Jordan Spieth has been bullishly tipped to bounce back from his Masters meltdown by a man who let a major title slip through his grasp as well.Seventeen years before Spieth ran up his catastrophic seven at the 12th hole at Augusta National, the same score proved just as damaging for Frenchman Jean Van de Velde.
It was at Carnoustie, of course, where Van de Velde suffered his notorious episode, which included taking his socks and shoes off as he pondered playing a shot from the Barry Burn at the 18th in the final round of the Open Championship.
Three shots clear standing on the tee, he played the hole in almost farcical fashion, ended up in a play-off as a result and, of course, lost in that to Paul Lawrie.
The memories, though not painful, he insists to his eternal credit, came flooding back as Spieth’s bid to become just the fourth player to win the season’s opening major in successive years came unstuck out of the blue in Amen Corner a week past Sunday.
“What we saw with him, we have seen with many other people who have had big leads and lost them,” said Van de Velde, who is returning to Carnoustie in July to play in the Senior Open Championship for the first time after he turns 50 on 29 May.
“But the fact of the matter is it all happens very, very quickly. When you’re watching him at that 12th hole, you felt the guy was there forever – trust me, you can’t believe how fast everything is happening when that guy is you.
“Afterwards you’ll think back and think maybe you should have made a different decision, maybe you should have used the dropping zone [Spieth decided to take his drop close to the 13th fairway instead after dumping his tee shot into Rae’s Creek]. But everything happens so fast and that’s what the game is all about, it goes on direction and then it very quickly goes the other way. On paper what you have done isn’t that dramatic, but it’s human nature, you can’t go there, you have to stay right in the moment. You have to stick to what you know is best.
“That’s what I love about golf, it slaps you on the finger five minutes after the biggest high you could ever think of. That’s the beauty of the game and why to me it is a reflection of what life is about.”
Two-time Masters champion Nick Faldo believes Spieth, who is only 22, remember, could be “scarred” by the first big disappointment of his career, having had one arm in a second Green Jacket after turning for home with a five-shot lead. Van de Velde has a different take about how the Texan will respond.
“He is an extraordinary player who has an extraordinary head on his shoulders,” added the two-time European Tour winner, who will be joined by two former Open champions, John Daly, and Todd Hamilton, in playing in the over-50s major for the first time when it returns to the Angus course for the first time since 2010 from 21-24 July.
“I really am convinced he will get over it extremely quickly and when he does he will become stronger and stronger. That’s what I truly believe. I didn’t hear everything Spieth said [as he slipped the Green Jacket on Danny Willett’s shoulders].
“But he has an amazing head on top of his shoulders and wasn’t afraid to show that it’s ok to be vulnerable. The guy isn’t trying to hide behind anything or dwell on what if he had done this or that. He will have other chances and he will win again because he has a great personality and mental strength, especially for such a young man.”
Van de Velde stopped playing competitively on the European Tour in 2011. As an ambassador for the event, most of his time at the moment is consumed by the 100th staging of the French Open in June, as well, of course, as the countdown to the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris. But he is relishing the prospect of getting his competitive juices flowing again. He also can’t wait to be back at Carnoustie because, contrary to what you might think, he doesn’t feel haunted by the place.
“Yes, many times – but not for golf!” he replied to being asked if he’d ever woken up in a cold sweat feeling deep regret since that fateful day. “It took me a few days to find my sleep again due to the stress, the adrenaline, the rush, trying to analyse it or whatever. But, after that, it has never woken me up, never given me difficulty find sleep. Ever.
“Also, I don’t get tired of people talking about 1999 and reminding me about what happened. I know it is part of history. It is part of my life as well as a golfer.”
Van de Velde has played at Carnoustie in the Dunhill Links on a number of occasions since 1999. However, he was bitterly disappointed to miss out on the 2007 Open Championship there due to a health scare. In fact, he feared he had cancer before getting the all clear.
“It was just a false alarm but there were all kinds of exams I was going through,” he recalled. “Everybody was really concerned, of course, including my immediate family, who were so worried. It made me realise that, if you don’t have health, you don’t have anything.
“As I was sitting in the chair at my local golf club watching The Open, it was a very emotional thing. I remember it like it was yesterday. One of my great friends [Padraig Harrington] won and I was so delighted for him. But I wished I was out there on the first tee.”
He will be, in July. Most people, though, will be more interested when he gets to the 18th tee. As will be the case, of course, when Spieth returns to the 12th tee at Augusta.