaustion aside and take the time to do more interviews and to acknowledge your neighbors.
“Eventually, I don’t know what time it was, but we sat and watched the playoff – my wife, my brother-in-law and I. Had a beer, sitting and watching it, so that was pretty cool.”
Paul Lawrie with sons Craig (L) and Michael, and wife Marian, after winning the '99 Open (Getty)
In the years that followed, Paul Lawrie won five more times on the European Tour, competed in two Ryder Cups and was appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire and Officer of the Order of the British Empire.
We know that tragedy will always trump triumph in sports. The 1999 Open will be remembered, first and foremost, for what befell Jean Van de Velde. The same as the 2009 Open will be about Tom Watson and the 1996 Masters about Greg Norman.
We’re not here today to ask you to forget about a Frenchman’s follies. We’re just asking you to NOT forget about a Scotsman’s success.
Paul Lawrie didn’t take golf seriously until he was 16. He turned professional at 17, a 5-handicap with an eye on a career as a club pro. At 23, he was a European Tour member. At 30, an Open champion.
On July 18, 1999, Paul Lawrie earned a major title. He earned it.
He was presented with an opportunity to win golf’s greatest championship and did everything – EVERY-THING – that was required of a champion golfer.
He took the proper approach. He had the proper mentality. He hit proper shots.
Rather than bloviate on why Paul Lawrie deserves the recognition afforded others who have captured the claret jug, we’ll ask just one more question, and leave the final comments to the man himself.
Mr. Lawrie, do you feel you’ve gotten the recognition you deserve?
“I had a bit of a hard time with it, at first. I tried to change it for a while. Looking back now, I should have never tried to do that. I should have just let it be and people can have their opinions. It’s up to them how they see it.
“Trying to get people to say or to write about that – OK, Jean threw it away and I got lucky, but I might only get one chance to win a major and I did everything right. The right shots at the right time. I behaved the way I should have behaved. I was in control of my emotions, which is really hard that time. But I never read that from anybody. So that was my problem. My problem wasn’t that I didn’t get the justification for it as far as being an Open champion, because I know I got lucky to do that. But I think I got my one chance and did everything I had to do. I think there should have been more said or written about that. I hope that doesn’t come over as I’m bitter about that situation, because I’m certainly not. I understand what happened and I got lucky, I get that 100 percent. I would have liked to seen a little bit more about how well I played when I got my chance, that was all.
“No matter what happened, the way that it happened, my name’s on [the claret jug]. My name’s never coming off. So I think that’s how it should be.”
The defense rests.
Carnoustie '99: Choice of a lifetime for Jean Van de Velde
Oh, that way madness lies. Let me shun that. No more of that.
Pause. Breathe. Compose.
Forget about the hundreds behind you, purposefully packed and bundled, closer to you than should be allowed, their hands on your back and their screams in your ears. Forget about the thousands watching in semi-circle ahead, eyes aghast, anticipating what’s next. Forget about the millions watching abroad, bewildered and attuned.
And forget about the landscape presented before you. Madness lies ahead. Go left.
“Sorry I’m late,” he says, walking into a pub that won’t open for another one hour and 43 minutes.
It’s 9:17 a.m., only a few insignificant ticks past his scheduled arrival.
He looks good, dressed in a light-brown linen jacket; button-down dress shirt; jeans and brown suede loafers. He sounds good and why shouldn’t he feel good, too? He’s an Open champion.
The hair is a little thinner on top and stubble mostly gray on his face, but there’s no mistaking this character. Those English words in that French accent, in that comforting tone. When he talks to you, he does so in a convivial manner, looking you in your eyes, smiling, shaking your hand and introducing himself, without a hint of hubris.
A slight showcase of vanity would be acceptable, however.
The man is a major champion. A Ryder Cup hero who put a dagger into the heart of an American comeback in Brookline. A consistent European Tour player, and occasional winner.
Good health, good meals, good wine. A good life, Jean Van de Velde.
Here we go again. Here he goes again.
How many times has he done this? Recounted the worst two hours and two minutes of his professional career.
Will there be anger? Apathy?
