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Golf: Van de Velde’s Vanity?

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Stan Sutherland
Stan Sutherland
“Three putt from thirty feet to win by one? Okay, fair enough I’d win by one, but what a way to finish!” was Jean Van de Velde’s comment after his historic collapse at Carnoustie.
As The Open at Carnoustie approaches there will be lots of stories about his loss, therefore I will add the following excerpt  taken from my book Life’s Lessons Frae The Links. But before I start I’ll add that in my opinion it wasn’t vanity, just a typical gallant French attitude.
“The literal translation, English to French, for “so be it” is “ainsi que ce soit” but let’s stick with the better known and somewhat similar expression “c’est la vie.”
Frenchman Jean Van de Velde used neither expression after he’d blown the 1999 Open at Carnoustie but what he did say will be quoted at the end of this tragic tale. Well to be perfectly honest, as an honourable Scotsman, I have to say that since it let a Scot win, my sympathy is a little lacking in sincerity.
It wasn’t the hand of God that set up Carnoustie for the 1999 Open. It was Carnoustie’s keeper of the greens whose belief of what constitutes rough makes the Uberfuhrers of the USPGA look like a bunch of pacifists trying to placate the egos of the golfing pros. To write that it was rrrrough is no exaggeration and it’s been said that its length was aided and abetted by the green-keeping staff fertilizing and watering it prior to the event. 
Playing the 72nd hole of the championship and arriving on the 18th tee with a three-shot lead, Jean could have been excused for thinking “Good God I’m going to win this thing.”
It got even better when his tee shot found the rrrough and instead of his ball being almost unplayable, as many had been throughout the week, he had a perfect lie. 
Steve Eubanks in At the Turn aptly described the scenario of Jean’s ball sailing towards the rrrough.
“But fate seemed to be shining on Van de Velde. His ball, apparently destined for the water when it left the club, miraculously stopped on a small peninsula near the 17th fairway. It was one of golf’s miracles, no less amazing than Fred Couple’s gravity-defying shot that somehow stayed dry on the banks of the 12th hole at Augusta…”
“So be it” but what to hit?
If Jean had found, as could’ve been expected, a rugged rrrough lie he would’ve been forced to wedge it out on to the fairway leaving himself with a short iron on to the green. And still have some shots up his sleeve to win.
Instead to his everlasting credit, although that’s only my opinion, not shared by Curtis Strange who said when Jean decided to hit a 2-iron, that it was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
As for Jean’s thoughts on the decision.
“I didn’t feel comfortable hitting a wedge. To me, it was against the spirit of the game. I’m going to hit a wedge, then another wedge, and then what? Three putt from thirty feet to win by one? Okay, fair enough I’d win by one, but what a way to finish!”
The 1999 Open finished up with the gallant Gaul losing. But the hearts and minds of many people were won over, especially us Scots who savoured this very rare occasion - a Scotsman winning The Open and in Scotland.
In summing up his thoughts on the biggest collapse ever seen at the finishing hole of an Open championship, Jean said,
“Maybe I should have laid up. But there are worse things in life…It is a golf tournament. A game and I gave it my best shot.”
“Hey, ziss better than a kick in zee ass.”
Quote of the Day
"Nine-iron, 9-iron, 9-iron." - Davis Love III's comment on what Jean should have done.

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