Remembering Jean Van De Velde’s British Open Choke
Today marks the 15th anniversary of one of the grandest chokes of all-time in the world of sports. Sure, there have been some baseball teams to have blown leads and basketball teams on the verge of winning it all then losing it but there might not be a more memorable egg laid than the one Jean Van De Velde did during the 1999 British Open.
The Open Championship that year was held in Carnoustie, Scotland and the 33-year old Jean Van De Velde wasn’t a household name by any means, but it appeared that he was set for a shining moment that would live on forever. Sports writers and people covering the event were not as thrilled as they tried to find a story that had any sort of interest to the public. That would soon come to fruition as Van De Velde stepped to the 18th hole.
At that time, Van De Velde held a three shot lead going into that hole and could have double-bogeyed and still claimed the Claret Jug. In fact as the story goes, the jug was already engraved with Van De Velde’s name as it was assumed he was going to win. The 18th hole at Carnoustie wasn’t easy by any sense of the imagination but it wasn’t a hole that you could lose a tournament on unless you really screwed up.
Van De Velde’s first shot was solid as the ball landed on the grass separating him and a burn placed on the course. Most golfers would say then that you hit the ball onto the fairway and then go onto win the tournament in rather simple fashion. Van De Velde decided to go bold with his second shot and try to hit it near the hole. The ball then bounced off a grandstand and landed in the tall rough after bouncing off a rock.
At this point, most golfers would have just laid the ball onto the fairway and then attempt to get out of a tough situation. Van De Velde decided to try to hit over the infamous “Barry Burn”. As the ball left his club, it looked like a dying duck and landed right into the Burn. Many would have assumed that Van De Velde would take the penalty for a drop and be on his merry way. Instead, Van De Velde went after his ball and tried to see if he could hit it out of the Burn. The infamous picture of him going into the Burn will never be forgotten.
All Van De Velde’s fifth shot had to do was land on the green and he could still win the tournament with a double bogey. Instead his ball landed in a bunker near the hole. After that, shock and amazement from everyone watching started the thought that he could lose the tournament after carrying that three shot lead. Van De Velde’s sixth shot from the bunker was chipped near the hole and Van De Velde had a length putt to force a three-way playoff between him, American Justin Leonard, and Irishman Paul Lawrie.
For the only time during the hole, Van De Velde hit a good shot as the ball reached the bottom of the cup as he shot a triple-bogey seven on the final hole. However, you could sense after that shot went in, it was more of a relief than anything else for Jean Van De Velde. He wasn’t going to win the tournament, no matter how long the playoff lasted. As it is known, Paul Lawrie would go onto win the Claret Jug in the four-hole playoff and win his first and only major championship.
Since that date, Van De Velde’s choke has been placed on the mantle of how not to win a major championship in golf. A couple of years later, Van De Velde returned to Carnoustie for an interview regarding the choke and was challenged to use only a putter on the 18th. Jean Van De Velde shot a six.