Neither, only courtesy.
|Lavner: An oral history of 18 and beyond|
|Baggs: Choice of a lifetime for Jean Van de Velde|
|Baggs: In defense of Paul Lawrie|
“So,” he says, comfortably seated across from a strange man with a familiar list of questions, “off we go.”
It’s been 19 years since Jean Van de Velde lost The Open. It was a big story when The Open returned to Carnoustie in 2007. It was a big story when he played the Senior Open there in 2016. It’s a big story now that The Open has returned.
It will, in fact, never not be a big story.
You don’t forget what happened on July 18, 1999. At least not what happened between the hours of 1:30 p.m. ET, when he stepped to the 18th tee with a three-shot lead, and 3:32 p.m., when he congratulated another man. Certainly, Van de Velde never will. Every encounter with every witness assures that.
“I think there were around 250 million people [watching] on TV that day,” he says. “How long is it going to take for me to meet them all?
“Once I meet them all … maybe one day that’s going to pass by.”
Odds are you saw that day or have since seen what transpired, so you don’t need a detailed recap. But think about the lack of serendipity that occurred.
His tee shot avoids a burn that winds through the 18th hole at Carnoustie like a Grand Prix raceway. But what if it goes in? One in, two out, three layup, four on, two putts for six and the win.
His second shot hits a 2-inch metal bar in the grandstands and bounds backwards – arguably the most unlucky result in golf history. What if it goes into the crowd? Free drop; three, maybe four on; two putts for the win.
Upon ricochet, his ball hits the top of the burn’s wall and caroms into impossibly thick heather. What if the ball just went into the creek? The tide hadn’t yet risen. He could have played his third back into the fairway like a bunker shot. Four on, two putts for the win. Even if he takes a drop from the burn it’s possibly: three drop, four on, two putts for the win.
But none of these ‘What ifs’ occur. And for all of the fault due fate and misfortune, ultimately it is the man who is to blame.
“Sure, I could have hit four wedges,” he says. “Wouldn’t they have said, ‘He won The Open, but, hey, he hit four wedges.’ I mean, who hits four wedges?”
There were other, more prideful options; though, wedge-wedge-wedge-wedge-putt-putt-claret jug would have worked.
He didn’t have to hit driver off the tee; he could have hit a mid-iron. Didn’t have to hit 2-iron for his second; he could have laid up.
Didn’t have to proceed forward with his third. You could have gone left, Jean Van de Velde.
Thank goodness he went left. Can you imagine? A three-shot lead on the final hole of a major championship, and losing? How could you go on with life?
Dramatic, but not overly so.
Fortunately, Jean doesn’t have to think about such things. He can sit down and answer these redundant questions with an honest smile on his face. He can relive his greatest professional moment and say, “I’m French. There had to be a little flair.”
And all because of what? Because he made the simple decision. Because he paused, and breathed, and composed. And his caddie was right by his side: Faire la bonne chose.
Because he went left.
And now here he is, a few minutes late, yes, but describing those final few moments, as well as the wonderful years thereafter. Talking about, not just his career, but about his family: his second wife, Jessica; his four children. His years living in Europe and Hong Kong. How he helped France land this year’s Ryder Cup. How he’s an ambassador for UNICEF.
If only the bar was open and everyone could share a glass of wine. He would choose, of course. For he knows well. What tastes best accompanied with fond recollections?
Oh, this could have been you, Jean Van de Velde.
The walk was a witness to how close Chaos can get to the edge without tumbling over.
A handful of well-meaning humans wearing red security outfits, frantically and futilely using their arms as a procession shield. Their only success being the humanity of those they sought to restrain.
Our protagonist – not yet a tragedian – walking briskly to avoid the crush.
And then he arrives at the spot.
This is where his ball now lies, after striking what should be an insignificant piece of railing, after bouncing off an equally irrelevant rock, and after taking one more hop on the deadened ground.
“The grass is like this,” he says, using one arm to demonstrate the windswept lean. “And the ball went that way,” he says, using the other arm to show how the ball entered in the opposite direction.
“The lie is horrific.”
