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Mon Dieu! Better Safe Than Sorry
Rick Reilly
July 26, 1999
Do you realize you could be British Open champ?
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July 26, 1999

Mon Dieu! Better Safe Than Sorry

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Do you realize you could be British Open champ?

You telling me you can't make a six on a par 4? A double bogey? You could make double bogey in flippers and a snorkel. You could hit a five-iron, an oar and a rigatoni noodle and make a double bogey. A well-trained chicken could make a freaking double bogey.

The only golfer on earth who can't make a double bogey when he has to is France's Jean Van de Velde, which is too bad, because he needed a simple double bogey on the 72nd hole on Sunday in Carnoustie, Scotland, to win the British Open.

The trophy was polished. The 10-year exemption was ready. The wife was lipsticked up. All he needed was a six. He made a seven.

The last hole at Carnoustie is a 480-yard par 4 with a wee burn that crosses the fairway three times. All you want to do to make double bogey is hit two little five-irons in front of each crossing, then a little wedge and three-putt for immortality.

Instead, Van de Velde hits a driver. A freaking driver! A driver brings the first crossing of the wee burn into play. A driver brings Carnastie's wrist-breaking botany into play. Van de Velde needs to hit a driver like Strom Thurmond needs a nipple chain.

Why doesn't his caddie stop him? "Well, zere was a lot of zee wind," says Van de Velde's odd caddie, Christopher (he wouldn't give his last name), a 30-year-old Parisian who wears a beatnik's tuft under his chin and a white beret over his bleached-blond hair.

Wind, Chris? Wind? You've got three shots to reach the green! If I'm Chris, I snap the driver in half and say, "Fine. Hit the driver."

O.K., Van de Velde hits the driver and pushes his shot a kilometer right, nearly onto the 17th tee box. Now he's got 240 yards to the green with nothing but burn and heartburn in between.

Any erect-walking mammal with an ant's nostril of sense hits a 120-yard wedge into the middle of the fairway, then another 120-yard wedge onto the green, three-putts and orders up champagne.

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