local knowledge

The Charming Choke: Jean Van de Velde, 25 years later

June 24, 2024

Ross Kinnaird

It remains one of the most mind-boggling blunders in the history of men's major championship golf: Jean Van de Velde, Carnoustie, 18th hole. You don't have to dig far into your memory banks to remember a major championship collapse, but typically they happen over a full round (Greg Norman at Augusta) or over a final series of holes (Rory McIlroy, Pinehurst). What you almost never see is a player losing a big lead on the 72nd hole—by that point, if they've preserved the lead through the pressure moments that came before, they've typically shown their mettle and are out of danger.

Not so for Jean Van de Velde. He needed only double bogey on the last hole to win the Open Championship, but after a series of unthinkable mental and physical errors, he had to sink an eight-foot putt just to make triple and force his way into a playoff...a playoff he later lost.

It's a moment that sticks in the head of every golf fan who saw it, and to go back and rewatch the last hole on YouTube today is to relive the disaster. In the wake of Rory McIlroy's loss at Pinehurst, it seems almost more poignant today than it did 25 years ago, and not just for the way Van de Velde lost; it's also eye-opening to witness his reaction. From the very moment he lost the tournament, Van de Velde approached his great blunder with grace and humor, and a bit of classic French fatalism. He hung around to talk to reporters, he went back years later to re-play the final hole using only a putter (he made a 6 on his third try), and right to the present, he'll speak about that day with all the honesty and comedy and pain it entails.

Of course, his equanimity on the surface doesn't tell the whole story. There was grief, and there was regret, and it's probably not possible for us to understand the true depths of what he felt. Nevertheless, there was nobody who took his medicine quite like Jean Van de Velde, especially for someone who never sniffed a major title again. When you watch him in action, you can't help but like him. On this week's Local Knowledge podcast, we dive deep into the man who made history at Carnoustie; what made him who he was, how he emerged from a country not known for its golf, the heartbreak and pathos of that day at Carnoustie, and everything that came later. Listen below, or wherever you get your podcasts.