In summing up his thoughts on what was the biggest collapse ever seen at the finishing hole of an Open championship, Jean said.
“Maybe I should have laid up. But there are worse things in life…It is a golf tournament. A game and I gave it my best shot.”
“Hey, ziss better than a kick in zee ass.”
The literal translation, English to French, for “so be it” is “ainsi que ce soit” but let’s stick with the more well known and somewhat similar expression “c’est la vie.”
Neither expressions were used by Frenchman Jean Van de Velde after he’d blown the 1999 Open at Carnoustie but what he did say will be quoted at the end of the following tragic tale—Well to be perfectly honest as an honourable Scotsman. I have to say that, since it let a Scotsman in to win, my sympathy is a little lacking in sincerity.
It wasn’t the hand of God that set up Carnoustie for the 1999 Open. It was Carnoustie’s keeper of the greens whose idea of what constitutes rough makes the Uberfuhrers of the USPGA look like a bunch of pacifists trying to pacify the egos of the golfing pros. To write that it was rrrrough is no exaggeration and it’s been said that its length was aided and abetted by the greenkeeping staff sprinkling fertilizer and water on the rough prior to the event.
Arriving on the 18th tee with a three-shot lead playing the 72nd hole of the championship, Jean could have been excused for thinking “Good God I’m going to win this thing.”
It got even better when his tee shot found the rrrough and instead of finding his ball almost unplayable, as many had throughout the week, he had a perfect lie. And just like wee Bobby, who was blessed with that big break after finding the burn at Merion, Jean appeared to have found favour with the golfing gods.
Steve Eubanks in At The Turn described the scenario so well as Jean’s ball sailed towards the rrrough.
“But fate seemed to be shining on Van de Velde. His ball, apparently destined for the water when it left the club, miraculously stopped on a small peninsula near the 17th fairway. It was one of golf’s miracles, no less amazing than Fred Couple’s gravity-defying shot that somehow stayed dry on the banks of the 12th hole at Augusta…”
“So be it” but what to hit?
If Jean had found, as could’ve been expected, a rugged rrrough lie he would’ve been forced to wedge it out on to the fairway and left himself a short iron on to the green and still have some shots up his sleeve to win.
Instead to his everlasting credit, although that’s only my opinion and not shared by Curtis Strange who said of Jean’s decision to hit a 2-iron, it was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
As for Jean’s thoughts on the decision, he said.
“I didn’t feel comfortable hitting a wedge. To me, it was against the spirit of the game. I’m going to hit a wedge, then another wedge, and then what? Three-putt from thirty feet to win by one? Okay, fair enough I’d win by one, but what a way to finish!”
As it finished up the gallant Gaul lost but won the hearts and minds of many people, especially us Scots who savoured the very rare occasion of a Scotsman winning The Open and in Scotland.