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Carnoustie '99: An oral history of 18 and beyond

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 10:00 am

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 PHILP (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.”

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Lexi: I need to figure out who I am away from golf

By Randall MellAugust 15, 2018, 5:56 pm

Lexi Thompson says her month-long “mental break” from golf was not triggered by any new event, but it was a respite she needed to deal with the cumulative struggle that came from trying to show strength and “hide” the emotional pain she felt in the challenges she faced last year.

Thompson opened up in a heartfelt fashion Wednesday in her return to the game at the Indy Women in Tech Championship, where she is the defending champion.

“It was honestly just a buildup,” Thompson said. “The last year and a half, I have honestly been struggling a lot, emotionally, and it's hard because I can't really show it.

“It was just so much to deal with, and I had to show that I was still OK and still play golf. And I don't even know how I played that well, honestly. And I think it just kind of all hit me coming into this year.”

Thompson, 23, was candid about the challenges she has faced as a golf prodigy, telling reporters she spent some of her break from the game speaking to therapists about building a life that isn’t all about her golf.

“I would say it's just figuring out what really makes me happy off the golf course, as well, figuring myself out,” Thompson said. “I have transformed myself around this game for such a long time, ever since I was 5 years old.”

Thompson said she has always poured herself into the game, into practice and training.

“That's what I grew up knowing,” she said. “Didn't know much different.

“I was always a very determined person, and coming to this age, a little older, I realize I do need to make time for myself and enjoy life, because not a lot of 23-year-old girls are doing what I am. People need to realize that. I'm not just a robot out here. I need to have a life.”

Thompson qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open when she was 12, the youngest player at the time to do so. She won the U.S. Girls’ Junior at 13, won her first LPGA title at 16 and her first major at 19.


Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship


Last year might have been the best and worst of Thompson’s career. She endured a wave of emotional highs and lows.

At the start of 2017, she lost the ANA Inspiration in a playoff after being controversially hit with a four-shot penalty in the final round. She watched her mother wage a second battle with cancer, and she dealt with the death of a grandmother.

At year’s end, Thompson missed a short putt that could have led to her ascending to world No. 1 for the first time and being named player of the year. Amid all of that, she won twice and finished second six times, prompting the Golf Writers Association of America to give her its female player of the year award.

“You can only stay strong for so long and hide it,” Thompson said. “I am a very strong person, but at times you just need a break.”

Thompson was asked what she has figured out about the life she wants outside golf.

“It's still a work in progress,” she said. “I truly love being home and around my family and friends. I really enjoy that time. Even if it's two days, I get the most of it. Just being home and being a regular person, it's nice.”

Thompson announced after the Marathon Classic in mid-July that she was skipping the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes in England. It is the first major she has missed since joining the LPGA.

“It was definitely a hard decision for me,” Thompson said. “The British Open, I never want to skip that event. It's just a very prestigious event. But with how I was, just mentally and emotionally, I wasn't ready to compete there. I was struggling with my game. Besides that, I was just struggling with myself.”

Thompson said she has been dealing with a hand injury, and it flared up during the Marathon Classic, but it wasn’t a factor in her decision to take a break. She said she is feeling fine now. She begins defense of her Indy title this week ranked No. 5 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She is winless in 13 starts this year, but she has given herself chances, with five top-10 finishes.

“I think overall I have had a little bit of an up-and-down year,” Thompson said. “I have had some great tournaments, but obviously haven't won yet. But you just have to take the positive out of everything, realize that I have had a great year. I haven't won, but I'm trying my best in every tournament, that's all I can do.”

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Tiger's major goal: Tame the driver

By Jaime DiazAugust 15, 2018, 5:26 pm

We’ve seen it before. Especially in the late summer, at PGA Championships in humid Middle American locales like Chicago, Louisville and Tulsa. Last Sunday in St. Louis, there was Tiger Woods glistening with sweat, his mental gears meshing, the body flowing. In the hunt, and in the zone.

Amid the steam rising from Bellerive’s zoysia fairways, it seemed something that had been stuck within Woods loosened and fell back into place. Through some mix of remembering and discovering, he made a breakthrough toward the goal of solving the most prolonged and perplexing puzzle of his career – the way back to being a major championship closer.

Woods reached a longed for and special mindset in the final round of the 100th PGA. He hadn’t had it at Bay Hill in March, where after climbing to within one stroke, a drive pulled out of bounds on the 70th hole ended his challenge. He came closer at Carnoustie last month, putting together a near flawless front nine that got him tied for the lead, only to almost immediately make the kind of killing mistakes he never made in his prime.

