Golf: Dignity is dinner at the 18th

Tim Glover studies the impact of Van de Velde's celebrated fall

AFTER JEAN Van de Velde had gone from grass to metal to stone to jungle to water to sand to immortality in the space of seven deadly shots, American observers wanted to know the French for Tin Cup.

They saw a parallel between the Frenchman's denouement in The Open Championship at Carnoustie and the movie about a no-hoper who had a chance of winning the US Open until he hit it into the water at the last. Kevin Costner, who plays the fictional hero, ignores his caddie's advice to play safe and repeatedly hits it into the pond until he finally, to a loser's salute from the crowd, finds the green.

"There's been a lot of talk about heroic failure," Jamie Cunningham, Van de Velde's manager, said, "but Costner didn't get into a play-off. Nobody beat Jean over 72 holes of The Open."

Nobody but himself. Following the apparent self-destruction which saw Van de Velde blow a three-stroke lead at the 18th before losing in the play-off, the rehabilitation began. Justin Leonard, who had cause to be almost as gutted as Van de Velde, was the first to console the Frenchman. "You gave yourself a chance to win it and no one can take that away from you," the American told him.

Cunningham made sure there would be no wake. Team Van de Velde, including his wife Bridgette, an economics graduate who has a handicap of eight (and who was laughing her socks off at her husband's escapade in the Burn), and the caddie Christophe, who also plays off eight, were joined by people from the French tourist board at a dinner at the Carnoustie golf course hotel which overlooks the scene of the crime, the 18th green.

"We had a celebration," Cunningham said. "If you're going to be negative you'd go back to your room alone with a bottle of Pernod." Instead they drank champagne, with bottles being sent over by the R & A and the hotel. "We ended up singing French songs," Cunningham said. "That was the spirit of the week. We had a lot of fun. It was an adventure."

But they should have been drinking out of the old claret jug instead of a tin cup. After a sleepless night, Van de Velde's first words were: "Next time I'll make sure I've got four shots to win The Open." If there is a next time.

On a couple of talking points that dominated the conversations of golfers and people who didn't know a golf ball from a boiled egg, Van de Velde was adamant: he did not choke and his caddie bears no blame for what happened at the last. "It was my call and my call alone," he said.

So why did he do what he did, inviting, in some quarters, ridicule and cheap shots alluding to his attachment with Disneyland in Paris? Despite his modest record (a play-off victory in the Roma Masters in 1993 is his only success in 11 years on the European Tour) Van de Velde has always felt he has the ability to play at the highest level. When he was criticised for not playing in the French Open earlier this season, his response was: "Does Nick Faldo play in the English Open every year, does Greg Norman play in the Australian Open?"

He had no problem comparing himself to players who were world stars. It was simply a question of when he would provide the proof. Van de Velde, the son of an industrialist in Mont de Marsan, was 14 when he asked Herve Fraissieau, then of the French Golf Federation, to do him a favour. "He wanted me to persuade his father that he was serious about a professional golf career. The three of us had dinner and it was a disaster. His father said Jean would never make a living out of the game and refused to speak to me. I think Jean has always had this feeling of 'I'll show you'."

On Sunday evening Van de Velde, asked one hundred times why he didn't lay up short of the Burn and tip-toe to victory instead of attacking the hard par four of 487 yards, said he would have been called a coward and also that it was against "the spirit of the game". He added: "Next time I hit a wedge, OK. You all forgive me?" That was in public. In private, he said that under the same circumstances he would do exactly the same thing. It was in his nature.

Perhaps it should not be forgotten that his hero is not Kevin Costner (Van de Velde has seen the film) but Seve Ballesteros. Would Seve have laid up? It is also worth recalling that Van de Velde hadn't hit the top of the leader board on the longest, toughest course in Open history by whingeing about the conditions and playing conservatively.

On Saturday evening, just as Tiger Woods, the world No 1, who for the most part kept his driver in the holster, was predicting that anybody within 10 shots of the leader could still win (Paul Lawrie was exactly 10 behind), Van de Velde got a birdie three at the 18th. Before the final round, John Simpson, Faldo's manager, told Cunningham that it would be no bad thing if Van de Velde slipped back into the pack to relieve the pressure.

This is what happened but no sooner had Craig Parry taken the lead than he relinquished it and Van de Velde (this was only the third time he'd ever played in the fourth round of an Open) took a grip again. From the 13th to the 17th he went par, birdie, par, par, par. At the penultimate hole he nailed a two-iron approach to the 17th green. He thought he could do the same at the 18th. He went with what he was most comfortable with.

"What happened next was a freak," Cunningham said. "Virtually anything could have happened to his ball and he would still have been fine. Even if it had rebounded off the stand into the Burn he would have had a greenside drop and been playing four." Instead, of course, the ball ricocheted back off a path, went backwards over the Burn and buried itself in the rough. Van de Velde didn't choke; he got too brave and he got mugged.

"The response has been phenomenal," Cunningham said. "We've had letters, e-mails and faxes from people who have never met Jean but were bowled over by the way he played, the entertainment he provided and the dignity he displayed at the 72nd hole and in the play-off."

The following day Van de Velde received an invitation to play in the US PGA Championship at Medinah next month, his debut in a major in America; he could become the first Frenchman to play in the Ryder Cup and the Masters beckons next year.

"As soon as you think that such and such a shot was worth x-amount, life becomes very difficult," Cunningham said. "The most important thing now is to get Jean in the right state of mind. Maybe it's true that to win a major you have to lose a major."

What is not true is that nobody remembers who comes second.

First Tee, page 15

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
New Articles
i100... with this review
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Sport
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
i100
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
News
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam