Golf: Post-Carnoustie stress is absent

Bruce Critchley studies reactions to Open triumph and trauma
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The Independent Online
"IF YOU meet with triumph and disaster and treat these two impostors both the same..." Paul Lawrie and Jean Van de Velde at Carnoustie were at opposite ends of this particular spectrum and while neither may be aware of Kipling's great work both would seem to be imbued with the sentiments therein.

Both wisely took the week off after The Open, Lawrie to savour the special pleasures of lifting one of sport's great prizes, Van de Velde to come to terms with having cast that same prize away just as he had it in his hand. They would appear to have made good use of the time, re-emerging to make all the right noises and, on initial inspection, with their golf games unimpaired. They have the advantage of being mature players with several years of competitive experience behind them. Both are over 30 with young families and so have a sound broad base from which to put all the goings-on of a fortnight ago into perspective.

It can all be so different if such things happen too early in a career. To the gifted youngster his sport is an all-consuming passion. Wives, children and homes have yet to be acquired so there is little of life's paraphernalia to act as an effective counter-balance. Some seismic shift good or bad at this point can have a devastating effect.

It would be easy now to say that young Justin Rose's exceptional performance in The Open a year ago came much too soon. The stress of trying to live up to that day at Royal Birkdale has so far proved an insuperable burden. He may yet find his way in the world of professional golf, but the longer he struggles in the caverns of missed cuts and visits to the qualifying school, the greater the build-up of mental scar tissue that could prove a weakness in the future.

Sergio Garcia's fall from grace at Carnoustie was not of the same order. He may be only 19, but his achievements since joining the paid ranks and indeed among the pros before he became one of them, are more than enough for him to be able to put those two days on the Angus Coast "down to experience". Behind Garcia there seems to be a wonderfully wise guiding hand.

While Lawrie and Van de Velde rightly spent a week taking stock, Garcia entered and won a little local Spanish tournament, adopting the principle that if you have just fallen off your horse the best thing is to get back on as quickly as possible.

All three returned to the main arena last week and, perhaps unusually, none seemed to be suffering any ill-effects from their extraordinary experiences at Carnoustie. Garcia added a 69 to his first-round 71, Van de Velde scored 70-71, and Lawrie's 71 yesterday was solidity itself and left him five off the lead. It followed an opening 67 which was an authoritative answer to those who had turned their noses up at such an unexpected Open champion.

A good score today will be a marvellous steadying influence as Lawrie attempts to add high-level consistency to the fortune which the men in suits will ensure. With a five-year passport to any tournament in the world he now has the chance to pit his skills against the very best at an age when he should be at his competitive peak.

The striking thing about the two stars of that remarkable last hour at Carnoustie is they have both displayed, in their own ways, a maturity which does not always accompany talent. Lawrie himself is certainly old and wise enough to balance commercial demands with sufficient time to pursue the only thing that really matters, his playing career.

Van de Velde, like Doug San-ders in 1970, will never for long be able to put from his mind the chance he squandered that Sunday evening. But, assisted by the lack of national expectation that will follow any French golf star, his ability to set the capricious fortunes of his chosen profession into perspective has been engagingly impressive.