Golf: First Tee - Drawn in hook, slice and sinker

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The Independent Online
IT IS the multi-million dollar question. Could Jean Van de Velde have got it out of that blasted burn to win the 128th Open? Not in a million years, according to David Mitchell, the captain of Carnoustie Golf Club.

"Nobody tries," he said. "You just accept it as a one-stroke penalty." Peter Alliss, on air, thought the Frenchman had gone "ga-ga", as did most observers. However, a Scotsman of vintage age recalls that in the Open of 1937 at Carnoustie, Sam Snead managed to extricate himself from the stream in front of the 18th, thereby saving himself a stroke and proving that it wasn't a third-degree burn after all.

Henry Cotton, incidentally, won 62 years ago with an aggregate of 290, the total arrived at by Van de Velde, Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard in The Open last Sunday before the play-off.

The evidence suggests that Van de Velde had not entirely lost his marbles. When he did his paddling act "three-quarters of the ball was outside the water and I could see it lying on mud or something and I thought that, Jeez, if that's pretty firm I'm definitely going to hit it out of there." As he got closer the ball sank, two or three inches. "Hey, you silly man," Van de Velde told himself. "Not for you, not today."

The time to let it lie

WHAT TEMPTED him into taking his shoes and socks off is that Van de Velde had put the ball into the water at the 18th from an awful lie and a penalty drop would simply put him back into what he described (his grasp of English as well as Anglo-Saxon is impressive) as "the shite".

Spend, spend, spend

NO SOONER had Lawrie hit the shot of his lifetime on the final hole of the play-off - the 18th of course - than IMG, his management company, and Wilson, who supply his clubs, began number crunching.

For the technically minded, his approach shot at the last was with a four-iron fat shaft. "It ain't over till the fat shaft sings." Apart from the pounds 350,000 winner's cheque, he received a pounds 50,000 bonus from Wilson. The Aberdonian has made his first decision on how to spend the money, ordering a brand new Porsche.

Cardboard cut-outs of Lawrie holding the claret jug will now appear in every High Street but the plan is to take the man himself on a tour of Scotland.

Look on the bright side

JAMIE CUNNINGHAM, who runs a small company in Surrey, Professional Sports Partnerships Limited, could be forgiven for thinking he'd won the lottery with only a handful of tickets. Cunningham, a 30-year-old 15 handicapper, has not so much a small stable as a horsebox. He has just four golfers - Warren Bennett, Jim Payne, Bernard Gallagher and... Jean Van de Velde. He also represents the TV personalities Kirsty Gallagher, Bernard's daughter, and Sue Barker.

His friendship with Van de Velde began in the early Nineties when both were with IMG. Cunningham was the only person in the London office to speak French so he was assigned to Van de Velde's case. When both left IMG, they resumed their partnership. Despite Van de Velde's debacle at the 18th, Cunningham says the response has been heartening with invitations not only to America, including the US PGA in Chicago next month, but Japan and Australia. "I have no idea what happens from here," Cunningham admitted. "The next four weeks will be a test of Jean's character. He's been through military service, he's seen a few things and I think he has a good perspective on what's happened. We are determined not to abuse this in a commercial way."

One of the deals offered to Cunningham last week was for Van de Velde to return to the Burn at the 18th and actually play the shot. Larry Mize did a similar thing to replicate his famous chip against Greg Norman at the Masters in 1987. Mize is still there. First Tee is delighted to report that Van de Velde will be doing no such thing. "Jean will not be advertising Wellingtons," Cunningham said, "and there will be no Van de Velde sit- com."

Easy in hindsight

Gary Wolstenholme, one of Britain's leading amateurs, failed to qualify for The Open and instead joined the BBC TV commentary team. Last Tuesday, after the dust-up had settled, he went around Carnoustie in 73, finishing with a five after hitting a five wood approach through the green at the 18th.

"Everybody's talking about Van de Velde," Wolstenholme said, "but what about Justin Leonard? He lost the Open twice. He twice took five at the 18th on Sunday. When he hit it into the Burn at the 72nd hole with a three wood, that was a very strange decision, a bad play. If I was him I'd be waking up in a cold sweat.

"As a major winner he was expected to win. When it started to rain I liked Lawrie's chances because he was physically the strongest of the three. I hope what happened to Van de Velde doesn't harm him too much but I think Lawrie is the better player, full stop."

No silver lining

NOBODY won the silver medal for leading amateur because no amateur made the halfway cut. After the second round Luke Donald led the amateurs, but at 14 over par he missed the cut by two after finding water on the 17th and three-putting the 18th.

Donald, an England international and a student at Northwestern University in Chicago, drove home to High Wycombe. "I watched the end on TV and I had to turn away," said cool-hand Luke. "Jean was very stupid. He gave it away. The 18th is not a hard hole to make five. He was trying to be arrogant and impress everyone. Had he played safe nobody would have said anything apart from 'Well done, champion'."

King salute for vanquished

THE ENGLISH caddie Tim King was carrying the bag for Van de Velde until they parted company in Spain in March. "It's so easy to criticise," King said. "But a lot of people have never been in that position. You can play safe and still get into trouble. He had played brilliantly and was looking calm and relaxed.

"It was a nightmare in the end but he was incredibly unlucky. That putt he made on the 18th took tremendous guts. It could make him rather than break him."

There's always the lottery

CHRISTOPHE, Van de Velde's caddie at Carnoustie, claims to have developed a computer software programme that will be more lucrative than 10 per cent of any player's prize money. It is designed to win the "Lotto", France's equivalent of the National Lottery. It is not known whether the figure seven is an integral part of the system.