There are few greater honours in golf than winning the British Open and lifting the Claret Jug, although the Masters’ Green Jacket is a close second.
Tomorrow sees the 147th Open tee off at Carnoustie, in Scotland, and the world’s finest golfers will assemble for another shot at sporting immortality.
One chap who will not be there is Frenchman Jean Van de Velde, who has the misfortune of being the poster boy for final hole meltdowns.
Leading by three, and facing down the 18th in the 1999 Open, he looked certain to fulfil his childhood dream. You’ve probably guessed what happens next, but here’s CNN:
The 33-year-old journeyman led by three on the last tee. The prize was virtually his. Two or three smooth swings and a couple of putts — he could even afford a double-bogey six — would achieve his lifelong ambition and make him only the second Frenchman ever to win golf’s oldest major after Arnaud Massey in 1907.
What followed became one of the most famous collapses in sport.
The sight of the haunted face of Van de Velde peering out of the Barry Burn with his trousers rolled up above his knees contemplating playing out of the water is seared in the collective memory, his name forever associated with sporting disaster.
I’ll never forget the moment he took off his socks, and you knew you were witnessing something that would go down in golfing history.
As part of the build-up to this year’s tournament, Van de Velde decided to open up an old wound. It’s worth watching:
A seriously measured response to something that would haunt most golfers daily. God, imagine if that happened to Belgian Thomas Pieters?
Let’s finish by paying a little homage to Jean:
He has been heavily involved in the Ryder Cup going to France for the first time in September, and in 2012 became an ambassador for Unicef, using golf to raise funds for initiatives mainly in poverty-stricken Madagascar.
“I’ve been there and seen the evolution and what the money has been able to do,” he told the Golf Channel.
“It’s very fulfilling. It’s an eye-opener and it doesn’t take much to realise the future of all of us is really our youth. It doesn’t mean it’s always easy but it has to be the priority.”
A little bit of Jean Van de Velde will always live on at Carnoustie, but his legacy — of humility, perspective and charity — will live longer.
A true British Open champion, in all but one sense of the word.
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