Many began to wonder whether what Nick Faldo calls the 15th club – nerve – had left Woods forever. But on Sunday at Bellerive, he proved that his mastery under pressure is still accessible.

First, a scrambling, lemonade-out-of-lemons front-nine 32 got him within a stroke of a temporarily faltering Brooks Koepka, who Woods began the day trailing by four. “I was hanging in there with my mind, basically,” he later said. “And it got me through.”



Then on the back nine, Woods figured out his swing and homed in on the flags, immersed in a fierce focus that amid the thick humidity revived memories of his four previous PGA victories.

Revived, but reprised. For all of the brilliance Woods exhibited down the stretch, he made two crucial errors. On the par-4 14th, a pushed iron off the tee and an indifferent chip led to a bogey. And, most fatally, the pushed drive into the hazard on the reachable par-5 17th, when he had to have birdie to answer a resurgent Koepka.

Woods, whose sheer fight in his 42nd year might even exceed what it was in his 21st, bounced back from both holes with birdies. When he holed a 20-footer on the 18th for 64, his celebratory uppercut was partly about getting within two of Koepka. But mostly it was the deep satisfaction of confirming that his golfing head – the biggest key to all his success and most of his struggles – is healthy again.

Of course, Woods won’t truly be back until he wins. Which means his latest breakthrough at Bellerive will have to be followed by one more. Which will have to come in the part of the game where Woods has most declined – the tee shot, especially with the driver.

Woods and the big stick have had a volatile relationship. In his early years on the PGA Tour, much of his domination was built on distance. He wasn’t the straightest, but he wasn’t wild. And he had a knack for piping important drives down the middle.

Woods knew as a teenager that being long and straight has always been the most efficient way for a gifted player to separate from the pack. It was Jack Nicklaus’ advantage for much of his reign, why Greg Norman stayed at No. 1 in the world for so long, why Dustin Johnson is No. 1 now, and how Koepka won at Bellerive. Woods in his mid-20s, when he played the most explosive golf of his career, was a devastating driver. In 2000, he led the PGA Tour in total driving, achieving a career best rank of 54th in driving accuracy.

But those numbers started to decline, in part because Woods never really quite felt as comfortable with oversized titanium heads and lightweight shafts as he had with a smaller metal head and heavier steel shaft.

Butch Harmon, as well as the instructor who followed him, Hank Haney, have said that Woods was always preoccupied with distance, ultimately to the detriment of his technique. The goal of producing more speed and having more power from the rough (along with ostensibly preventing injury) is why Woods began intensifying his work in the weight room. Tellingly, both Harmon and Haney both wanted Woods to swing with less force and more control, sacrificing a bit of distance for increased accuracy. But they couldn’t convince Woods.

With age and injury, Tiger gradually lost some distance in his 30s. But while he became a better iron player, he did not get straighter with the driver. Still, even through his embattled last 10 years, he continued to play a power game. At the moment, he ranks 34th in distance on the PGA Tour with an average of 304.7 yards, and an impressive 16th in clubhead speed with an average of 120.46 mph. But he’s 176th in driving accuracy, 120th in total driving, and 127th in strokes gained: off the tee. In the obscure but telling category of consecutive fairways hit, Woods ranks 305th with a best of only nine fairways in a row.

But at Bellerive there was an indication that Woods may be changing his approach. In his post-round interview on Sunday, he twice – unprompted – pointed out that there is a level of drivers above him – not only longer, but straighter.

“He’s a tough guy to beat when he’s hitting it 340 in the air,” Woods said of Koepka. “Three-twenty in the air is like a chip shot. And so that’s the new game … Dustin’s done it now, Rory’s doing it … Those guys, if they’re driving it well, they have such a huge advantage because of the carry.”

It was a rare concession from Woods. In former days, if another player was better than he was at some part of the game – be it distance control with short irons, bunker play, lag putting – he would quietly make that strength a target to match or exceed. After the 2000 season, he only half-kiddingly told driving accuracy leader Fred Funk that he was coming for him. 

The younger Woods may have invested his pride in being one of the longest hitters, but I suspect the 42-year-old version is wise enough to be open to any adjustment that will help him beat people in the time he has left. And he’s too smart to try to beat them at their own game.

The evidence from Carnoustie and Bellerive is too stark (along with his rank of fourth on Tour in strokes gained: approach the green). Woods is now at his best when he plays to his greatest strength – iron play. And though he is still strong enough to make things happen from the rough, there’s a good argument that he is the best in the game with an iron from the fairway. The only thing holding him back are untimely drives like the one on 17 at Bellerive.

