Occasionally in sport the name of the loser is easier to recall than that of the victor and that was certainly the case at the 1999 Open Championship at Carnoustie, which was won by Paul Lawrie, but will always be remembered for the exploits of French golfer Jean Van de Velde.
Standing on the 18th tee with a three-shot lead, Van de Velde needed just a double-bogey 6 to claim the title and become the first French player to win The Open since Arnaud Massy in 1907.
However, a comedy of errors which saw him hit a grandstand before wading into the famous Barry Burn meant that Van de Velde would go down in Open history for all the wrong reasons. Here’s how…
When a double bogey would suffice on a hole he’d parred and birdied twice in his three previous round Van de Velde decided to take driver for his final tee shot of the 1999 Open Championship, a decision which the BBC’s Peter Alliss was far from convinced by, telling viewers: “I’m not sure this is right.” But the Frenchman appeared to have got away with it as his drive found dry land albeit in the longer grass 40 yards right of the fairway.
Still only needing a six to claim the famous claret jug Van de Velde had a good look at the green for his second shot but somehow managed to push his approach into the grandstand which sat alongside the putting surface with the ball dropping down into the deep rough just behind the famous Barry Burn which runs across the final fairway of this famous old course.
Having to chip out of the long grass and over the water to give him three putts for the championship he somehow managed to duff his chip straight into the water in a shot which has been recreated on thousands of courses by amateurs right across the land.
Deciding it might be possible to play out of the burn, thus saving himself a dropped shot, Van de Velde proceeded to take his shoes and socks off before wading into the water to the astonishment of the watching crowd and Alliss himself who pleaded with someone to: “sit him down and give him a large brandy.” But eventually common sense prevailed and he took the drop.
Just when it seemed things couldn't possibly get any worse his fifth shot proceeded to land in the deep bunker just short of the green, meaning that to win the Open Van de Velde would have to chip-in, while to force a playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard he would have to make an up and down at the very worst.
This was probably the Frenchman’s greatest effort so far as his delicate chip finished around six-feet short of the pin and gave him a fighting chance of taking the contest to extra holes despite having held a three-shot advantage on the 18th tee.
The roar which greeted the ball landing at the bottom of the cup and Van de Velde’s fist pump would make anyone think he’d won the tournament, but in reality, all he’d done was give himself the chance to go through it all again in a three-way play-off over four holes.
The final four holes would be the scene of the aggregate play-off as all three players bogeyed the 16th hole, while Lawrie and Van de Velde birdied the 17th, meaning Lawrie took a one-shot lead down the 18th. A birdie from the Scotsman, while Leonard and Van de Velde bogeyed, meant it was Lawrie who prevailed to lift the biggest prize in golf on home soil after one of the most catastrophic and comedic capitulations in the history of sport.
What happened next
Jean van de Velde would play for Europe in the Ryder Cup later that year and featured in just one match which he lost to Davis Love as the Americans claimed victory in Boston while he won his second European Tour title in 2006 to add to the one he claimed back in 1993.
However, at the 2005 Open de France, Van de Velde had the chance to put the nightmare of Carnoustie behind him and secure a dramatic home victory – only to find water on the 18th hole once more as he lost to countryman Jean-Francois Remesy in a play-off again.