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Jean Van De Velde: A Story Of Redemption At This Year’s Senior British Open

Ian Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Seventeen years after an epic meltdown on the 18th at the British Open, Jean Van de Velde looks to right a few wrongs.

If there is even a modicum of solace infamous golfer Jean van de Velde can reference, it may be a short phrase from a song. Now I am most certainly not old enough to reference 80’s rock band Def Leppard, but here it goes anyway. 

One of the hard rock band’s most notable singles, Rock of Ages, is pertinent for one line. “It’s better to burn out than fade away.”

On the cusp of golfing lore, the 1999 Open Championship all but won, Van de Velde needed just a double bogey six to secure his first major championship. But what had felt like a fantasy only moments before would soon become a nightmare. Van de Velde wouldn’t just burn out, he would implode. 

Before he had even teed off on the 18th hole at Carnoustie, long-time BBC golf commentator Peter Alliss second-guessed Van de Velde for his choice of driver. Instead of hitting an iron squarely and securely onto the fairway, knowing that he needed only a six to win, Van de Velde’s driver would bring into play Barry Burn, a stream that cuts through the 18th.

Luckily Van de Velde’s ball narrowly missed splashing down into the stream. Disaster averted. From 185 yards and a maximum of five strokes from victory, an amateur golfer may have been running  the words “just don’t shank it,” through his/her head. But for a professional golfer, this shot would seem almost mundane. With a two-iron in hand, Van de Velde’s second shot from the fairway bounded down the right rough towards the stands, a total shank.

Finally settling in deep rough after clanking off stadium seating, Van de Velde was still in charge of his own destiny.


For the second time on the 18th, Van de Velde found himself flirting with the Barry Burn. Only this time, the Frenchman would not be as lucky. With his ball firmly resting in the stream, Van de Velde debated playing an unadvised circus shot out of the river before dropping for his fourth stroke.

Van de Velde would go on to make seven and force a playoff with Justin Leonard and Paul Lawrie. But with his momentum, and perhaps confidence, gone, the once sure-champion would come in second to Paul Lawrie.

Here’s how it all unfolded in real-time:

What was left after that fateful 18th hole was a man struggling to pick up the pieces of his now tattered reputation. 

Van de Velde had these words on his performance in the final round,

“It’s sad, it’s very sad … can I go back and play it again, actually? That’d be nice.”

Nearly 17 years later, Jean van de Velde will once again come face-to-face with the 18th hole at Carnoustie Golf Club. Only this time, the 50-year-old golfer will be playing in the Senior British Open and on the comeback trail in a game he had once left behind. Five years after retiring from professional golf, Van de Velde is making his first start this week at the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in New York.

Asked about his sudden return to a game that had once been so cruel to him, Van de Velde told reporters,

“You feel like you kind of miss the adrenaline of competing, and I have to say that’s not something that goes away that easily,” (

After two rounds and at +5, Van de Velde will be cut from this week’s event but has taken steps to get back into the mindset of a professional golfer. Van de Velde’s driving average of 302 yards trumped Thursday and Friday’s tournament average of 286 yards. His 57% driving accuracy tied for 31st in a field of 80 players. Such a heavy hitter could find success on the links-style fairways of Carnoustie.

Van de Velde’s story is one of anger, pain, humility, and disappointment. But out of what could have been, a story of redemption may very well be in the making. The man responsible for arguably the worst meltdown in sports history will once again face off against the Barry Burn in which his ball was swallowed whole, and he will eye the unforgiving Scottish fescue, this time being more cautious of its grasp. 

If nothing else comes of his trip back to Carnoustie on July 21, Van de Velde will walk off the 18th green knowing he didn’t fade away, but came back to tempt his fate once again.

Edited by Jeremy Losak, Jazmyn Brown.

Jean van de Velde's collapse at Carnoustie would eventually hand the 1999 British Open Champioship to Paul Lawrie. Who won the 2000 British Open?
Created 7/10/16
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