SOUTHPORT, England – For someone who admits to having experienced many years of “golfing hell,” Jean Van de Velde was not going to complain too much about a bit of wind and rain on Thursday.
While the rest of the British Open field muttered about the treacherous conditions at Royal Birkdale, the 42-year-old Frenchman was simply delighted to be involved in another major championship.
Van de Velde will never be allowed to forget his collapse at the 1999 British Open at Carnoustie, when he triple bogeyed the 72nd hole while leading by three before going on to lose a playoff to Paul Lawrie.
It was hilarity as he peeled off his socks and shoes and climbed into the Barry Burn to contemplate playing a shot directly from the water. The moment was mixed with heartbreak, as he lost the battle with body and mind and saw glory slip away.
What should have been the greatest moment of his life turned into the start of a journey into despair. The collapse of his golfing form was followed by a serious ski injury, glandular fever and even a cancer scare.
But Van de Velde refused to give in to what many assumed was inevitable – the end of his career.
He claimed his place in this year’s Open, his first appearance at the tournament since 2005, with a birdie on the final hole of local qualifying, and is determined to retain a philosophical approach at Birkdale.
“We all have an expiry date but I still feel I have something left in me,” said Van de Velde. “I have had years of hell but I’ve come through it and I am still here. I hope everything is behind me now and I would love to have another run at the Open. It is great to be back here and the Open has a special place in my heart.”
Thursday’s round left him at a respectable three-over par, and in contention to stick around for the weekend. A level par outward nine of 34 was outstanding, before a few mistakes crept in and shots slipped away on the return home. But on this day, survival was everything, and Van de Velde certainly survived, with a classy birdie on the 17th bringing a smile to his face.
“I am not going to complain about the weather,” he said. “It is the Open, I am playing in it and I am doing okay. That is enough.”