18 Jul 1999: Jean Van de Velde of France still smiling despite finding the Barry Burn with his third shot on the final hole of the British Open at Carnoustie in Angus, Scotland. Van de Velde took a triple bogey seven to squander a three shot lead. Mandatory Credit: David Cannon /Allsport

18 Jul 1999: Jean Van de Velde of France still smiling despite finding the Barry Burn with his third shot on the final hole of the British Open at Carnoustie in Angus, Scotland. Van de Velde took a triple bogey seven to squander a three shot lead. Mandatory Credit: David Cannon /Allsport

Jean Van de Velde, who became inextricably linked with Carnoustie after losing a three shot lead at the final hole of The Open in 1999, is planning a more joyous return to the Angus course 17 years on, this time with his eyes on the biggest prize in Senior golf.

The flamboyant Frenchman, who turns 50 on May 29, will make his debut in the Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex at Carnoustie from July 21-24 knowing that he has an opportunity to put the record straight.

Van de Velde held a three stroke lead teeing off at the 72nd hole of The Open in 1999, but finished with a triple bogey seven and a three-way play-off with eventual Champion Paul Lawrie of Scotland and Justin Leonard of the United States.

The abiding image of that Open, however, is that of the two-time European Tour winner and former Ryder Cup player rolling up his trousers, removing his shoes and socks and considering trying to play a shot from the Barry Burn guarding the home green.

Van de Velde eventually decided that discretion was the better part of valour and took a penalty drop, sinking a tricky putt for a seven and that play-off in which Lawrie prevailed over Leonard and the Frenchman.

Now, 17 years on, Van de Velde will compete at the scene of his biggest moment in the spotlight. And despite not winning the ultimate prize in the game, he has always managed to endear himself to the golfing public by managing to see the funny side of his predicament.

Now living in Hong Kong and a leading figure in this year’s 100th year celebrations for the Open de France at Le Golf National, Van de Velde confirmed he will be playing in his first event as a Senior at Carnoustie, knowing he has an old score to settle.

He laughed: “No, I don’t get tired of people talking about 1999 and reminding me about what happened. I am lucky enough to still be involved in golf, but I am not as exposed as I was before so it doesn’t come up as much in conversation.

“However, I know it is part of history. It is part of my life as well as a golfer. There were quite a few viewers that day – 250-300 million, I believe – so it would take me a while if I met all them and answered their questions about that day, from which I have great memories.”

He added: “It took me a while to find clubs in my cupboard as it’s been a while since I played. I stopped playing full-time about five years ago but have still played ten or 20 times per year.

“The 100th French Open at the start of July is a very big deal and we are also getting closer to The Ryder Cup in France. I have a lot more on my plate than I anticipated.

“However, I think I am going to have to be extremely dedicated to playing on the Senior Tour. I will try and be as ready as I can for Carnoustie. I want to play competitive golf with my peers who have the same challenges as me on a daily basis – when they wake up their knee hurts, their back hurts and so does their neck.

“I can’t compete with the younger guys any more so I want to get as ready as I can for the Senior Open and then give myself time to look over a five-year plan and accept it will take a while to get back on the horse again and be comfortable with a scorecard and pencil in my back pocket once more.

“You need to be able to score when thing don’t go your way, to scramble, to fight. That’s going to be the biggest thing for me over the next 12-18 months to be as near to 100 per cent as I can be.”
Carnoustie is a test Van de Velde relishes. He added: “The challenges are going to be enormous. The weather is going to be a decisive factor because it is so windy there. You need to have great knowledge of the golf course and like every other links course it’s hard to hit the ball very close to the hole.

“It is a fantastic course and one of the toughest there is out there, especially with the closing stretch of 16,17 and 18 which is equal to none. You need to save a lot of energy stored within your body and your brain for that challenge because it is so demanding and it really takes a lot out of you.

“I would rank Carnoustie all the way to the top among the toughest courses in the world. Muirfield is not a walk in the park but there is so much that Carnoustie demands of your game and your mental strength.”
Van de Velde is one of a number of rookie 50 year olds who will be making their debuts at Carnoustie alongside more than 30 Major Champions and other legendary figures in the game.
John Daly, who won The Open at St Andrews in 1995, joins the ranks of senior players later this month while Todd Hamilton, the 2004 Open Champion, celebrated his 50th birthday late last year and is now a regular on the US Champions Tour.

Early bird tickets for 2016 Senior Open Championship Presented by Rolex are available here: http://tickets.europeantour.com/event/the-senior-open-championship/carnoustie-golf-links/899860/ or by visiting: tickets.europeantour.co or by calling +44 (0)1344 850550. Monifieth members can use the  promotional code QVMG16 to book tickets at www.europeantour.com/tickets or call 01344 840550 for an even better discount..

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