Ergo, to use a term Woods favored when he was fresh out of Stanford, put the driver in the fairway. Not the 3-wood or driving iron, which will cost Woods even more distance against the Johnsons and Koepkas of the world. But a slightly dialed down driver. One that he can hit with less psychic “all or nothing” stress that comes from the small margin of error he leaves himself with a hard driver swing. Accepting that he can no longer be among the biggest hitters and adjusting accordingly gives him his greatest chance of still being the best player. In short, take the advice offered by Harmon and Haney.

Now that the major season is over, developing a new, more controlled game for himself in 2019 would be my hope for Tiger Woods. He’s figured out a lot lately, in particular at Bellerive clearing the mental hurdle that was blocking him from performing down the stretch on Sundays. That was a big one, and now it seems like the wind is at his back. Yes, the clock is ticking, but it feels like there’s plenty of time.

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Bergeron prevails in 24-for-1 playoff at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 15, 2018, 5:08 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It wasn’t just that Jacob Bergeron prevailed in an unprecedented 24-for-1 playoff Wednesday at the U.S. Amateur.

It was how he did it – with a bogey-6, on Pebble Beach’s famous 18th hole.

“Fortunate is the first word that comes to mind,” Bergeron said afterward.

There have been larger playoffs to advance to match play at the U.S. Amateur. In 1988, 31 players competed for four spots. Two decades later, 26 players battled in a two-spotter. But Wednesday was believed to be the first time that so many players duked it out for just a single spot in match play.

It was as absurd as you might imagine.

More than a dozen players were at dinner Tuesday night, at about 8 p.m., when they noticed that the cut line drifted from 3 over to 4 over.

That forced the USGA to scramble. With so many players back in the fold, they set up a playoff format for the 24 guys to compete in six foursomes in a sudden-death format, beginning on the 220-yard 17th at 7:30 a.m. The two dozen players whacked a full bucket of 4- and 5-irons on the range, then shuttled to the adjacent third green, which was used as a practice putting green for the playoff.

Fred Lacroix of France was the first to play on a 55-degree morning. He hit a towering draw with a 4-iron inside 10 feet and sauntered back to his bag.

“At least one guy is going to make birdie,” Lacroix said later, “and I wanted it to be me.”

Instead, his birdie putt raced 6 feet past, and he missed the comebacker, too. The other three players in his group made par. Lacroix went from a potentially tone-setting birdie to a bogey that dropped him out of contention.

“Very disappointing,” he said.

With nearly 36 hours to kill before his flight home to Paris, a bummed Lacroix was asked whether he’d play one of the other stellar courses in the area.

“I don’t want to play golf right now,” he sighed.

Two groups later, Lacroix watched as Bergeron hit a 4-iron to 5 feet, below the hole.

“See,” he said, “you have to make birdie.”

And Bergeron converted, sneaking his putt in the left side.  

“You just have to ball first thing in the morning,” Bergeron said. “It’s the most extreme playoff I’ve ever been in.”

Standing behind the green, he watched as player after player failed to match him. They tried to hole 50-footers. They tried to chip in. They tried to hole bunker shots.

None of them could.

Their chances dashed, they scooped up their ball and dejectedly walked off the green. Zach Bauchou even checked a USGA official’s clipboard and shook his head.

“Somebody’s gotta go get it,” Patrick Martin said after making par when he couldn’t chip in from the right fringe. “The worst thing you can do is put yourself out of position to make birdie. It sucks to not have a realistic look at it.”

For a while, it appeared as though Bergeron’s lone birdie would stand up. Then in the last foursome, Chase Johnson stuffed his tee shot to 10 feet and Peter Kuest, the last of the 24 players to tee off, matched him.

Kuest, a junior a BYU, rammed in his birdie try, while Johnson’s putt caught the left edge and stayed out.

“Good birdie, dude,” Bergeron said, extending his hand to Kuest. They were the only two players to move on to Pebble’s 18th, one of the most iconic finishing holes in golf.

After both players hammered drives down the left side, Bergeron flared his 4-iron – the same club he’d nuked about a half hour earlier – into the first cut on the right side, stymied behind the large cypress tree protecting the green.

“A love-hate relationship with that club,” he said, smiling.

With an opening, Kuest tried to play his 195-yard approach into the center of the green, but he pulled it and hit it thin.

“Just not a good shot,” he said.

His ball hit the retaining wall and ricocheted into the Pacific Ocean. A brief search ensued, as Kuest would have at least considered playing it from the rocks, but his ball wasn’t recovered until after he finished.  

He headed back to the drop zone, where his wedge shot hit the front edge and spun off the green.

No longer needing to play as aggressively, Bergeron chipped out sideways and then pitched to 10 feet. He missed his par putt, but Kuest lipped out his 5-footer, and then missed the 8-footer for double bogey, too.

