Van de Velde's not golf's Buckner

Frenchman stays positive despite Carnoustie fade

August 12, 1999|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

MEDINAH, Ill. -- He has become more recognized, whether it's on the streets of Paris or the fairways of Medinah Country Club here at the 81st PGA Championship. He is now well-known, though it's for losing last month's British Open at Carnoustie rather for anything he has accomplished in his career.

But don't look at Jean Van de Velde as a tragic figure, the Bill Buckner of golf.

The 33-year-old Frenchman certainly doesn't.

"Maybe it's my temperament, I don't know," Van de Velde said yesterday. "Not that I tend to forget things very quickly, but that's it. You don't live in the past. You can turn around whatever you wish. I do think about it sometimes, but not in a bad way."

Van de Velde didn't see a tape of his now infamous final hole collapse -- he made triple-bogey 8 to blow a three-shot lead and lost in a three-way playoff -- until he appeared on The Golf Channel earlier this week.

It brought back memories, not only of the way he hit an ill-advised 2-iron approach off the bleachers, or of dumping his next shot in the water, but of the way he played the first 71 holes that week.

"There's one thing that week taught me, that I'm capable of doing it," said Van de Velde, who will be making his debut today in a U.S. major. "I'm capable of competing with the best players in the world, and that's something nobody is going to take away."

Van de Velde prefers to focus on the positives: the invitation here, as well as the one he expects to receive to next year's Masters; also, the $289,025 he received that will enable him to earn exempt status on the PGA Tour next season.

While countless weekend players around the world have second-guessed him, Van de Velde has never doubted his decision or blamed his caddie, who is still in his employ.

"I couldn't live with myself knowing that I tried to play for safety and that I blew it," he said. "That's not my nature. As I said, and I'll say it again, at the end of the day, it's a game."

It's a game that is difficult to play without clubs. When Van de Velde's failed to show up with him on the flight he took from Paris to Chicago on Tuesday, he simply used that as excuse to go have lunch in the city with his wife.

"I had a good time already," he said.

NOTE: The PGA of America announced yesterday that, starting at next year's PGA Championship, a three-hole aggregate score playoff will be used instead of the sudden-death playoff used since the tournament's inception.

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