He looks forward and sees the burn snaking back in front of him, guarding the green. How far is it?
Sixty-three yards to the hole.
Then, for a moment, he steps to his left, outside of the camera’s view. Two choices exist. Go forward or go to the left. Play straight for the green or play sideways for the fairway.
You only lie two, Jean. You only need a six. But where is your head? This moment. These people. The magnitude of it all. There is no clarity to consider those cautionary words: that way madness lies.
This decision is yours, Jean Van de Velde.
We know which door he chose. The tiger, not the lady.
Jean Van de Velde is not an Open champion. He is not a Ryder Cup hero. He has but one win since July of ’99.
“If I had one shot to do over, it would be the third one,” he says of that fateful final hole. “Because, you know, going forward, you bring everything into play. You bring the water into play. You bring out of bounds behind.
“Now, playing sideways, which I thought about, I didn’t have a guarantee to be on the fairway. That’s why I didn’t play sideways, but that was not the point. The point was not to have a bad lie for the fourth one. And by going sideways, I would have had a good enough lie to hit it [on the green with a fourth shot].
“If I’m on the fairway, game is over. Game is over, because I [would have] hit it on the green.
“But things go quickly. You process some; some you don’t. … And even if you speak with your caddie – [he’s experiencing] the same type of pressure, you can see that.
“You have a few seconds or a minute or two minutes, and you’ve got to assess where you’re going to go.”
He went forward, the decision made in those seconds and minutes having a lifetime effect. Now we use VandeVeldian as an adjective to describe an epic failure, a colossal collapse, a Shakespearian golf tragedy.
But Jean Van de Velde didn’t die that day. Unlike Romeo and Othello and Hamlet and Macbeth, he was not befallen by poison or sword or cowardice. Yes, he wept for days thereafter, but unlike King Lear, who spoke of madness, he did not succumb to grief.
A tragic figure? That depends upon your scope.
A second chance at love? That exists. The four children? Doing well, thank you. An enjoyable career? Currently working for Sky Sports and playing a handful of senior events; a former French Open chairman who aided his country’s efforts to host this year’s Ryder Cup. Philanthropy? A Madagascar missionary.
The good health, good meals, good wine. The good life. They’re all there, with or without his name on the claret jug.
“Would I like to have my name on the trophy?” he rhetorically asks. “It’s a simple yes.”
His 14 letters were all but engraved there forever. Had he made different decisions, gone a different direction, his name would be below Mark O’Meara’s and just before Tiger Woods’. Instead, that spot is Paul Lawrie’s, in perpetuity.
Haunted? “No.” Bitter? “You can’t be.”
If people didn’t constantly bring it up, he could go “days, even weeks” without thinking about it.
“Everybody feels about it. It doesn’t leave anybody,” he says of those who have seen what he did nearly 7,000 days ago. “The emotion comes out. ‘How can you be so stupid to do something like that?’ Or, ‘Geez, that’s pretty unlucky.’ ... The emotions are at a maximum.”
He still feels the pain, you know. It weighs on his shoulders at times, just enough for him to take notice and shrug it off.
“I think there are two ways to handle it,” he says. “Stay at home and hide in a cupboard somewhere and never go out and feel sorry for yourself. Or you get up and you go out, and you fight again.”
Just as he fought back from a 2002 skiing injury that took him, by his account, two years to again walk properly. Just as he did in overcoming a soul-sapping playoff loss in his 2005 national open to win the following season in Spain – his European Tour denouement.
Jean Van de Velde is now 52. Next year will be the 20th anniversary of his Open defeat. There will be a 25th anniversary and more championships contested at Carnoustie. There will be more interviews. More strange men with their familiar questions. And he will graciously answer them. He doesn’t shy away from the moment that defined his career. But he doesn’t let it define him, as well.
“Life’s too short, man,” he says, and then adds: “I’m a simple man.”
Breakfast in the morning, before he starts his to-do list. Lunch with a glass of wine in the afternoon. Dinner with a few more glasses in the evening. And, as often as possible, the surroundings of friends and family.
“There’s nothing worse,” he says, “than bad company.”
This is Jean Van de Velde.