Golf: Van de Velde's recipe for happiness

The man who threw away the Open still maintains that the golf world should lighten up.
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The Independent Online
THEY WILL be forever linked in the history of the game but, while Jean Van de Velde appeared to have already drunk from the claret jug before playing the 72nd hole at Carnoustie, it is Paul Lawrie who gets to keep the venerable Open trophy until next July.

Thanks to their exploits last month, the Scot and the Frenchman, until recently outside the world's top 150, make their debuts in an American major at the USPGA. Lawrie has celebrated his victory by buying a house in Aberdeen and a Porsche. The Ferrari is on order. He played a practice round at Medinah with Colin Montgomerie and the European No 1 was impressed at how the Open champion and his coach, Adam Hunter, wanted to learn about playing on this side of the Atlantic.

Unlike at Carnoustie, Lawrie has not been able to slip in unnoticed. "When I arrived on Monday it took a little time to get from the car park to the locker-room," Lawrie said. "Everyone recognises me now, everyone wants to say `hello', which is fantastic. The Americans are all sort of: `God, he won the British'. I've signed a lot more autographs."

But Lawrie's reception is nothing compared to that accorded to Van de Velde, whose Gallic charm has won over an American media all too ready to bury a player who needed a six at the last to win the Open and took seven.

"Jean Van de Velde is my new hero," declared a Chicago Tribune correspondent. "To many, Van de Velde has become a clown synonymous with taking imbecilic chances - an unlucky Pierre, an I-fall Tower, a Conehead from France. But he continues to accept full responsibility for the most ridiculed collapse in golf (if not sports) history. He did not turn his caddie into a scapegoat. Not once did Van de Velde's pink-cheeked demeanour betray any irritation with questions after relentless question about why he did what he did. He offered no excuse, no apology."

Added USA Today: "Don't laugh at Van de Velde. Listen to him. If an entire sport lightens up because of him, that's good."

The Frenchman, without a hint of irony, yesterday admitted: "It's been a wonderful experience. People recognise me and a lot of them say, you know: `Thanks a lot for what I saw. It was great. I had a good time in front of my TV. Next time it will be you.' It makes you feel good."

Van de Velde's bad golf luck followed him temporarily to Chicago as his golf clubs failed to arrive with him on Tuesday on his flight from Paris. But the Frenchman typically took advantage by enjoying the day in downtown Chicago with his wife. "I guess someone didn't wake up early enough in Paris and didn't put them on the plane," he said. "It was a good excuse to discover Chicago, but now I'm delighted they have arrived because it's hard to play without your clubs."

For Van de Velde, 33, golf is not life and death, and he insists he has no regrets over the way he played Carnoustie's last hole. "I couldn't live with myself knowing that I tried to play for safety and that I blew it," he said. "That's not in my nature. So I made my choices. I made my decision."

Van de Velde used a driver off the tee and hit it wildly to the right. Instead of wedging the ball back into the fairway, he hit a two-iron at the green and bounced off the grandstand and into horrible rough. Rather than try to hit out sideways to the fairway, he tried to clear the water hazard between himself and the green and found the water. He waded in, barefoot and pants rolled up, to determine if he could play the ball - providing a signature photo image of his 18th hole-futility - before abandoning that option and going on to triple-bogey.

"At the end of the day, it's a game," said Van de Velde. "It's a game and I play at that game because I enjoy it."

The Frenchman said that even if he had elected to play it safe, there was no guarantee he would have succeeded with all the hazards on the hole. "The day I'm not going to enjoy it is the day I'm going to pull out a nine-iron on the tee box because I feel it's a bit too narrow. That day I will give my clubs to the kids around there instead of signing autographs."

Van de Velde thinks a lot of people take golf too seriously. "We're just out there hitting a ball and walking behind it and hitting it again. Fair enough, it's a big deal [the Open], but it's not that big a deal. My family is a big deal in my life. Health is a big deal in my life and having people feeling good around me is a big deal in my life. And the rest is, you know, a bonus."

Van de Velde said he is already reaping tangible benefits from his near- miss. "It definitely opened new doors. I'm here to play in the PGA. I'm going to participate in the Masters and hopefully in the US Open and the British Open again.

"I think I can make just enough at the end of the year to retain my US Tour card. So there's a lot of good things happening around it and, fair enough, my name is not down on the trophy but one day maybe it will be on it."