Mon Dieu! Better Safe Than Sorry

July 25, 1999

Do you realize you could be British Open champ?

You telling me you can't make a six on a par 4? A double bogey?
You could make double bogey in flippers and a snorkel. You could
hit a five-iron, an oar and a rigatoni noodle and make a double
bogey. A well-trained chicken could make a freaking double bogey.

The only golfer on earth who can't make a double bogey when he
has to is France's Jean Van de Velde, which is too bad, because
he needed a simple double bogey on the 72nd hole on Sunday in
Carnoustie, Scotland, to win the British Open.

The trophy was polished. The 10-year exemption was ready. The
wife was lipsticked up. All he needed was a six. He made a seven.

The last hole at Carnoustie is a 480-yard par 4 with a wee burn
that crosses the fairway three times. All you want to do to make
double bogey is hit two little five-irons in front of each
crossing, then a little wedge and three-putt for immortality.

Instead, Van de Velde hits a driver. A freaking driver! A driver
brings the first crossing of the wee burn into play. A driver
brings Carnastie's wrist-breaking botany into play. Van de Velde
needs to hit a driver like Strom Thurmond needs a nipple chain.

Why doesn't his caddie stop him? "Well, zere was a lot of zee
wind," says Van de Velde's odd caddie, Christopher (he wouldn't
give his last name), a 30-year-old Parisian who wears a
beatnik's tuft under his chin and a white beret over his
bleached-blond hair.

Wind, Chris? Wind? You've got three shots to reach the green! If
I'm Chris, I snap the driver in half and say, "Fine. Hit the
driver."

O.K., Van de Velde hits the driver and pushes his shot a
kilometer right, nearly onto the 17th tee box. Now he's got 240
yards to the green with nothing but burn and heartburn in
between.

Any erect-walking mammal with an ant's nostril of sense hits a
120-yard wedge into the middle of the fairway, then another
120-yard wedge onto the green, three-putts and orders up
champagne.

Instead, Van de Velde hits a two-iron. A freaking two-iron! A
two-iron is the worst idea since Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio!

Why, oh, why doesn't his caddie stop him? "Well, we talked about
zis, but zee lie, it was just so parfait," says Christopher.

Zee lie, Chris? Zee lie? If I'm Chris, I say, "My, zat is a nice
lie, iz eet not, Jean?" and throw everything but the wedge and
the putter into the burn.

So les miserables hit a two-iron, and the ball sails two
kilometers right, caroms off the grandstand and bounces back over
the burn, into some heather high enough to lose Ian Woosnam in.
Uh-oh.

"Jean was peezed," says Christopher. "He sayz to me, 'Why don't
you make me hit wedge?' He says, 'On est trop gourmand!' ['You
are a glutton!'] I theenk that he and I, we want too much show."

Now Van de Melt has the worst lie since "I did not have sex with
that woman." He can barely see the ball. He hits it right into
the wee burn.

So, laying three, the ball is sitting mostly under water, with
the six-foot-high creek wall right in front of it, and,
obviously, he's going to have to drop and--No!

No, no, no! Please tell us Van de Velde isn't taking off his
shoes and socks, rolling up the legs of his pants and climbing
into the wee burn to hit it. He is! He's going to play it out of
the burn!

Why, oh, why doesn't his caddie stop him? "Well," says
Christopher. "He wants to do zees, but zee wall, it iz very
tall."

Van de Velde finally has a sudden growth spurt of brain cells
and decides to drop instead--back into the haggis. This time, he
easily hits it over the wee burn and straight into zee beach.

Now he's got to get it up and down out of a greenside bunker
just to make the playoff, which he does. Of course, by then he
needs a whisky, a massage and emergency psychoanalysis and
proceeds to lose to someone named Paul Lawrie, who is as shocked
as anybody to even be in the playoff, seeing as he might as well
be a vacationing upholsterer from Glasgow.

"For a time," decides Christopher, "thees was zee best day of my
life. Now, it iz zee worst."

Van de Velde put on a brave face for the fans, but once in the
scoring trailer, he sobbed into his hands. "Next time," he said,
bittersweetly, "I'll hit zee wedge. You'll say I'm a coward, but
I'll hit zee wedge."

No, next time, give Christopher the wrong dates.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

"Next time," Van de Velde said bittersweetly, "I'll hit zee
wedge. You'll say I'm a coward, but I'll hit zee wedge."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)