Senior Open: Jean van de Velde 'at peace' with Carnoustie memories

By Gerry GayBBC Scotland
The Open: Jean van de Velde's 18th hole disaster

Jean van de Velde will return to the scene of one of sport's most notorious meltdowns when he makes his debut in July's Senior Open at Carnoustie.

The Frenchman, who reaches the qualification age of 50 in May, famously squandered a three-shot lead at the final hole of the 1999 Open.

But he insists he is looking forward to playing the Angus links again.

"I came to peace with it a long time ago," he said. "It never wakes me up in a cold sweat."

Seventeen years ago, Van de Velde teed off on the 18th knowing even a double-bogey six would result in him lifting the Claret Jug.

But, after a risky drive, an ill-advised approach and a fluffed recovery, a global audience of millions were watching him remove his spikes and socks, roll up his trousers, wade shin-deep into the middle of the Barry Burn, and consider hitting his next shot from the water.

Minutes of toe-curling agony followed before he talked himself down and took a penalty drop.

Jean van de Velde had a three-shot lead when he approached the last tee in 1999
Van de Velde had a three-shot lead when he hit this drive off the last tee in 1999

But he was already unravelling.

He dumped his next shot into a green-side bunker and scraped his way into a play-off with American Justin Leonard and Scotland's Paul Lawrie thanks to a brave putt - for a triple-bogey seven.

Mind surely scrambled, Van de Velde faded predictably and Lawrie capitalised to secure victory.

Van de Velde would be forgiven for feeling nauseous at the very mention of the day he tormented himself, and astonished the golfing world.

"I don't," he says, chuckling. "Luckily for me it's not the subject of conversation with most people I see. Having said that, I think it's part of the history of the Open Championship and my life, and my history as a golfer. No, I'm not sick of it.

"The only time I think about it, is when someone brings it up."

Rookie status

He has been back to Carnoustie more than a dozen times since, competing in the Dunhill Links and on trips with friends.

Having stopped playing on the European Tour in 2011, Van de Velde will need to find his competitive edge quickly ahead of July's major championship.

Apart from the likely ring rust and any historical hangover, this year's Senior Open will offer the double challenge of the star-studded field and the infamously exacting course.

More than 30 former major champions and Ryder Cup captains will show up in pursuit of a first prize of just over £213,000. Among them will be Tom Watson, Bernhard Langer and Colin Montgomerie - all serial winners on the seniors' circuits.

Van de Velde will enjoy rookie status, among other relative 'youngsters' such as former Open winners John Daly and Todd Hamilton.

World-class course

And then, there is the course: majestic, handsome, frugal. Carnoustie is generally regarded as one of the finest and most challenging tracks on The Open circuit and Van de Velde agrees the links presents an "enormous" challenges.

"The wind is always a factor, as is the rough, and with the huge tee areas, they can make the course long, or more approachable," he explains.

"You need to have great knowledge of the course, and be a great putter. It's hard to hit it close to the hole in windy conditions.

"And you have to keep a lot of energy in the body and the mind for the four finishing holes. In terms of difficulty, I would place it all the way to the top in the world. You can't be average. Every hole is extremely demanding."

Especially that last hole, as one of golf's most Googled collapses can attest.

Scotland's Paul Lawrie was the man to profit from Van de Velde's late collapse
Scotland's Paul Lawrie was the man to profit from Van de Velde's late collapse

Learning to compete again

Given the challenges, both psychological and physical, that lie in wait in Angus, the affable Frenchman admits he has some work to do.

He has not played much golf since he formally retired.

While his opponents this summer such as Langer have been cheating age and beating up many of the world's top guns at Augusta, Van de Velde admits he's had to dig his clubs out of the cupboard and steel himself for competitive golf.

His return follows a five-year hiatus where he's been dividing life between France and Hong Kong.

"I'll prepare myself physically, mentally, and of course technically by hitting some balls and putting some rounds together and I'll see where that can get me," he said.

"I'll be extremely dedicated to it, to be as ready as I can for Carnoustie."