Lawrie and Van de Velde relish the benefits from drama of Carnoustie

Scot enjoys status and trappings of a champion while Frenchman finds adulation after positive attitude in defeat
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The Independent Online

Paul Lawrie has watched the video of his victory at Carnoustie last year half a dozen times. "It's nice to look back," he said. For the past year, he has been the only person on the planet who can hold up the ancient silver claret jug, hug it close and look at all the names - 127 came before his - on the historic trophy. "It's just incredible sitting down and looking at the guys who've won it."

Paul Lawrie has watched the video of his victory at Carnoustie last year half a dozen times. "It's nice to look back," he said. For the past year, he has been the only person on the planet who can hold up the ancient silver claret jug, hug it close and look at all the names - 127 came before his - on the historic trophy. "It's just incredible sitting down and looking at the guys who've won it."

Then there are all the photos: of the trophy and Lawrie, of the trophy and his family - his parents and brother were away on holiday a year ago and will be again this week - of the trophy and all his friends and of the trophy and all the public who turned up at Duthie Park in Aberdeen one day in May. Lawrie was there for six hours. "It was a fantastic exercise. Quite busy. A lot of kids turned up, which was great. There are a few dents on the jug," Lawrie added, "but I've not put them there. I've not dropped it, which is unlike me."

Tomorrow, Lawrie will drive down from Aberdeen to St Andrews - he is renting a house this year after commuting from home for Carnoustie - and hand over the trophy to the Royal & Ancient. There will be the usual joke about it only being on loan and picking it up on Sunday evening. Tom Watson, 17 years ago, was the last player to be true to the words.

That evening there will be the past champions' dinner in the Royal & Ancient clubhouse (while at Augusta this is an annual occasion, a gathering of Open champions only occurs at St Andrews). On Wednesday afternoon, Lawrie will be part of a unique event, a parade of champions over the first two and the last two holes of the Old Course.

He hoped to play with 88-year-old Sam Snead but that honour will instead go to Nick Faldo, Ian Baker-Finch and Justin Leonard. Lawrie will be in the opening threeball with Tom Lehman and Tom Weiskopf. "I'd have loved to play with Snead," Lawrie said. "I watched him at the Masters for 20 minutes. He was pitching 50 to 60 yards and looked good to me for 88 years of age. But it doesn't matter. I'm going to enjoy it. It's a great idea."

And then his reign as the "champion golfer of the year" will be over. No one, not even Lawrie, perhaps especially not Lawrie, thought that is how the last 12 months would turn out when a year ago this morning he still had to make it through final qualifying. So did Jean Van de Velde, who, but for a freak bounce, would have enjoyed all that Lawrie has experienced since that extraordinary conclusion to the 128th Open.

While the best players in the world moaned bitterly that the rough was too thick and the fairways too narrow, someone was going to walk away with the trophy at the end of the week. That someone should have been Van de Velde, a first French winner for 92 years. He holed everything, got up and down from anywhere. He was five ahead with a round to play. "Maybe the smallest player is going to win the biggest tournament," he said at the time. "Maybe I'm going to blow it." He blew it but denies the charge of choking. Leading by three and needing a six at the last to win, Van de Velde took seven. "It was unreal," he said of the second shot. "How many times do you hit a grandstand and go back 50 yards." That's when it turned into a French farce. Van de Velde's pitch from the rough ended in the Barry Burn and off came the shoes and socks. The pro golfer sponsored by Disneyland Paris was sunk.

He holed a fine putt to make the play-off with Lawrie and Leonard but his moment had gone. As the rain fell and the last train to Edinburgh departed, the four-hole play-off almost descended into chaos. Until, that is, Lawrie hit a pair of four-irons at the 17th and 18th to seize the day. "I'd worked hard with a sports psychologist, Dr Richard Cox, preparing me for such a moment and when it came I was ready."

A strange thing happened next. Of the two, Van de Velde became the bigger star. It is partly their personalities, one outgoing, charismatic, the other a more private person, though both are devoted family men. The thing is, Van de Velde could have been shattered by his experience. But he refused to crumble, to disappear. The Gallic reasoning that there is more to life than hitting a little white ball into a hole won out and galleries around the world, especially in America, responded.

The night after he checked out of the Carnoustie Hotel, there were, reportedly, "hundreds of girls" wanting to sleep in his bed sheets. The hotel which named a suite after Lawrie to go along with those for Armour, Cotton, Hogan, Player and Watson, all the Carnoustie Open champions, also named one after the Frenchman. It is always booked up.

The hotel also stocks La Reserve de Jean, a red wine produced by a leading Bordeaux chateau. In September, he will return to the 18th at Carnoustie and take on three competition winners. Should any of them beat Van de Velde, they will win a gallon of Irish whiskey; if not the gallon bottle will be donated to charity.

"The big question was whether I was going to allow myself to be swallowed up by regrets about my great loss," Van de Velde said. "Or whether I was going to look on all the good things that happened that week.

"If it were to happen that I found myself in the same position in 100 other majors, I'd probably win 99 of them. I cannot deny it is terrible not to have my name on the trophy. But all the good things I got from the Open have given me an exciting year. I don't live in the past. I walked away from there with my chin pretty straight."

Lawrie has a lingering doubt that he did not get the recognition he deserved but it does not bother him unduly. He announced after winning the Open that he was going to buy a Ferrari. In fact, he got a Porsche and a bigger house. There is enough land for a huge green and 70 yards of fairway, a couple of bunkers, everything to work on his short game. "I'm working harder now than before Carnoustie," he said. "I've got a lot of ambition inside me.

"I haven't played as well as I would have liked but it is difficult to perform at your best when you are not used to some of the things that happen. I'm in the spotlight a lot more now. I have to accept that the Open champion having a bad day is just as much a story as the Open champion playing well. There are times I'd just like to go home, curl up and have a bath. But it has been a fantastic year. I've really enjoyed it."

Both players took advantage of their new status to play more in America for the first time. Both can claim to be better players than a year ago, although neither has won. Both represented Europe at the Ryder Cup at Brookline, but with vastly differing experiences. Lawrie partnered Colin Montgomerie and was the team's top point scorer with three and a half out of five, including a singles win over Jeff Maggert. "That was the high point of the year," he said. "Although I had won the Open I was a rookie and so there was a lot of pressure. But I was proud of the way I played with Monty. We gelled together very well."

Van de Velde, on the other hand, had to sit out until the singles and then lost to Davis Love. Never afraid to speak out, he was critical of Mark James and recently called for action against the former Ryder Cup captain in the dispute with Faldo. Van de Velde was not at last week's meeting of the Tournament Committee, which supported James and Torrance, but with fellow committee member Bernhard Langer has asked to look at the minutes to see if their points of view were put across as promised.

But it will be Carnoustie he will be forever remembered for, like Doug Sanders missing a tiny putt at St Andrews in 1970. Van de Velde went back to Carnoustie last December and played the 18th solely with his putter, an implement named 'Never Compromise'. He scored a nine, then an eight and finally a six. "At last," he said to the TV camera, "a six. Finally."



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