To some surprise, the marathon playoff took only 90 minutes.

“It’s OK,” Kuest said afterward. “It’s Pebble Beach, so you can’t go wrong.”

Asked if he was surprised that his bogey-6 was enough to advance, Bergeron said: “A little. But little things like this might point to this being my week.”

The 20-year-old has already informed LSU coach Chuck Winstead that he won’t return to school for his sophomore season. After qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open, he chatted with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth about their career progressions, and they advised him to choose whatever route would make him the best player in four years. Bergeron decided that was to turn pro, and so he’s attempting Web.com Tour Q-School next month.

Of course, the rest of this week could change those plans. The U.S. Amateur finalists both receive an invitation to the 2019 Masters, and Bergeron wouldn’t miss that opportunity.

“Long way to go before that, though,” he said.

But at least his path can only get easier. He beat 23 other players on Wednesday morning. To reach the final, he needs to win just five matches, beginning this afternoon against co-medalist Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.  

“The seeding just means you have a match,” Bergeron said. “And once you get in, it’s anyone’s game.”

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As Tour heads to NJ, legalized gambling comes into focus

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2018, 4:42 pm

It was New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie who began the crusade to make sports betting legal beyond the confines of Las Vegas, so it’s no surprise that the Garden State would be the pointy end of the gaming spear.

In May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had made sports wagering unlawful for the last 25 years, there was no small amount of interest among states to pave the way for a market that could be worth billions in revenue. Less than a month after the court’s ruling, New Jersey approved a bill legalizing sports gambling.

About an hour’s drive south from Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., site of next week’s Northern Trust event, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., was one of the first to open a sports book – generating an eye-catching $8.1 million handle in just 17 days after opening in mid-June – and the PGA Tour’s return to New Jersey for the first playoff tournament is sure to generate interest at the newly-minted book.

But as sports, and particularly golf, wade into the betting pool, don’t expect a wholesale change just yet. Although New Jersey was among the first states to embrace sports betting, wagers are currently limited to a few casinos and racetracks.



“I wouldn’t say the gaming would be any different than what’s currently being offered in Las Vegas or elsewhere, win bets and that type of thing,” said Andy Levinson, the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, most professional leagues, including the Tour, came out in support of sports betting, but they did so with a few important conditions. Many professional leagues, which have been speaking to state legislators across the country for months about any potential betting legislation, wanted to safeguard the integrity of the competition.

The leagues also wanted to have a say in the types of bets that will be allowed – with the Tour looking to avoid what are called negative outcome bets, like a player missing a fairway or a green or making a specific score on a hole – and assure that sports books use official data generated by the leagues (in golf that would be ShotLink data).

And the leagues also have proposed “integrity fees,” which would likely be 1 percent of the handle from betting operators.

Last month, the NBA announced a partnership that made MGM Resorts the league’s official non-exclusive gaming partner, a move that could become the template for the Tour as the sports betting market matures.

“With the NBA deal it’s nice to see an organization like MGM is committed to integrity and sharing specific betting information with the NBA. To see a gaming operator make that commitment is very positive,” Levinson said. “If it included those protections and had that balance between fan engagement while protecting the integrity of our competition, that’s a positive deal for the NBA.”

For the sports leagues, the NBA deal is less about what kind of betting MGM will allow at its various casinos than it is a snapshot into what many see as the ultimate endgame. Part of every league’s plan is a robust online gaming element, which is seen as the only way to end illegal or off-shore betting.

“When we are speaking with legislators across the country one of the important elements includes mobile betting in legislation. The vast majority of sports betting takes place online. The current black market in the U.S. is almost exclusively online,” Levinson said. “One of the goals in creating a legal sports betting market is to eliminate that black market. If it’s not easily accessible, people will continue to use that online service.”

Other than New Jersey and Delaware, which are already developing guidelines for online sports betting, most states are taking a more measured approach. In fact, Levinson explained that since most state legislative sessions have already ended for the year it’s likely that they won’t begin to develop guidelines for sports betting until mid-2019.

 The Tour also has a few hurdles to clear. Under the circuit’s current regulations, players, partners and the Tour itself are prohibited from partnering with casinos or betting institutions. Before the circuit could move forward with any type of deal like the NBA and MGM agreement that regulation would have to be changed.

“We are in the process of evaluating that category,” Levinson said. “We are looking at a wholesale evaluation of our endorsement policy. That’s for the Tour, players, networks, other constituents.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling may have potentially opened vast new markets for the Tour and created an entirely new way to engage with fans, just don’t expect things to change yet, even as the circuit arrives on the front lines of the sports betting transformation next week in New Jersey.