16 May 2018

The Open Flashback: Jean Van de Velde’s meltdown

No one remembers who came second.” Sadly this famous old saying doesn’t ring true for Jean Van de Velde. Who could forget his infamous meltdown at Carnoustie at the 128th Open Championship?

The Frenchman started the final day with a five-shot lead over Justin Leonard and Craig Parry and was the only competitor in the field who was at par or better. But the pressure of leading a Major got to the then 33 year old in the early stages as he struggled to find form which led to falling to four-over-par with six holes left. Ahead of him, Paul Lawrie, who was ten stokes back at the start of the day, was piecing together a fine round and signed for four-under-par 67 to finish on six-over-par and take the clubhouse lead. 

1999: Paul Lawrie of Scotland kisses the Claret Jug after winning the British Open played at the Carnoustie GC in Carnoustie

Having gained a shot back from the unforgiving course on the 14th, Van de Velde walked up to the final tee with a three-shot lead, knowing that a double-bogey would seal a maiden Major championship. Surprisingly, he chose to drive off the tee and ended up far right on the 18th. Things went from bad to worse when he decided to go for the green with his second shot, only to end up hitting the grandstand causing the ball to bounce back 50 yards into knee-high rough. Van de Velde was not shaken. Instead of hacking the ball out sideways, he inexplicably went for the green once again, this time sending his ball to a watery grave in the infamous Barry Burn. 

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, he removed his shoes and socks and climbed in, believing he could play the ball as it was sitting on top of the water. By the time he got to his ball the water had submerged it, leaving no shot. After taking a penalty drop, he pitched his fifth into the greenside bunker before chipping to within eight feet of the pin with his sixth. Astonishingly, Van de Velde held his nerve to make the putt and secure his place in the four-hole aggregate play-off with Lawrie and Leonard.

Lawrie went on to win the play-off by three strokes from the pair to seal the biggest comeback in Major history but the day will always belong to Van de Velde’s moments of madness on the 18th and the iconic image of him stood ankle deep in the Barry Burn looking forlornly  at his submerged ball. 

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