Carnoustie has brought out the best—and the worst 

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland—He lost the British Open, tossed it away, a sporting collapse seemingly as embarrassing as it was memorable. And yet Jean Van De Velde did not lose his sense of humor.

   It was 1999 at Carnoustie when Van De Velde carried a three-shot lead to the final hole, hit a few awful shots and a couple of bewildering ones and dropped into a tie with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard. Lawrie won the playoff.

    The next morning, I boarded a flight, and sat next to the teaching pro Butch Harmon who without even saying hello, asked “What was he thinking?”

  Of course, he wasn’t thinking, not after knocking s ball off a bridge railing into Barry Burn, the inlet that fronts the 18th green, taking off his shoes and socks, rolling up his pant legs to the knees and finally deciding to take a penalty drop.

Another Open is back at Carnoustie, and so is Van de Velde, now 52, as a commentator for French television. A Jack Nicklaus or a Tiger Woods surely would have laid up short of the water, playing for a bogey. That wasn’t the way Van de Velde, a happy-go-lucky sort went about golf or life.

  “Some people have their name on the trophy,” Van de Velde said the other day, “I have my name on the bridge.”

Golf can make a fool out of anyone. Arnold Palmer had that seven-shot over Billy Casper with nine holes to play in the 1966 U.S. Open at San Francisco’s Olympic Club. Arnie went after birdies and came in with bogies. Casper won the playoff.

  Fifty years ago, in another Open, one played in wind so strong Jack Nicklaus couldn’t reach the 240-yard par-3 16th with a driver. Gary Player won that Open and under the conditions called Carnoustie “The hardest course in the world.”

It has been a difficult one. The last Open held here, 2007, Sergio Garcia was the leader much of the way. He didn’t hit a ball into Barry Burn, but he did make a mess of things, with a double bogey.

  He too ended up in a playoff, with Padraig Harrington, and it was Harrington who grabbed the Open that was Garcia’s. Harrington held the trophy, and Sergio held a grudge, whining, “Everyone else hits the flagstick and the ball drops right down. I hit the flagstick, and the ball bounces off the green.”

   Said Harrington of 18, “There is nowhere to hide on that hole.”

   The rough is not as long at Carnoustie this time as it had been for past Opens, a product of a relatively dry summer across Scotland. But Barry Burn still snakes in front of the final hole.

  “The Open is by far the greatest championship in the world,” said a slightly biased Gary Player, who is now 82. “It’s the only tournament where yardage doesn’t mean anything,”

  That’s it the wind is up. It hasn’t been earlier in the week, but as they used to say about Chicago, wait another hour and the weather will change.”

  “This championship,” reminded Player, who won it three times, “is a test of more patience, of never feeling sorry for yourself. It almost teaches you to enjoy adversity.”

  Van de Velde made the best of his. He’s better known than the man who beat him in the playoff.

Carnoustie is where in 1953 the great Ben Hogan won his only British Open Supposedly the Scots were so impressed with the way he handled the weather and the course they nicknamed him. “The Wee Ice Mon,”  but one of the local journalists insists no true Scot would ever use that term.

   Carnoustie has brought out the best and worst of the men who have played it through the years. Just keep the ball out of Barry Burn or it can be Car-nasty.

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