It is said that there is no greater test in golf than arriving at the 18th tee needing just to make par to win a major championship. During the 1999 Open at Carnoustie Golf Links, Jean Van de Velde played almost error free golf over the first 71 holes. Attempting to become the first Frenchman to win a British Open since 1907, he stood on the 18th tee with a three shot lead.
Hole number 18 at Carnoustie is one of the most difficult finishing holes in all of golf. For the final round, number 18 (nicknamed “Home”) played as a 475 yard Par 4. Barry Burn snakes through the hole affecting every shot. It crosses directly in front of the green creating a huge obstacle for the 2nd shot.
While it is easy to second guess one's decisions after the fact, most experts agree that Van de Velde's decisions that day will go down as one of the biggest blunders in golf history. With a three shot lead Van de Velde only needed to make a double bogey 6 to raise the Claret Jug. His first decision was to hit driver off the tee. At the time, the TV commentators couldn't believe he was not playing it safe by hitting an iron off the tee to avoid the Barry Burn.
While Van de Velde did miss Barry Burn, his tee shot was so-so leaving him about 200 yards to the green. Most agree that the smart play was to lay up in front of Barry Burn, hit an easy pitch to green, and then need 3 putts to win. Van de Velde chose to go for the green with a 2 iron. He pushed his shot right of the green where the ball bounced off the grandstand hit some rocks in Barry Burn and ended up in the deep rough on the other side of the Burn.
From the terrible lie, Van de Velde dumped his third shot into the water. After a penalty and drop, he hit under the ball and plopped in into a sand trap. Somehow maintaining his composure, Van de Velde was able to get up and down from the trap, sinking a six footer to get into a playoff with Paul Lawrie and Justin Leonard.
But by then the damage was complete. Paul Lawrie won the four hole playoff by 3 strokes to become champion of the British Open. For Jean Van de Velde it was a missed opportunity to win one of golf's majors, to win a tournament he seemingly had in hand standing on the 18th tee.
Throughout its 138 years the Open Championship has produced many memorable moments. To learn more about British Open courses, past champions and other highlights, please visit British Open History